Does Responding on Twitter Really Make a Difference?

Yes. (I know, you’re thinking “wow, she just came right out and said that with no hesitation.) I’ll say it again. Yes. And here’s why.

My family and I recently returned from a Disney cruise. The children had a wonderful time. They giggled, squealed, and chased beloved characters all around the ship. They dressed up in beautiful costumes and were treated like royalty. We all enjoyed excellent service from the staff aboard ship. They referred to the girls as “princess,” asked about our days, and even sang Happy Birthday to the girls (they’re twins, you see.) It was lovely.

But something happened prior to the cruise that… well, it clearly doesn’t negate the efforts of so many people working so hard on the ship. Our stateroom was impeccably clean, our servers were excellent, and the ship was so well designed. However one event kept entering my mind. What was it?

They never replied to my tweet. Yep. I had reached out the day before the cruise

Does Responding on Twitter Really Make a Difference? Yes. www.sociallysupportive.com

Does Responding on Twitter Really Make a Difference? Yes.
www.sociallysupportive.com

asking for assistance because in all the mad rushing to get loose ends tied up before the cruise, I remembered that I hadn’t ever called to schedule the girls’ birthday decorations for the stateroom. Because, you see, with twins it’s a bit different sometimes. Reading the fine print on a decoration package can save hours of tears because there was only one toy included with the decorations. eek. Don’t need that when we’re all in the close quarters of a stateroom.

So I called them, and I explained my situation. The care agent on the phone told me that there was nothing she could do for two reasons: one, I hadn’t called within the required 3 days, and there would be no exceptions for any reasons; and two, they had no provisions for twins and I would not be able to purchase a separate, second toy. And no, there was nobody else to speak with that would tell me anything different. Well, I do understand that I was outside of that 3 days, and I can imagine they might really need 3 days to plan hanging up decorations in a stateroom. But, being a parent, I decided to swallow my pride, admit my mistake publicly, and see if perhaps I could get a reprieve from the online world in order for my girls to have those little decorations in the room.

I tweeted out to @DisneyCruise confessing my error and asking if anything could be done. No reply. Ever. I had wondered, being that this was our first Disney cruise, whether that was a sign of things to come. But it wasn’t. Everyone worked really hard to ensure that we had a fantastic cruise. We bought the children these bubble making toys that play music (parents could do without the music, btw if Disney is reading) and a wonderful woman named Keisha from Jamaica was working in the shop. Seeing the sadness in the girls’ eyes when we found only one bubble want after looking all over the ship for these things, Keisha called to her leader and had another shop opened to bring more stock to her store. Wow. I mean everyone went all out.

Are you wondering what the point is? Here’s the point. You can do an amazing job with an amazing crew and hit the mark on every point. But if you’re not answering on Twitter, you might turn your customer’s experience from “unrivaled, unprecedented, hands-down NPS of 10,” into “It was great. But it was weird that they didn’t respond to my tweet….” and then a whole long story about  how @DisneyCruise misssed your tweet.

I struggled with whether to write this post because it seems a shame to call attention to one missed opportunity when so many people worked so hard to deliver a truly fantastic experience. And I will post about how going the extra mile can really leave a lasting impression on your customers to highlight all that great service. But the lesson here was important enough to share and can help us all out as business. And I’m sure this resonates with many of you, because it happens to us all the time. Something is almost stellar, but this one thing is distracting and overshadows the rest. And that’s what this lack of response on Twitter was: a distraction from an otherwise stellar performance by so many hard-working people behind the Disney Cruise brand.

Review: Ashley Verrill’s “How Experts Would Fix 8 Twitter Missteps”

Recently, Ashley Verrill of Software Advice wrote an article titled Social Support #Fail: How Experts Would Fix 8 Twitter Missteps. I’ve included a slideshare for your convenience.

[slideshare id=32041022&doc=howexpertswouldfix8twittermissteps-140307100259-phpapp02]

Verrill pulled tweets to 130 socially active brands with negative sentiment that mentioned “customer service” in the post text. She then selected sample tweets and asked experts in social customer care how they would answer differently. After reviewing the article and the slides, I noticed one common theme in the company’s responses: complete lack of a personalized response. In some cases, the companies didn’t respond at all.

Total lack of response is equivalent, in my mind, to a customer coming into your retail location, asking you a direct question, and you ignoring them as you walk away, with no explanation given. I believe this causes the same feeling for customers in person or online. We would never do that in person (I hope. Otherwise we have bigger challenges to overcome.) and so should never do it online. The only exception would be ignoring blatant trolls after initial attempts to provide resolution have failed.

Responding with an irrelevant or unhelpful comment is almost as bad, if not worse, than no response at all. At least a customer can give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you missed the post or were so busy helping others that you couldn’t respond in time. When your response is to simply say “we received your feedback,” or to direct customers to another channel for service, you are essentially saying “our presence in this channel is strictly to drive you from the channel of your choice to the channel of OUR choice.” Customers came to you for support on Twitter or Facebook because that’s how they prefer to communicate right now. Your superior customer service could mean the difference between a customer being yours and a customer being theirs. Many times, it’s just as easy to provide good customer service as it is to try to avoid providing it, so if you’re going to answer on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, providing the best possible customer service directly in that channel right from the beginning could really help you stand out among the competition.

“Regardless of whether companies want to acknowledge it, consumers are going to use social media to complain and provide feedback on their experiences. Yes, in previous years it’s true customers didn’t necessarily expect to get a response, but that is no longer the case. An increasing number of consumers today expect a response, often times within a few hours (or less). Just look at this tweet from Ann Gregory: ‘@AskTarget maybe try helping @stacyreno resolve her issue?’ I’ve seen these kind of interactions over and over again. When you consider the propensity of these messages to travel further, faster in the social space, it’s easy to see how ignoring social customer service requests can be detrimental to your online reputation.” – Ashley Verrill, customer service researcher at Software Advice.

The article shares 6 types of mistakes to avoid. Here are those mistakes and my thoughts on each:

  1. Don’t Leave Your Customers Hanging – This refers to not answering customers at all. As I wrote above, I couldn’t agree more. They asked a question or made a statement they expect you to respond to. Nobody likes to be ignored, and customers don’t want to pay you to be ignored.
  2. Don’t Tell Customers to Do Something When They’re Upset – Agreed. Providing customer support in social media began as a way to meet your customers where they are, which extends convenience to them and reduces their level of required effort. For example, if a customer says “You lost my luggage, help!” and your response is “email us at lost@lostluggage.com to let us know,” you’ve missed something. They just did notify you. Why don’t you email your company for the customer? Otherwise, you’ve created an additional layer of unnecessary complexity in your own organization.
  3. Don’t Just Respond – Tell The Customer You’re Here to Help – This one is tricky. You must first actually be prepared to provide assistance in this channel before you tell the customer you want to help. For example, if someone requests an account credit, I would recommend that you say “I’m here to help” only if you really intend to help. That being said, I think that if you’re answering on a channel, you should empower your team to resolve issues, right then and there.
  4. Choose Your Words Carefully – Yes. Especially on Twitter. I recommend you carefully consider how to let the customer know you care, you can help, and plan to do something that will help. As a customer, I want to know that sending you a DM will actually result in problem resolution. I want your request for my DM to show me it’s worth my time and you are empowered to make things right.
  5. Don’t Forget to Close the Issue Publicly – This is so important. On a telephone or in an email, dyadic (one-to-one) conversations are clear, and we know when resolution occurs. One of the benefits of social media, though, is that when done correctly, a greater audience has visibility to the issue, the support and the resolution. This potentially saves another customer from having to contact you. You can solve an issue one time for multiple customers. Also, prospective customers can see that you follow through on your promise to deliver solutions.
  6. Ask the Customer for a Chance to Rectify the Experience – When your customer is upset, try asking “What can I do to make this right?” This does a couple things: it shows the customer you are interested in a collaborative solution, and it also takes the customer from a position of venting to a position of considering options. The customer then feels compelled to reciprocate your collaboration and tries to think of something to make him/her feel whole again.

Have a look at the article and the slides to gain insight on how experts say they would have responded. Experts responding include Kim Garst, Shep Hyken, and Dave Evans, all of whom I follow on Twitter.  Happy reading!

Patience Pays in Social Customer Support

40+216 Faces
bark / Foter / CC BY

When a customer is upset, and needs something, expects something, is angry about something, it can be stressful. Sometimes the fiery words you are reading can cause your own anxiety level to increase. the  can also cause an urge to act quickly to squash the negative energy coming at you. This urge for quick reply is natural, but can be counterproductive.

With agitated customers, sometimes the best thing to say is… nothing. Wait. Be patient, and listen. This can be done in person, over the phone, or electronically. Allow the customer to vent and say all of the things they need to say before you respond at all. On longer form platforms like forums and Facebook this is pretty easy. The customer is typically done venting by the time the post is published. However on Twitter,  you can’t be so sure. Give it a minute to see if another post pops in. Responding too quickly there can seem like an interruption. On the phone or in person, I recommend just… being silent. Active listening sometimes suggests head nodding and little sounds that indicate you are indeed paying attention. I find that when customers are really angry, pure silence provides room for them to really get it all out. Whether we are the true cause of the angry outburst or not, it really is a nice gift to another person to just allow them room to vent and be unhappy. Another positive side effect of listening to the customer’s full monologue before offering assistance is that you get a complete picture of what the actual root cause is.  A customer may begin discussing one single issue that causes frustration, but then lead into several other events and before you know it, you’ve arrived at the bigger issue.

So next time a customer pops open a giant can of “What-for” on you, resist the urge to start apologizing and fixing right away. Try as hard as you can to just let them vent, and vent, and vent until it’s all out. Being a customer myself, I can admit (though it is a bit embarrassing) that I’ve been that customer that vented before. What’s interesting is I usually wound up apologizing to and thanking the people that allowed me to vent. You might have the same thing happen to you.

Are You Wasting Customer Time on Social Media?

image by Tax Credits, A clock with money on it - "Time is Money" http://www.flickr.com/photos/76657755@N04/7214596024/

image by Tax Credits, A clock with money on it – “Time is Money” http://www.flickr.com/photos/76657755@N04/7214596024/

Working in social media, I find it necessary to do quite a bit of research. This includes reading tons of articles and blog posts about customer experience, social media, and customer care. That may sound boring to some people, but I find the subject really interesting. Recently, however, I noticed that I’m having a hard time making my way through some of this material. Last night, as I found myself zoning out on an article published by a very well-respected news organization on a topic I’m very interested in. I scrolled down to find out how much longer the article was. And then it hit me. That’s why I was zoning out. This article was taking forever to get to the point! I found this fascinating, because it was written by people who work in social media, for people who work in social media. And, if you spend any time around us, you know that we have relatively short attention spans in this field. But I bet if you think about most people you interact with, that trait is fairly ubiquitous these days. We want quality information, very quickly, without all those other words that are really unnecessary. How often have you started reading something that might be valuable, but then put it down because it just looked like it would take too long?

This isn’t just about reading. You can just as easily waste customer time talking to them on the phone or in person. Here’s the thing. We probably don’t need to say all those words. It would save us time, and would save the customer time. And saving time is very important to our customers. This is especially important on social media, where customers expect timely responses that are useful and easy to understand. Here are some tips to ensure you’re not wasting time and effectively communicating with your customers.

5 Ways to Save Customer Time

  • Determine your audience – Before writing or speaking a single word, I find it helpful to determine who my audience is. The point of communication is to convey information to the person or people you’re engaging with. How can you best do that? By knowing your audience and how they prefer to receive information. If you are unsure, it’s best to stay on the safe side and be a bit more formal.
  • Be clear – All those words you wrote or spoke, do they really say what you meant to say? Review your words to make sure. If you were the audience, would you have understood what you meant by what you said?
  • Eliminate all jargon – I find that when jargon (also known as business slang) is used, you wind up repeating yourself in English anyway. So, save yourself some time and skip the jargon. It helps to think to yourself, “How do I explain this to someone who is unfamiliar with my line of business?”
  • Use fewer words – Many prepositional phrases can just go. For example, “We can have discussions on our next steps for how to proceed” could just be “We can discuss next steps.” Could you have worded things better? Remember for next time.
  • Review – Before you send that email, take one last look.   If you were on the phone, think about the conversation you had. It’s worth the extra effort to make sure everything is as you want it to be.

These steps can help reduce customer interaction time, and, quite honestly, can leave the customer with a more positive view of the interaction because less effort was spent attempting to decipher the conversation. They’re in, they’re out, they feel better, you feel better.

2014 Predictions for Social Customer Support

Crystal Ball

Crystal Ball (Photo credit: justin_a_glass)

Wow, is it time for predictions already? Things move fast in social, and to me it seems the whole year has flown by.

Marketers are predicting that more money will be spent on social media next year because of its attractive price tag and its ability to reach consumers where they are. There is also chatter about whether Google+ will gain traction this year, and questions around how Snapchat will factor in.

Regardless of the platform, it seems that the concepts of social listening and customer support are here to stay. The changing venues of this listening may create some challenges in the customer support department as we scramble to get the feed from the latest new location. Thankfully,  monitoring tools have made tremendous advances and many are able to add sites very quickly to get the data needed. 

5 Social Customer Support Predictions for 2014

  • Measurement – Listening and engagement tools are not only developing rapidly, but specializing as well. This should enable us to move away from soft metrics on social care and get insight to some really neat things, like cost per transaction, handle time, and the like.
  • First Stop: Social Media – Historically, many customers reached out on social media out of frustration with traditional channels, and as a last resort. As social care proves to be a handy option, I think we might see some customers head straight for social media.
  • Push for Faster Response Times – Customers want responses right now. Engagement tools are increasingly able to help us respond more quickly. Seems we may see a trend toward decreasing response times.
  • More Volume, Staffing Increase – As our friends in marketing spend more ad dollars on social (as their 2014 predictions say), and customers come to us first expecting faster response times (boy I’m starting to feel like that song, “On the first day of Christmas” where the list gets longer and longer), we’ll probably need more staff to support that. Take those good operational metrics with you when you ask for that headcount; you’ll probably need them!
  • Integration – Now that social care is established and collecting customer feedback, expect that feedback to be integrated into other departments.

So, what about this concept that if everyone is complaining, it should start to matter less as our senses dull? I do agree that with so many customers sharing their brand experiences it may be more challenging for stories to go viral; however I don’t think that provides any safety to companies. It seems that the general impression your brand makes on consumers as a whole may rise above the din of countless individual stories to leave a lasting impression. We saw this with the cancelled Chase Bank #AskJPM Twitter Q&A. Though you may not have read every comment, the overall sentiment was pretty clear.

I’m excited to see what 2014 holds for social customer support. We have the opportunity to be personal at scale, and then understand what our customers are telling us to better serve their needs.

Spelling Counts In Social Media Customer Support

Cover of "The Elements of Style, Fourth E...

Cover of The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition

Not so long ago, the majority of us got our news mainly through television, newspapers and trade magazines. These formal establishments did (and mostly still do) have teams of editors and multiple revisions before articles go to print. Facts are verified with sources, grammar and punctuation is confirmed through style guides, and spelling is double-checked with a dictionary. Boring process, right?

Fast forward to today. Real news is distributed by ordinary citizens without the aide of an editing staff. This allows quick access to so many varying viewpoints. Unfortunately, the lack of extra eyes on work can allow those spelling and grammatical errors to creep in. And though social media has adopted a more relaxed style than traditional business writing, clear spelling and grammar errors can still detract from the point of your communication.

Scenario: You own a vacuum cleaner business, and provide customer support on social media. A customer comes to you with a complaint; your company failed to properly pack a unit and one of the required attachments is missing. In your apology, there is a misspelling. This distracts the customer from your response, and the customer replies “Well, how could I expect your company to remember all the parts if your employees can’t even spell!” This is a severe example, of course; however customers expect professionalism and accurate data from companies.

Much is forgiven in our modern take on grammar; ending sentences in prepositional phrases may not raise an eyebrow. And that’s fine. Overly formal writing is not the point. You can be sure that this blog post on grammar would definitely fail in William Strunk Jr.’s eyes (if you’re not a word nerd like me, that guy wrote The Elements of Style, in 1918).  Today’s point is to write in a way that makes your audience comfortable and creates a sense of trust.

Ways to check spelling and grammar before posting:

  • Use any built-in spell check feature available in your software
  • If spell check is absent, copy your text into Word or other word-processing software, then paste back into Twitter, Facebook, etc.
  • Use spelling websites to look up words in question (for spelling and meaning!)
  • Re-read your own copy to catch anything the spell check does not
  • Pretend you are your reader. Does your copy make sense? Did you clearly convey your message and answer all questions?
  • When in doubt, ask a friend to read your copy

I hope these tips help you. I know I’ll be re-reading this post before I publish. You might lose faith in me if you found a spelling error in here!

Tip Sheets for Social Customer Support Reps

EXCLUSIVE - Waffle House grill cook cheat sheet

EXCLUSIVE – Waffle House grill cook cheat sheet (Photo credit: nickgraywfu)

Have you ever lost your cell phone, and realized that you don’t know anyone’s telephone number by heart anymore? Thank goodness for cloud storage, so your new phone can magically have all the data you need at your fingertips. It’s just much easier to get done what you need to do when the data you need is right there.

The same is true for your customer support staff, social or otherwise. Providing a tip sheet, or quick reference guide, is the easiest way to ensure that your team has the most important information right at their fingertips. This helps them project a confident, well-informed image to your customers and helps them feel more self-assured and knowledgeable. The smarter they feel about the product or service they’re discussing, the more they’ll feel comfortable talking to customers about it.

Here are just a few ideas of things that could be helpful on a tip sheet:

Cheat Sheet Items

  • Mission Statement – It doesn’t have to be fancy, It’s just a good idea to make sure the team sees the big picture.
  • Quality Standards – Which tasks can I complete that look like good service to our customers?
  • Priorities – If many things start to happen all at the same time, which should I do first? Which should be put off?
  • Contact Information – Let the team know who can get what done, and how to reach those people.
  • Emergency Information – List instructions for emergencies.

Social Customer Support Cheat Sheet Items

In addition to those above, add these for your social team:

  • Hours of Operation – When are posts expected to be answered?
  • List of Monitored Channels – Facebook? Twitter? Pinterest? YouTube? A comprehensive list helps ensure nothing is missed.
  • SLA – Desired time to response for each channel. This is particularly helpful with multiple channels
  • Thresholds for escalation – Let your team know how they can tell it’s time to escalate.  (X number of posts on the same topic in X hours need to be escalated)

Each business is different, but generally these categories of information can get even new or temporary employees through challenging situations.

Are You There?

Recently there was a story in the news about a store that didn’t clearly have its hours of operation listed. The store was in a shopping mall, and it kept different hours than its neighbors. One night the front door wasn’t properly secured. A group of shoppers entered the store, selected their items and, confused, left money on the counter to pay for their selected items.

Open sign in Yellow Springs, Ohio, USA

Open sign in Yellow Springs, Ohio, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Customers should not have to guess whether you are open and ready to serve their needs. Hours of operation and support should be clearly indicated on digital properties (web sites, Twitter and Facebook, etc.) just as they should on premise at a physical location. Representatives should be punctual to make sure that the posted hours are consistent with the actual experience. You know that feeling when you call into a call center and the hold message just spins and spins? If you later find out the business wasn’t even open but no notice was given that you should not wait on hold, you will likely wind up feeling cheated out of your time. Likewise, sending a tweet out to the universe with no response can feel like being ignored.

So, clearly post those hours of operation, and then live up to that brand promise. That’s what it is, after all: a promise of service available during a certain time period.

Look at me, look at me!

"Here's looking at you, kid."

“Here’s looking at you, kid.” (Photo credit: ⌡K)

One of the most important things we can do to ensure good customer service is to watch it. Literally, to observe the transactions our folks have with our customers. Leaders send memos, make rules, start programs, and then after watching for a bit, let those initiatives be and assume their team is adhering to those decisions. But our teams probably need continual guidance and education to ensure that they fully understand not only the letter of the policies we have, but also the spirit.

Our teams need to be initially inspired with the right guidance on how we want our customers to be treated. We should demonstrate and educate on not only the processes we need to adhere to but also the feeling we want our customers to have as they interact with our brands. But after that first exposure to the concepts, we should continue to check in on a regular basis to help keep our teams on track.

Paying attention to your customer service interactions on a regular basis not only ensures your team has the right level of support and guidance, but also helps limit the number of surprises you may find after weeks or months of being disconnected.

So, have a look at that Facebook page or that forum. Hey, this one applies to bricks and mortar as well, so if you have retail location or call center, pop on in for a visit.

Service is Everywhere

I’m traveling today, and I want to share some experiences with you. I left my car at Park N Fly Plus in Atlanta this morning. The attendant patiently waited as I barely answered her questions while shuffling items from one hand to another. The shuttle driver almost dove for my carry-on and said “I’ll get that for you, ma’am,” so I wouldn’t have to lift the bag. Inside Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport, the TSA agent directing people through the line smiled and instructed travelers to do the same as she recited helpful information. The agent scanning my boarding pass engaged in polite conversation as she smiled at me.

In my quest for aspirin, the news stand cashier in the B terminal smiled warmly and asked if I’d like to donate an item to our troops. Once on the plane, I saw and off-duty Delta flight attendant assist a passenger very sweetly with her bag. Then the on-duty flight attendant, without a word, quietly re-adjusted the bag I placed in the overhead without a snicker, a lesson in bag-ology, or anything. All I could say was “Thank you so much!” as I realized that I, who never do things like that, was just spared a lecture.

Are you amazed? I’m not. Our corporate focus on customer support is becoming obvious. Now, of course, some days are not like this. But how lovely was this morning without incident, snicker, dissertation, or grouchy look from our friends in the travel industry? They are listening to us, and I have to say, if this morning was any indication, they are getting it right.

So, what does this say about social media and customer support? Here’s what I think it says. If Park N Fly, the TSA, Hartsfield-Jackson and Delta can deliver experiences like the one I had on a busy Tuesday travel morning, I would like to announce that the bar has just been raised for the rest of the world, including social media customer support. If we want to deliver exceptional customer support via social media, we’re going to have to take some of that smile and personality I experienced this morning and deliver it via the cold, hard cyberspace. Eeeek.

Start Delivering Great Social Customer Support Today.
Do this:
– Smile: Smile while you type. Get a mirror and put it next to your computer and smile at yourself. I had one at my desk for years, and many times people asked me if I really liked looking at myself or wanted to see if someone was coming up behind me. But the real answer is, if you watch the look on your face while you talk on the phone or interact on social media, you will become aware, and you may notice that the face you’re making doesn’t look very friendly.

– Listen: This one is hard, I know. We do listen, but sometimes when we want to respond quickly we listen for keywords only and then switch right over to solution-location mode. I know this because I have done this myself a time or two (author blushes.) Instead, try to really listen to all the words being said and the overall issue. Then, try to paraphrase without sounding scripted. That way, if you’ve misunderstood the real issue, the customer has a chance to correct before you spend much time “fixing” the not-issue.

– Empathize: A technique you can use to empathize that also helps in listening, is to visualize what the customer is saying. If the customer says the wrong sofa was delivered and she took all day off work to wait for this sofa and now she’s really mad because she clearly ordered the BROWN sofa and this green thing in her living room is clearly not BROWN, try this. Before the defense mechanism engages as you try to defend your company, close your eyes and imagine yourself as this woman. Your expectations have been violated. The wrong sofa probably threw off your schedule of lunch for your child and walking the dog, and now that this Saturday appointment didn’t work you just know you’ll have to take off a day during the week, but you have so many meetings. Now. return to yourself as the customer service person. Help the customer from this frame of mind.

– Wow: After you’ve smiled, listened and empathized, now you have an opportunity to wow the customer. One way to wow your customer is to shock her with a solution that makes little work for her or provides some benefit. What if you could get another truck with the right sofa out there today? What would it take to do that? Would you have to make some phone calls? Do you know? Can you find out what it would take? It’s not always possible, I know, but I think the important thing is to try to make things right. Make the customer whole, or as close to whole as possible. Customers are surprisingly resilient and understanding of mistakes when they are quickly made whole, or better than whole.

These are just a few quick tips that can help make for excellent customer support. Since Delta and the TSA are stepping up their game, maybe these tips can help us step up our game.

Any more thoughts? Love to hear them. Happy travels.

20130514-114111.jpg