Is Twitter the Ultimate Customer Service Channel?

Overview
What's the best platform for customer service? Does Twitter provide benefits that email, telephone, chat or posted mail don't?
Author
Dan Zambonini
Date

Twitter customer service

Recently, when I couldn’t find the answer to a trivial question (“Why are Post-it notes yellow?”) via Google, I turned to Twitter, to ask the company behind the product – 3M – the same question directly.

Surprisingly, the answer isn’t a commonly known fact, so they had no immediate response for me. Perhaps more surprisingly, the person who runs the account then went out of his way to ensure I was given an accurate answer, eventually interviewing one of the original inventors and posting me the entire transcript of the interview

Before this moment, I had no particular feelings one way or another towards 3M. The second I received that email, I became a committed fan and advocate. 

It also reminded me of previous interactions on Twitter with companies who exceeded my expectations, like Crystal Ski. They kept me personally updated on conditions for a ski resort I was about to attend, even though I had already paid for the holiday and they didn’t need to win me over.

Does everyone experience this same high level of service on Twitter? How does it compare to other customer service channels? I decided to conduct a survey, using Survey Monkey and Twitter. I’m thankful to have received 82 responses to my request. Although this is not a large enough sample to provide scientific proof, we can certainly use the results to suggest some hypothesis.

Expected channels

I first asked which customer service channels/options people expected from companies that they buy products from.

channels_expected

Only 10% of respondents currently expect a business to offer communication via Twitter, whereas nearly every respondent expected a telephone and email contact. This might explain why people become angry with companies (I’m looking at you, British Airways and Ryan Air) who make it as difficult as possible for customers to find an email address on their website. Instead, they route the user through to any number of online forms. This doesn’t just jar with the customers’ expectations, it’s also probably illegal in the UK

Preferred channels

I then asked which channels people preferred to use (more than one preferred option could be selected by each respondent).

channels_preferred

These results surprised me a little. I expected email to be high (almost everyone) and posted mail to be low (less than 10%), but didn’t expect almost 50% to prefer Instant Messaging / Online Chat.

Customer satisfaction

Finally, I asked about general satisfaction with each method: on average, did people feel negatively, neutral or positively about companies after communicating with them via each type of channel.

channels_satisfaction

Although over 80% of people used posted mail to communicate with companies, not a single person said that, in general, post-based communication led them to think positively about a company. Over a third of people said that it led to negative feelings.

Conversely, email communication led to the least negative feelings: of the 95% of people who used it, less than 10% felt that it generally led to dissatisfaction. However, only about 30% said that it led to positive feelings.

The winner is Twitter: of the 50% of respondents who said that they’d used it, 58% felt that communications generally ended positively, and only 15% negatively. Chat/IM was similar, with 50% of respondents saying that they used it; 52% of these had positive feelings, and 12% negative.

Why twitter?

The immediate reaction might be to suggest that all companies should ensure that they’re devoting relevant attention and resource to Twitter as a customer service mechanism; but these results could be skewed by any number of factors, including: 

  • Given that Twitter is a relatively new platform, many Twitter accounts may not be 100% ‘official’, and are therefore run by people in the business with a passion for the technology. These people are more likely to go above-and-beyond.
  • Twitter may be the lowest-volume channel. Customer service representatives dedicated to this channel may therefore have more time to commit to each enquiry.
  • The people who answered the survey were Twitter users (I asked for respondents via Twitter), and are more likely to feel positively about companies who also use the platform.
  • Twitter customer service representatives are more likely to be in-house, rather than outsourced to generic call centres (as many email and phone representatives are). This is likely to change as the platform grows in popularity.

Of course, some of these positive results may also be attributed to the nature of the platform. Like chat, Twitter allows consumers to have (almost) real-time, informal discussions with companies, without the delay of post or email.

The public nature of Twitter might also provide a benefit over every other medium (including chat); the companies understand that everything they say can be seen by anyone. In this context, the results of bad customer service are multiplied, and so are the rewards of great customer service.

What’s your take on these results? Do you have any stories of great customer service through a particular digital channel? Let us know in the comments below.

Comments

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  • 05 Mar 2010 20:37

    Interesting data!
    Do you feel that the numbers may bias your hypothesis due to the fact that you conducted the survey on twitter? ….likely true that people who actively use twitter prefer twitter for support?
    Cheers

  • 05 Mar 2010 20:41 Box UK Staff

    Hi Kevin – thanks for the question. Yes, absolutely, that's almost certainly a biasing factor (mentioned as the third bullet point towards the end).

    I'm actually tempted to conduct a wider survey (possibly recruiting participants through a generic Google AdWord or something) to see if the results hold-up when the 'average' person is asked…

  • 01 Apr 2010 06:59

    Interesting survey with some good data. But it's much lesser survey, it should be little more participants.
    I think the email is the most comprehensive solution for the maximum numbers.

  • 09 Jan 2011 02:59

    I believe Twitter is really the Ultimate Customer Service Channel. Its being used worldover by high profile politicians, celebrities and business coporations. They say the proof of pudding is in the eating, people are using Tiwtter more than other social sites.

    Matie from travel-hub.com.au

  • 19 Apr 2011 21:37

    Very interesting article. I agree that Twitter is very effective, and can be even more effective than other channels, such as call center. I invite you to take a look at my article at http://www.patperdue.com in which I analyze real-time interactions across multiple brands (Zappos, Delta Airlines, Comcast, and Expedia). I’d be very interested in your thoughts!

    Thanks again for the post

  • 09 Mar 2012 22:11

    Hi Dan.. interesting article and thanks for doing that research… The key is that Twitter as a customer service channel is not a substitute for other things, but an add on.. A new way to deal with and resolve issues… The idea that just because you are not in the room does not apply.. people are complaining about you whether you are there or not…

    however there is a huge difference between traditional forms of customer care and say Twitter.. With Twitter it is done in a public forum. This means that you really need to resolve it publicly for others to see…. and that is where if done correctly, you can start to create brand advocates… as others see what and how you deal with things…

    With all this in mind, this is why we have recently launched engagementIndex… the 1st customer care score for businesses on Twitter… So far we have analysed UK Supermarkets, Banks, Utility Co’s, Mobile Operators and train operators…

    we have got some interesting results so far on who is reply, and who is ignoring people tweeting them for customer care etc..

    http://www.engagementIndex.co.uk

    thanks

    Mark Shaw
    @engagementIndex

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