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Add Twitter to your customer service arsenal

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Tired of being on hold for customer service? Try TwitterConsumers exhausted by customer service phone lines - and the muzak they're subject to while waiting to speak with a real live human - are increasingly turning to an alternative: Twitter.

 

 

"Your business is very important to us, please remain on the line and a customer service representative will assist you in the order your call was received."

"Due to extremely high call volume, your wait time is estimated to be..."

Many of us are all-too-familiar with these and other phrases that accompany the soothing muzak used by many companies to manage our limited patience when we're on hold with their customer service departments. Unfortunately, even after a human is eventually reached, consumers often find that by the time they hang up the phone, the issue they called about remains unresolved. What can a frustrated consumer do?

One alternative that consumers are increasingly turning to is Twitter. By now, many of us are using Twitter, a social networking and microblogging Web site that allows its users to post short messages (known as "tweets") that can be read by our "followers." Use of Twitter has exploded in the past few years. At last count, Twitter users were tweeting nearly 50 millions tweets per day. 

Since Twitter is a public service, consumers’ tweets are visible to everyone on the Internet (unless the user blocks access to his or her account). Twitter has become a powerful megaphone for consumers. In the past, if a customer had a problem with a company, their negative experience was communicated mostly to friends and associates by word-of-mouth. In recent years, consumers have started voicing business reviews on the Internet, via blogs or review sites. With Twitter, there is even greater potential for thousands of users to hear - many, instantly - about bad experiences. For companies that are eager to protect their reputations, this is an issue they would be wise to manage. 

Numerous companies are doing just that -- assigning staff to monitor Twitter for customers who are dissatisfied and respond directly (via Twitter) to that customer. Many Fortune 500 companies have set up their own Twitter accounts, allowing customers to direct their tweets to a designated Twitter agent for a particular company (via Twitter's "@" reference system). Companies as varied as Comcast, JetBlue, Wachovia, Bank of America, UPS, and Blue Cross Blue Shield have set up Twitter accounts to complement their traditional customer service lines.

While the quality of Twitter-based customer service varies from company to company, consumers who have tweeted about their bad experiences have frequently received much quicker and more competent follow-up from the companies they've tweeted about.

So how can frustrated consumers make use of Twitter to improve their customer service experience? Here are some tips and tricks that might help:

  1. Try the conventional method first. Most companies have dedicated customer service lines that can address common problems, though time spent on hold should be expected.
  2. While you're on hold, use a search engine to search for "[company name] Twitter." This will usually bring up a list of Twitter accounts associated with a particular company.
  3. If the traditional customer service route doesn't solve the problem, tweet away! Be succinct in your tweet (Twitter has a 140 character limit on tweets) and reference one or more of the Twitter accounts for the company in question, using the "@" reference. Example: "The widget I ordered from @acmewidgets showed up broken today. Customer service was no help."
  4. Keep your expectations reasonable. Some companies have set up their Twitter accounts primarily to tweet about company news, not respond to customer complaints. Review the last few tweets of a particular company's Twitter account to make sure your tweet goes to the right account.
  5. If you are contacted by a representative of the company, take your conversation to email or phone. This is a better way to describe the exact problem and get it fixed quickly.
  6. Look for Verified Accounts. Twitter's openness has led to numerous accounts impersonating real companies or celebrities. Look for accounts that have been verified as legit by Twitter. Note that Verified Accounts for businesses are still in the beta, or testing, stage, so don't rely on this exclusively.
  7. If your tweet led to the problem being solved, tweet about that, too! Companies will be more likely to help you and others in the future if they know that going the extra mile on Twitter led to positive feedback for all the world to see.

Twitter is a valuable tool in the consumer's toolbox for resolving customer service issues. If going the usual route of calling the customer service line doesn't solve your problem, don't be afraid to try Twitter to express your displeasure. The old saying that the squeaky wheel gets the grease has never been truer.