How to Deliver Superior Customer Service in 140 Characters or Less

November 1, 2011 - 5 Comments

When you complain about a company’s customer service using Twitter, do you expect them to respond? If you’re a baby boomer (which covers approximately 76 million Americans), you are more likely to. In fact, according to a new study from Maritz Research, nearly half of all respondents expect companies to respond to—or at least read—their tweet.

The Maritz Research study examines consumer expectations from brands in the social web. In addition to being timely and relevant, this research highlights the value of customer engagement which is especially vital for me and my team as we continue to lead Social Media Marketing listening at Cisco.

When it comes to listening, Maritz Research uncovered a significant gap: although nearly half of the consumers who tweeted a complaint directed at a particular brand expected the company to respond, only a third of those customers actually received a tweet back from the mentioned brand.

We have been actively listening here at Cisco and the reading part is relatively easy, but one of the biggest challenges is getting people to respond. The Social Media and Marketing teams certainly try to respond but in many cases we don’t have the expertise to provide the product or support information that’s being requested. We must rely on a subject matter expert from another group to provide the information and then, if possible, engage directly with the customer. There are a number of barriers to making this happen. For example, those groups have their own priorities and this hasn’t yet been made a priority for them; they are not comfortable engaging directly with a customer; they are not clear about exactly what the customer needs; or they simply don’t see the value in Twitter or other social channels.

I’ve been in marketing for over 15 years and now I see the marketing function moving towards a customer service role and everyone across the company—regardless of which department they happen to be in—will play an important part in delivering that service. As Cisco continues moving in this direction, you will see social media become a more critical component of our customer service strategy.

Social media as a channel, whether ‘sanctioned’ by the company or not, is a rapidly growing method that customers are using to voice their dissatisfaction (and satisfaction) with brands. The expectation that the brand will respond is also growing and customers do expect a response on Twitter, which can positively affect our brand perception.

As eMarketer notes: “Despite the gap between consumer expectations and brand delivery, consumers are overwhelmingly positive when brands take the time to actually respond to them on Twitter. The Maritz study indicates that 86% of Twitter complainers would have liked or loved to hear from the company regarding their complaints—and out of those who heard back, 75% were satisfied with the company’s response.”

A good example is our service team who actively monitors and manages their Cisco branded channels—Community, Twitter, Facebook—and they’ve been doing an admirable job for some time now. What happens to rest of the conversations about Cisco across the ‘Wild Wild West’? That’s where my team comes in: we are looking at those mentions and putting together processes for review and formulating potential responses too. While we can’t respond to everything yet, we do provide guidance when we feel that a particular mention warrants a response and that we can help.

We also capture another source of customer listening—emails that come in to via the feedback form. The process is very similar but given that email has been around substantially longer than social channels, the company is understandably much more comfortable with email. It makes sense that we bring these programs together. Social listening is really just another channel; the only difference is that it’s in real-time and public.

Time will tell how we evolve as a company, and even within our group, but one thing is certain—these social channels will continue to grow. The most successful companies are those that embrace the changes and make social channels work for them and their customers. Whether a customer chooses to pick up the phone, email or tweet, we need to be ready to provide them with the best customer service possible to build customer retention and loyalty.

As these customer touch points continue to expand, what challenges are your organizations facing and what are some of the strategies, tactics or tools that have worked for you? I would love to hear from you in the comment section or you can send me a tweet @steffymarx.

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  1. Interesting article and thank you for sharing.

    Companies who wants to be successful in the next decade must have several distinct ingredients, some of which are – Innovation -Internet presence and
    – Voice of the Customer (VOC) strategy., VOC could be through surveys, interviews, Social Media, email, phone calls, ..etc.

    The challenge as you mentioned is how can we as a company close the loop with the customers/consumers. In TS CBI, we have established a close loop process for getting back to customers when survey is conducted. But in Social media space, the challenge is 1st, how do we indentify the authenticity of the consumer, and 2nd , how do we close the loop with consumers through SMEs. In other words, how do we determine which consumer/blog/complain shall we respond?

    • Combiz,
      I agree, sorting through the ‘noise’ to determine when and who to respond to is definitely a challenge. Some criteria can be set up in a listening tool to help filter through some of that, but much of it is still a manual process of evaluating what the issue is, who the person is, and whether they have a service contract or not, etc. The long-term vision is to tie the social data with the CRM system so we can get a complete picture of the customer and make that determination more easily.

  2. An interesting infographic from the Dachis group that shows social listening benefits in the context of broader social interaction programs:

  3. Stephanie,

    I’d echo your points above. It’s quite clear from our research that today’s customers not only have control of the communications channel, but that their expectations of responsiveness and service have evolved as well.

    It will surprise no one to learn that those using CGM — particularly social media — expect that companies they write about will be responsive to those concerns. AT&T demonstrated how impactful this could be while addressing initial customer concerns about iPhone coverage issues. This clearly showed business that customers now control our brands. It creates an obligation on the company’s part to not only note customer concerns, as they should with customer or product experience concerns, but to respond appropriately within that same channel.

    Your readers interested in learning more about this study are invited to visit for more information, including an executive summary of the report.