The Customer's Always Tweet
Marsden, Rhodri, The Independent (London, England)
Web-savvy big businesses are starting to use Twitter to offer a human response to consumers' complaints. The results can be surprising - and entertaining. By Rhodri Marsden
If you moan vociferously to friends about the terrible service you're getting from your mobile phone network, the reaction is fairly predictable: perhaps a shrug, a few words of sympathy, the offer of a nice cup of tea. If, however, you take a few seconds to vent your frustration online, the aforementioned mobile network might not only be listening, it might just leap to your aid. Twitter's much-maligned stream of consciousness inevitably contains people's thoughts about products, services and the companies that provide them, and said companies are getting the hang of eavesdropping and reacting - often to the surprise of those complaining. Free gifts, money knocked off bills, hastily arranged repairs; these all occur as the result of the public's airing of grievances. For some businesses it may be merely an exercise in damage limitation, but Twitter users are nevertheless impressed by the way it's injecting a bit of humanity into the often unfulfilling world of customer service.
Well-known writers or celebrities whose pieces are widely read online will invariably have consumer complaints attended to by a frantic PR machine as word gets around that they're unhappy; TV presenter Charlie Brooker and celebrated blogger Heather Armstrong (aka Dooce) have both bitched recently on Twitter about their respective washing machines, and both have subsequently written about the unusual way their issues were dealt with. But developments in real-time search - the ability to be alerted when any word or phrase crops up online - means that, for those companies savvy enough to be monitoring their brands, everyone's mentions register equally. "That's the true value of Twitter," says social media expert Mark Shaw, who advises and trains businesses and individuals on how to use Twitter. "The ability to search for real people talking about real stuff in real time. Companies are always desperate to know what people think about them; this is a fantastic opportunity to find out - free of charge."
The range of companies keeping tabs on Twitter is surprisingly broad; from Thames Water to British Airways, Tesco to Vodafone. A little experiment conducted by Shaw in recent weeks which involved dropping casual mentions of various brands on Twitter saw organisations such as M&S and Sainsbury's picking up on it swiftly. It's not always about customer service; Magners recently used Twitter to politely request that users delete "tweets" they'd made about a fake product recall, while British Gas seems to scan for people moaning about broken boilers in order to advertise its services. But those gaining a reputation for positive interaction range from LoveFilm to organic vegetable delivery service Abel and Cole.
Cut-price spectacles outlet Glasses Direct has a Twitter account operated by its User Experience Manager David Carruthers, and he has observed the way a few thoughtful acts can create substantial goodwill online. "I use it as a more emotionally engaging way of talking to customers," he says, "and hopefully we leave people with a smile on their face." While he admits it's impossible to measure the sales this has generated - or the level of customer satisfaction - a straw poll we conducted last weekend on Twitter showed a number of customers impressed by the firm. And with social media driven almost entirely by word of mouth, the rationale behind Carruthers' efforts is obvious.
Why does customer service via Twitter generate goodwill, while traditional methods of customer support frequently fail? "It's partly to do with the fact that businesses are being proactive," says Mark Shaw. "They're coming to look for us. And as consumers we're delighted we're being listened to." David Carruthers …
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Publication information: Article title: The Customer's Always Tweet. Contributors: Marsden, Rhodri - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: November 25, 2009. Page number: 10. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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