Twitter Tech Support: How Effective Is Tweeting a Tech Problem?

As the Web becomes increasingly social, more and more companies turn to Twitter to address problems that customers have with their products or services. After all, the last thing a company wants is for a Twitterer's minor problem to go viral across the Internet, just because the company didn't deal with the issue effectively when it had the chance.

According to a study of social media customer service released in March by Sitel and TNS, people are increasingly turning to social media to get their questions answered.

"Social media is dramatically altering the customer service landscape," writes Lawrence Fenley, Sitel's managing director for the U.K. and Ireland, in a statement. "With easy access to real-time information, a new generation of 'always-on' consumers is more empowered and demanding than ever."

The study, which surveyed more than 1000 consumers in the U.K., shows a changing--but not completely revolutionized--landscape. Among respondents between the ages of 16 and 24, the study reports, 7 percent said that the first thing they do when they run into a problem with a product is to complain about it on social media.

This might not sound like a huge number, but take into account that other answer choices on the survey included searching for a solution online and contacting the company directly--both of which involve actively seeking an answer, not just letting virtual friends and followers know that you hate a product or are having trouble with it.

When asked what companies could do to improve customer service, 17 percent of respondents in the 16- to 34-year-old bracket said "respond quickly when I ask a question on Twitter."

Twitter may not have replaced traditional hotlines yet, but it's getting bigger every day. After all, it's convenient, concise, and fast--three things that matter a lot to consumers in today's mobile world. Let's look at how companies use Twitter as a customer service vehicle, and how you can use tweeting to get your voice heard.

Go Forth and Tweet

Hashtag
If you have a problem, question, or compliment for a company, you shouldn't hesitate to tweet it. Companies are doing their best to respond to people who have legitimate criticisms, and to acknowledge people who are excited about their products.

Remember, though, that Twitter is only one method of communication. As John Bernier, partner engagement manager at
Best Buy, says, "Twitter represents a small (but growing and important) channel for us. It's useful in many ways, but it's never easy to answer in 140 characters."

If you're going to address a company on Twitter, here are a few tips:

  • Address the company directly, either via @reply or hashtag.
  • Find the company's customer support Twitter account, if it has one.
  • Ask a question that can be answered quickly and succinctly, or ask for an email address/phone number.
  • Make sure that your question is relevant.

Twitter is great if you have a question, complaint, or passing comment that the company can address quickly (for example, asking Gogo Inflight Internet (@Gogo) for a free flight code, as I once did). But if you have a customer support issue that will necessitate some talking through, you're probably better off picking up the phone.

[Related: "How to Get Free or Cheap Tech Support"]

Does Your Twitter Clout Matter?

So you're ready to take Twitter by storm and start broadcasting your company queries and critiques over the microblogging platform. But what if you're just getting started? You have no followers, you've never typed a tweet in your life, and you're not a "big deal" on social networks. Will companies even listen to what you have to say?

We analyzed customer service-related Tweets from the Twitter accounts of ten large companies--AT&T (@ATTCustomerCare), Best Buy (@twelpforce), Comcast (@comcastcares), Dell (@DellCares), Groupon (@Groupon), RIM BlackBerry (@BlackBerryHelp), Sony (@Sony), Verizon Wireless (@VZWSupport), Xbox Support (@XboxSupport), and Zappos (@Zappos_Service)--to determine whether they paid attention to users' follower counts. In our study, we found that companies answered Tweets from customers with anywhere from 0 to 100,000 followers.

In fact, some companies, such as Zappos, are so eager to answer customer's questions that they even answered Tweets from spam accounts:

Zappo's Twitter interaction with a customer.

So the short answer is yes--if you complain via Twitter, your tweet will likely be heard and addressed, since companies generally do not discriminate against people with fewer followers.

That doesn't mean, however, that companies completely ignore Twitter followings. Companies are more likely to go out of their way to please especially popular Twitter users.

"If I--with 7500 followers--complain about a meal, and then someone else--with 75 followers--complains about a meal, I think it's only common sense that my bad message is reaching 100 times more people," explains social media journalist Jeff Cutler (@jeffcutler).

Cutler says that the person with 75 followers won't necessarily be ignored; but the person with 7500 followers may get better treatment the next time they go to the restaurant, while the person with 75 followers may have to make do with a Twitter apology.

For an example of above-and-beyond Twitter customer service, look no further than Peter Shankman's Morton's Steakhouse story. Last August, Shankman (@petershankman), founder of Help A Reporter Out (HARO), jokingly Tweeted to Morton's Steakhouse:

Two and a half hours later, an employee of Morton's Hackensack met Shankman at the airport with a 24-ounce Porterhouse steak, an order of Colossal Shrimp, a side of potatoes, bread, two napkins, and silverware.

Now, Shankman is apparently a Morton's regular, so perhaps they were just helping out a loyal customer. But it's likely that Shankman's 131,210 followers had at least something to do with the restaurant's reaction.

Next: How Do Companies Use Twitter?

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