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The Great Customer Service Race

Recently, my company conducted a project called "The Great Social Customer Service Race," an experiment that put 14 top consumer brands to the Twitter support test.

I expected these companies – including Coca-Cola, Walmart, McDonalds and others – to pass with flying colors. What actually happened was quite different.

First, a little bit about the project. Myself and three coworkers mentioned each brand once a day on Twitter for four weeks in a row. Half the time we used the company's Twitter handle in the tweet, the rest of the time we just used the brand name. We calculated what percent of the tweets received a response, and how quickly.

I consulted with three social listening software developers to develop tweets that specifically should receive a response, according to best practices.

It isn't reasonable to expect companies respond to everything. However, they should have a system and/or technology for efficiently filtering out and responding to the most important messages. A tweet should be considered important if it demonstrates high purchase intent, risk of switching brands or potential to spread negative messaging. Or, if it presents an opportunity to retweet for marketing and word-or-mouth purposes.

Overall, the companies only responded to 14 percent of the 280 messages we sent during the race. Also, many of the time-to-respond averages surpassed one day. In the Twitterverse, this is essentially like not responding at all.

This infographic  shows all of the results from the race.

Additionally, I came up with the following key social customer service takeaways:

Use a Placeholder Response

Despite winning the matchup for response rate and time to respond, Coca-Cola committed a huge error when one reply came four days after the question was sent. More than half of Twitter users expect a response within two hours of addressing a company.

Companies should instead require agents to send a placeholder response if they don’t know the answer right away. For example: "@customername Looking into this now. I will get back with you ASAP! Sorry for the delay! (-: >AF."

Don't Be a Robot

Twitter is a social place. People go there to have conversations and interact with their friends. Agents should cater their responses to match this atmosphere. Many times during the race I received a very dry, unenthusiastic response. These likely were copied and pasted from scripts. This is not the right approach.

Companies should run test scenarios with agents. For example, one of our Twitter testers sent this message during the race:

"I'm thinking about switching banks. @WellsFargo what kind of fees do you charge for personal checking?"

This is what they responded with, which is an example of a robotic reply:

"@HoneyBeeRich Hi Brittany, please visit: wellsfargo/checking/ for information regarding our checking accounts. Thanks. ^SP"

A better response would have been something like:

"@HoneyBeeRich Thx so much for ur interest! We'd to have your business! Here's more info. on fees: http://bit.ly/GKn0S Hope 2 'see' u soon!"

Capitalize on Customer Service for Marketing

MasterCard earned special recognition during the race for capitalizing on an opportunity to market a customer service interaction. When one of our participants asked whether the credit card is accepted globally, the MasterCard team responded and re-tweeted her message.

This demonstrates to MasterCard’s 30,600 followers that they listen and respond to their customers. The post was RT’d (re-tweeted) another 12 times and personally engaged one follower.

Companies should ensure there social media managers are not siloed into departments. Certainly, you should have dedicated social support reps, but these agents should be trained to keep their eyes peeled for such sales or marketing opportunities.

Really Address the Question... Really

One McDonald’s Twitter responder really frustrated our tester when she didn’t really answer the question - it felt more like a runaround.

We asked, "If I wanted to pick up pre-made orders fro my office weekly, how do I set that up? Can the order change? Is there a min spend?" She responded with, "Hey Kyle, I would contact the manager at your local store. Stores work differently when it comes to prearranged orders."

She could have asked where our office was located and provided the nearest store’s address, phone number, and manager’s name–or gone further, and contacted the manager herself. She could have also addressed at least some of the questions, even just to say, "Yes! Some stores can do that. Let me see if I can help!"

Listen for Key Words

As I mentioned, companies should have some system for weeding out important tweets. Listening software that leverages keyword identifiers is one way to do this. This includes things like "help," "mad," and "switching" in combination with your brand.

For more tips on social customer service response, check out this video from Heather Strout, director of professional services at Lithium Technologies.

Whether the issue is one of strategy or technology, brands are still far from meeting customers’ expectations on Twitter. I expect this to change drastically in the next several years.