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Danielle Sheerin

What happens when all my customers realise that they can complain on Twitter?

I recently realised that this is a question that all my clients raise when they begin engaging with their customers through social media.

It was a question I was starting to dread because I wasn’t sure that I had a response.

What they mean is: “If we start to provide customer service on Twitter, won’t everyone start using it and then it will become just another customer service route, the same as any other?”

And what they are really asking is: “Aren’t we just spending a lot of time and effort for something that we are offering already, just in another place?”

It’s a fair point, which is why I’ve been reluctant to address this question head on until now…

What will happen

Many people see Twitter as a fast route to resolution.  It feels personal and dedicated in terms of the service that users receive.

Brands that understand this and offer this type of service through Twitter reap huge benefits in terms of positive sentiment and advocacy.

But the people that use Twitter for customer service are still early adopters (only 1 in ten people in the UK use Twitter at the moment*). The majority of complaints and queries still go through the traditional channels of telephone and email.

This will inevitably change over time.  More people will start to use Twitter, more brands will start to offer customer service via this route and more customers will recognise that you can get your problem resolved quicker than via the call centre (no more sitting on hold for hours!)

As the volume of online queries increases and the initiative scales, Twitter becomes just another touch point, no different to the call centre.

When Twitter customer service becomes business as usual, will my complaint still be dealt with more quickly and is it more likely to be resolved?

I think possibly not – not if brands continue to place the same value on customer service that they do currently.

What you need to do

The rise of social media has meant that customer service has already undergone some scrutiny within most brands.  Customers have a voice now and brands face a very public backlash if they don’t service their customers well.

In fact this has been the driver for many brands to look at Twitter as a customer service medium in the first place, the argument being that if users are complaining online, it is better to engage and help them than leave them angry and vociferous.

But what has happened in many cases is that brands have seen this as the end point, they don’t ask, “what next?”. Well guess what?  Setting up a customer service account on Twitter is not the end, it’s just the beginning…

Brands need to continue this journey by undertaking a sustained re-evaluation of the role of customer service, not just in social media but in the business as a whole.

At the moment people are complaining on social media because they get better service than they do on existing channels.  Making the service they get on social media the same as the other channels is not a long-term solution!

The rise of social media has led to demands for better customer service and businesses have to adjust to this and meet this demand across all channels.

Customer service 2.0 requires more respect for and better relationships with customers, better connectivity (with customers and internal staff) and a commitment to feed learnings back to the wider business to provide genuine improvements to their products and services.

Brands should also have an eye to the future to see how they can evolve and

enhance their service offerings in the future, for example,

_      How can they use the information that they have to help users, e.g. by using monitoring to anticipate user problems and resolve them proactively

_      How can they blend their engagement to offer a more holistic experience for customers, e.g. so that they offer more than customer service, but also garner ideas and opinions, reward loyalty and provide genuinely helpful tools and content

Brands must recognise that the quality and speed of their response is the keystone of their entire customer service offering and try and bring the value that they currently provide in Twitter to their other channels.

That way, when your customers do complain, the experience will be great regardless of where they choose to do it.  Hell, you may even find that they don’t have anything to complain about in the first place.


Image by John Pavelka

This post was filed under Working culture Comments are currently closed.


  1. Fantastic stuff. I have been fearing the same types of questions. One other thing, what happens when customers starting helping other customers?

    Posted 26th September 2011 at 4:18 pm | Permalink
  2. Ross

    Smart stuff Dan.
    If I was brand side I’d be thinking a lot about quality control – if this all gets bigger, training will become more generic and bad eggs will end up wielding considerable power as they gain access to corporate twitter profiles. I just spotted this (old) example which made me wince –!/tverma29/status/45483012326031360

    Obviously extreme levels of governance is not the answer, but I think wary brands will default to that and limit the possibilities outlined above.

    Posted 27th September 2011 at 4:50 pm | Permalink
  3. Interesting points both…

    Aidan – my usual response to customers helping each other out is ‘great’! For most brands having an active community that helps one another is the holy grail. However, for traditionally risk averse industries (pharma, financial services, etc) the implications of incorrect advice being provided are very serious and this risk actually adds another layer of governance and mitigation that can impede the ability to provide great customer service.

    Ross – again, governance and risk mitigation is going to be the default for corps – and I completely agree that it limits the service that can be offered.

    Businesses must feel comfortable that the brand benefits from engaging in social are not outweighed by the risks and I think that some sort of informal contract is going to have to drop out between consumers and brands, whereby consumers stop pillorying brands that make simple errors or experience issues that are beyond their control (or at least those that fall into the category of embarassing but not actually harmful).

    Posted 30th September 2011 at 11:28 am | Permalink

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