Frustrated manIn amongst inane celebrity tweets, Twitter has quietly developed into the social platform of choice for customers to ask questions, raise customer service issues and generally complain!

Recent research shows that it now outperforms Facebook in this respect – 59.3% of Twitter activity is questions to brands, compared to 40.7% on Facebook. This is not to say that your efforts on Facebook are wasted, more that an integrated approach and inclusion of all available social platforms is a more solid social media approach.

Thanks to social media we all want answers to our questions and feedback far more quickly now. The days of ‘thank you for your enquiry, we’ll respond within 3 working days’ are surely long gone, responses are expected to be immediate – or beware the wrath of an ignored customer complaint or request and the potential of further social media activity to share with the world their gripes or leave a negative online review, to tarnish your brand reputation.

Harnessing the service power of Twitter

So how can you harness Twitter to keep customers happy and enhance perception of your brand?

Here are my top Twitter customer service tips:

1. Make sure that you are monitoring Twitter (use Hootsuite, Topsy or Social Mention) and be aware of tweets that mention your brand. If you rely on a member of staff to do this, make sure they are trained in how to respond appropriately and ‘on brand’.

2. Be alert to phrases such as ‘not happy’, ‘poor experience’, ‘not working’ or ‘feel let down’.  And especially tweets with ‘#fail’. These should act as a very loud alarm bell and demand your swift attention.

3. Try and respond to complaints and questions within an hour of being tweeted. If you leave them hanging for too long, unhappy customers may become even more aggrieved, and potential customers may turn their attentions to a company that is more responsive – you don’t want to lose business! Make sure you have your settings to trigger email alerts to Twitter mentions.

4. Give a personal slant to your responses, and show the human side to your brand. Sign off with your name or Twitter handle.

5. Prompt responses are good, but know when to jump in and when to sit back. Some mentions of your brand may purely be a conversation between people that don’t actually need you to respond. And actually it might do more harm to jump in and be seen to be too pushy or interfere.

6. And finally, you can’t allow Twitter to take up all your time, so make a decision about how you’ll prioritise enquiries. For instance, should prolific Twitter users – who may have the power to influence others – jump to the top of your ‘to do’ list, or would you prefer to deal with the most urgent needs first?

What’s your experience of Twitter and customer service? Please feel free to share success stories and good practice. Likewise, cautionary tales would also be useful for readers.