Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Customer Service on Twitter– Handling Negativity

I’ve been using Twitter for a while now and follow a whole host of different people both from a personal interest point of view and for more professional, work related reasons. It’s an amazing source of information and a highly effective means of sharing thoughts with like-minded people.

What I have noticed with increasing regularity though is the pack mentality that seems to proliferate on Twitter around contentious or divisive issues. Whilst often the tweets posted by the Twitter community can be humorous, occasionally they can become a little “close to the mark” with users seemingly attempting to outdo each other with more and more witty or scathing comments.

It occurred to me that the relative anonymity of Twitter may be somewhat responsible for this phenomenon and perhaps users feel able to say things that they almost certainly wouldn’t in a face to face, real world scenario.

I have to be honest and admit that I have been guilty of the odd ranting tweet, especially when I first started using Twitter. One or two were directed at a brand with whom I’d had a poor interaction and others where simply because I felt able to sound-off with impunity. The difference being with the former is I expected some form of a response from the brand in question in order to address the issue I had raised. What surprised me were the differing levels of engagement I experienced. One in particular responded quickly and managed my issue through to resolution very efficiently, whereas at the opposite end of the scale, I was simply ignored.

Somewhere in the middle of this scale is not responding to a disgruntled person effectively, which on Twitter is in some ways worse than not responding at all. Given the immediacy of the format, any interactions deemed to below standard can quickly proliferate around the Twitterverse, particularly if the user is well connected with a large following.

Avoiding the envelopment of negative press requires effective management of company Twitter accounts. From what I have viewed and experienced in both a personal and professional context, effectiveness can be achieved primarily by providing an adequate response that diffuses the situation quickly.

Responding to negative press often requires tact and judgment. It is as fine balancing act with humour and empathy on one hand and the corporate identity on the other. Understandably ensuring your tweets are in line with brand communications is a constant for any company hoping to establish a consistent online/offline presence.

Of course there is always a significant chance that finding resolution through Twitter will be impossible. In these instances it is important to recognise when to take the matter offline, using a one to one method of communication such as email, the phone or even a face to face meeting to resolve the issue away from the public world of Twitter.

Twitter isn’t simply about playing a combative role however; equally important is promoting and engaging with those customers that have had a positive experience with your brand. Re-tweeting positive comments (particularly after resolving a customer issue) is an excellent method, although it is crucial to make any positive promotion look and feel organic and never forced.

For better or worse, Twitter has provided us all with the means vocalise our opinions. Whilst some users may go too far, using Twitter to voice concerns about a company is wholly legitimate and responding to these concerns swiftly and effectively is now a responsibility for customer service professionals.