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Five key lessons for engaging customers on Twitter

My website has been something of a train wreck for the last month, beginning with its hacking by what appear to be religiously inspired hackers keen to make a point around the #muslimrage topic.  Many said that running your own business was a challenge, but this certainly wasn't something I was prepared for! However, it wasn't the hackers that received the main focus of my ire - in actual fact I had to respect their efficiency - locking me out of my own website on the way out and deleting my back-ups.  You have to admire those that are good at what they do!

No, the main focus of my ire was the web hosting company who were supposed to assist me in rectifying the situation.  Along the way, I learnt a lot about how not to engage customers through social channels, and a fair amount about traditional channels also!

I won't bore you with all the entrails of the frustrating series of exchanges on Twitter, Facebook, Email and the 80 minutes of my life spent on hold to "award winning" technical support - 80 minutes that led no where and that I won't get back!  But apart from quite appalling customer service and responsiveness, the experience confirmed a number of maxims about social customer engagement that I thought worth sharing.  A key theme in the Twitter exchange was that rather than focus their efforts on trying to help me - a customer, and a business one at that - they concentrated on absolving all responsibility.  Here is perhaps the worst example:

This Tweet should have been constructed far more carefully, and needs to offer some form of assistance or empathy.  As it is, it is the company saying - in public, without context - "you're on your own."

So the lessons I took from this sorry saga, or maxims I have seen reinforced, are:

1. Take it offline - ironically it is always best to be seen to be responsive socially, but to take problem conversations onto email as soon as possible.  In this case all the context on the source of the problem should have been conveyed far better by email, along with helpful advice as to how to fix the problem and how to prevent it happening in the future.

2. Identify yourself - at no point did I know who I was talking to - brand handles should identify themselves with ^initials.  This is a conversation between people.

3. Never say its not your fault, or aportion blame elsewhere (again, this can be discussed on email and in greater context than 140 characters allows - but to be seen to be finger pointing in social media is horrible!)  In this case, the ratio of tweets focussed on denying responsibility or apportioning blame to assisting me was 7:2 respectively!

4. Don't undermine support.  Don't be seen to be helping socially active customers short-cut the call centre holding pattern - however long it is!  Instead seek to help them help themselves by pointing them to specific online support resources pertinent to their problem - thereby providing relief without undermining the support process.  Being responsive and opening up an alternative channel for communication is what is key here to alleviate the frustration.

5. Most importantly in this case - put the customer first!  Again, what left the sourest taste in my mouth on this occasion was that the huge effort that went into absolving responsibility massively outweighed any the very minimal effort pointed at actually assisting me, their customer.  A post on Facebook went ignored and emails weren't answered for three days!

To learn more about engaging customers online, this post by @HollyGrande at Cookerly PR is very useful, with interesting stats that 42 per cent of consumers enjoy engaging with brands on Social Media and that 42 per cent expect an answer within one hour but that only 30 per cent ever see an answer.  The opportunity here is obviously huge, but the size of the #fail currently is equally monumental.

Opening up a company Twitter account - despite being free - isn't a toy.  It's a channel to market and you need to know how to use it, and to use it responsibly.  A company expresses its very core values by how it communicates with customers in this way, and in this case I believe the company in question displayed very poor values and remiss professionalism.  The skill set, protocols and policies behind a company Twitter handle require greater investment than was the case here.

Interesting in learning more?  Contact us about the services we offer in enabling better brand engagement.