Order something online from your favorite retailer only to receive the wrong product? Stuck at a crowded airport after multiple flights were cancelled?

In a perfect world, the common occasional mishaps that are to be expected when engaged in commerce wouldn't be such a big deal. They'd be resolved appropriately and quickly with little effort. Unfortunately, we don't live in a perfect world and such mishaps are frequently just the start of a major headache that is caused by poor customer service.

From emails that go unanswered to long hold times on free phone customer support numbers, there are plenty of ways that customer service often lets us down, even when the companies that are providing that service try their best to do a good job.

If only there was a semi-secret, exclusive customer service channel in which problems were solved efficiently and painlessly...

Thanks, Twitter!

In some cases, there just might be. It's called Twitter.

When Cindy Morrison was having difficulty using her frequent flier miles to book a flight on American Airlines (AA), she wasn't getting anywhere with AA using the airline's traditional customer service channels. So she tweeted, hoping that somebody at AA might be listening. They were, and they did more than that: "I’d been messing with these dang tickets for a week and American Airlines’ social media department had me taken care of in mere MINUTES!!"

Morrison's experience isn't all that atypical. Do a search on Google, or browse the customer service Twitter accounts of major brands, and you'll quickly find plenty of examples of companies using Twitter to respond to customer service inquiries and rectify bad situations.

In many cases, companies don't just seem to be responding more rapidly to customer concerns on Twitter; they're also doing something meaningful about those concerns. That's really, really important given that the primary objective of any customer service interaction is to address an issue to the customer's satisfaction (within reason of course).

Why Twitter customer service works

Twitter's rise as a VIP customer service channel makes sense for a variety of reasons. For one, it's an asynchronous channel, so companies aren't burdened by the often-impossible expectation that a live person will be available immediately.

There's also the issue of expectations: for many customers, Twitter is a customer service channel of last resort. When phone, email and other channels fail, a desperate tweet is all that's left so companies able to keep a customer from slipping through the cracks using Twitter have a great opportunity to redeem themselves.

And last but certainly not least is the fact that Twitter is a semi-public customer service channel. Companies that don't respond to customer service-related tweets can wind up looking bad; companies that do can earn a free testimonial in the process.

Challenges going forward

The good news for companies looking to turn Twitter into a customer service channel is that it's increasingly easy to do so. Numerous vendors offer tools for managing customer service interactions on Twitter, some of which are integrated into larger customer service platforms.

But providing a high level of service through Twitter -- and maintaining it -- may not be so easy. Not every company using Twitter to help their customers gets high marks. In fact, despite all of the examples of Twitter customer support wins, a recent study found that most customer service tweets go unanswered in the first 24 hours.

As more and more customers avoid the phone and email, and instead turn to social channels to get assistance, companies could see the volume of customer service inquiries on Twitter rise substantially, creating the same sorts of problems seen in other channels.

With this in mind, companies may want to consider one of the lessons Dell has learned from its Twitter customer service initiative: social media is a supplement to existing customer service programs, not a replacement. So if your overall level of service is lacking, chances are you'll have a hard time providing VIP-level support on Twitter.

Patricio Robles

Published 24 July, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (8)

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So true, I had an experience with Expedia when I had changed my flight and when I got to the airport my tickets were never processed all the way. I tweeted about it on my flight out of Florida, and when I landed in Dallas I was tweeted back by Expedia and was asked to send my information to them so they could look into it further. No free ticket, but they did call and apologize for the inconvenience and possibly missing my first flight.

about 6 years ago


Marie Rose

Hi Patricio. I think you raise a lot of valid points in your post. Twitter is an excellent tool for delivering customer service. Because of the fast-paced nature of the social platform, while people may not expect an immediate response, we've found at Conversocial that 30% of Twitter users expect a response to their queries within 30 minutes. With a demand this high, companies need to be prepared to meet these expectations.
A recent experience with my broadband provider, Sky, has also forced me to believe that while social customer service may not be a replacement for call centers or other options, it is sometimes more productive. After spending 7 weeks on the phone to Sky's call center trying to get my Internet properly installed, it wasn't until I tweeted at the company that I saw results. The call centers had very poor customer service, but the Twitter handle was much more helpful.
I think that Twitter is an excellent platform for companies to engage in two-way communication with their customers. Companies just need to be prepared to meet the growing demand for social customer service!

about 6 years ago


Tobias Goebel

The ONLY reason why Twitter works today as a customer service channel is because the traffic on it is ridiculously low compared to the more traditional channels. That will change soon, so we will be back at the core of the problem.

about 6 years ago

Kris Littlewood

Kris Littlewood, Digital Marketing Assistant at English Lakes

I have used twitter a number of time as a CS channel for Vodafone, Argos and First Direct all with a reasonable amount of satisfaction. The fact that customers are limited to 140 characters and replies too can only help with speed of response.

about 6 years ago

Stuart Waterman

Stuart Waterman, Online Community Manager at AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians)

The challenge for brands is when they've committed to using Twitter, but the organisation isn't yet set up to use it as an 'official' customer service channel.

A good community manager wants to answer those questions and help out users, but trying to get the required info from within the organisation can often be met with a response along the lines of 'Well, the customer needs to call 0845 xxxx'.

In a bureaucratic environment challenging and attempting to shift established customer service processes, not to mention KPIs, can be a considerable challenge for the CM (but not an impossible one).

Definitely not speaking from personal experience, you understand ;-)

about 6 years ago



This is something I'm currently experiencing. My Nexus delivery has been very delayed (not the retailer's fault) but I've posted enough about it on Twitter that they have just received stock, and are processing my order as high priority.

Twitter is a great channel for delivering customer service, but it may soon become devalued as people realise just how good-a-channel it is.

about 6 years ago


Sebastian Cowie

I've had a similar experience thanks to twitter recently. Granted it's not quite on the scale of AA, but Nestle were nice enough to send me a voucher due to one of their chocolates missing a hazelnut. What started as a comical tweet resulted in a happier (albeit fatter) customer.

about 6 years ago


Eptica Blog

As other people have pointed out the key thing is making sure your customer service on Twitter is scalable – otherwise customers will flock to it with complaints and you simply won’t be able to cope with the deluge. It needs to be part of a joined-up approach so you can manage it within your overall customer service strategy, rather than a separate silo that is expensive and time-consuming to run.

about 6 years ago

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