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Although they may not have been originally set up as such, branded Twitter accounts will always attract customer service enquiries, comments and of course complaints. 

Imagine you’ve been stung by a sudden and unfair rise in your energy bill. You try emailing the energy provider to find out what’s going on. You receive no reply. You spend ages trying to find the relevant telephone number on its website.

You then make the call only to be handed off to multiple customer service agents after waiting in a queue for an enraging amount of time. That is if you’ve phoned within its operating hours.

It used to be that if you wanted to get yourself heard, you had to write a letter. There was an assumption that ‘the man’ considered someone who’d take time to sit down, draft a letter and walk down to the post box as a person who was really hacked off and therefore would end up being much more of a thorn in the company’s side.

Now there’s a new way. A much swifter, more immediate and best of all more public way.

The rise of social media and the need for every brand, ecommerce business and service provider to have a presence on the most popular channels has meant that consumers have a direct line to that business.

Enquiring consumers will see this as an opportunity to communicate with you, especially if other customer service channels are harder to find. 

And if that business still ignores the wronged customer’s enquiry? Well it had better batten down the hatches because there’s a Twitter storm coming its way. 

At the end of last year I reported that 72% of customers expect complaints answered in one hour. If companies don’t respond within the one hour time frame, 38% of people feel more negatively towards the brand, and an impressively galvanised 60% will take action against the brand using social media.

The best brands on Twitter react quickly and helpfully to all enquiries, even if there’s a separate social customer service channels set up elsewhere.

Here I’ll be taking a look at Leaderboarded’s regularly updated list of UK Twitter social customer care leaders, an index created from a combination of Klout score and Twitter activity (mentions, tweets and retweets), to see how some of the best brands fair.

Here’s the board as it stands on 11 June 2014. You can click the image for the entire 100.

Sainsbury’s

Sainsbury’s are on to an immediate winner here, with its Twitter description specifically saying it’s here for customer service and inviting questions from consumers.

Sainsbury’s commitment to customer service is pretty intense. As I looked through the ‘tweets and replies’ feed it was updating at a rate of three or four tweets per minute.

It’s pretty exhausting going through even just a few screens of replies. It’s an interesting insight into the world of what customer service representatives must endure on a daily basis. 

What becomes apparent is that the Twitter account is working hard in tying together all of Sainsbury’s offline and website customer service teams. In fact it seems to be doing most of their work for them, and chasing them up when they’re failing the customers.

Sainsbury’s skill is treating the serious complaints and the slightly more… uh, I have to be careful here… ‘trivial’ ones with the same amount of urgence, importance and also in a friendly human manner.

Many of Sainsbury’s customer service tweets also end with a name, which is important as it shows there is a human being behind the account.

Although it doesn’t publish its working hours on the description, someone is there to specifically say that’s it for the day, and the next morning customer enquiries through the night were picked up at 8am.

Royal Mail

If there’s a customer service team that should be prepared for flak, it’s Royal Mail’s.

Royal Mail responds calmly, helpfully and quickly even to the most colourful of complaints. 

Most of the time this Twitter account seems to act as a replacement for the Royal Mail website’s own tracking service.

Royal Mail seems to be happy to take a customer’s tracking number, check the status of their delivery for them and inform them over Twitter, rather than just directing them to a relevant page on the website.

Sky Help Team

Sky Help Team operate a very generous 7am – 11pm opening hours, seven days a week, and this information is emblazoned across the header image and in the description.

Sky also doesn’t let itself be limited by Twitter’s 140 character limit. Instead it offers a link to a shortened URL that takes the customer through to a page where tweets can be expanded on.

This is great if greater detail is needed, and also means that customer service agents can add their names, mention the user by name and put some added manners in there too.

Sky also offers links to its live chat service. Generally speaking, customers would normally prefer that there’s continuity in channels. If you’ve opened communication via one channel, a business should respect that this is your preferred route and deal exclusively with you there until the end.

However this can’t always be possible, especially with sensitive account information, therefore a more secure line needs to be opened.

The trick is then returning that customer back to Twitter for the resolution so the rest of the public can see its successful outcome.

It's also good to see that even though this has been set up as a specific customer service channel, Sky's various other Twitter channels also help with customers' enquiries and complaints.

South West Trains

If you think a Royal Mail customer service team has to have thick skin you should try working on the Twitter account of any train operator.

Unfortuneatly I’m highlighting the following as how not to do customer service…

All of the information may be correct according to South West Trains, but to reply in such a curt, unfriendly manner is inexcusable.

This kind of reply is generic and helps absolutely nobody….

And this doesn’t even really answer the question properly…

Going back to my earlier point, it’s absolutely vital that any brand must remember that its social media presence is its public face. We can all see it. We can all write about it in our own digital marketing blogs and highlight what a crappy job they’re doing. 

Personalisation, empathy and speed are all absolutely integral to getting Twitter customer service right. There is a huge disparity between the quality of Sainsbury’s customer service and South West Trains customer service, yet on the above index there are only seven places separating them.

It shows that with not too much effort, your company could make a huge positive impression on social and reach a bigger audience.

For more insight, find out what social customer service is really worth and how these 20 top UK retailers handle social customer service.

Christopher Ratcliff

Published 11 June, 2014 by Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff is the editor of Methods Unsound. He was the Deputy Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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Comments (3)

Charity Stebbins

Charity Stebbins, Content Strategist at Conductor

It's pretty interesting to see Sainsburys employees signing their name to tweets. I imagine it makes people feel more comfortable to be in a person's hands, and less likely to lash out (though, it's the internet, so one can't expect too much courtesy sadly). From the perspective of someone who manages twitter for a brand, I imagine it's nice not to have to focus on broadcasting that weird, disembodied tone of the omniscient, occasionally fun-loving brand. I realize this is just for their customer care tweets, but still!

about 2 years ago

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zain ali, Marketing Executive at LiveAdmins JLT

It`s really appreciative and good learning for social media marketer. By focusing on these tools, you can easily grab your customer`s attention and generate leads as well. One more thing that can be helpful for you in this regard is using live chat software for online business. It helps you to keep record of your website visitor and allows you respond instantly that is the need of time.

about 2 years ago

Guy Stephens

Guy Stephens, Social Customer Care Consultant at IBM Interactive Experience/GBS/MobileEnterprise

Christopher, many thanks for using the Leaderboard that I've been running for a little while now. My reason for running the leaderboard was simply that organisations need to recognise that their customers or potential customers now have the ability to 'hold the mirror' up to them in a way that was not possible just a few years ago. There was no set reason behind using Klout and the other variables, and in many respects whether these are valid variables to use or not, is a moot point. As the customer the decision is mine; I decide what is important to me to measure. Ultimately, I set this up as a bit of fun, but in time this type of 'satisfaction' index, as it becomes more mainstream may become one of the mechanics in a customer's decision-making process.

about 2 years ago

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