The following H&R Block case study is excerpted from my latest report, Online Communities Part Two: Engaging Your Community Across Multiple Platforms. This 17-page report is the second in a series of four that I’m writing for Econsultancy, and develops material covered in last month’s Online Communities: Starting a Community.

One example of a company who is “rocking customer service issues via Twitter” is the tax services company, H&R Block. Whether or not you use H&R Block for your personal or business tax preparation, it’s clear they have invested time and money into growing and engaging with their online community on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

H&R Block uses Twitter (where they have over 11,000 followers) to build their reputation with tweets like the one below. The link in this Twitter update points readers to another one of their online communities – the H&R Block blog.

When it comes to Twitter, most tweets can be categorized into three main buckets:

  • Positive: Individuals voicing their praise for a person, company, or brand. A quick search on Twitter will show that the word “love” is used often in tweets.
  • Negative: Individuals sharing their distaste for a person, company, or brand. A Twitter search for the word “hate” returns a similar number of results as “love.”
  • Neutral: I’d argue that 80%+ of all tweets fall into this category – neither positive nor negative.

A good community manager will triage mentions of their brand on Twitter and respond appropriately. Both the positive and negative tweets are usually the best opportunity to engage with a prospect or customer. The negative ones, specifically, become a chance to turn a wrong into a right.

This is what H&R Block does very effectively on Twitter. They are constantly monitoring Twitter for mentions of their company. A quick glance at the @HRBlockAnswers Twitter account reveals how they are actively responding to both positive and negative tweets.

Looking at the above screenshot of the @HRBlockAnswers Twitter page, we see a few “best practice” items. First, their bio describes very clearly who they are (Client Care Team on Twitter), what they do (provide answers to H&R Block questions) and what their online / office hours are (7a-7p CST).

It looks like they are linking Twitter with Facebook as the URL  at the bottom of their Twitter bio redirects to the H&R Block Facebook page

Moving down their Twitter page, notice their four most recent tweets are all replies. They are fulfilling their promise (and then some) of providing answers to H&R Block questions. However, they are not just replying to people who mention @HRBlockAnswers somewhere in their tweets. Instead, they are proactively searching for mentions of their company and engaging in a conversation.

For example, @r_wett tweeted “HR block, how is it that the FREE SC e-flie [sic] costs me $30 to file?” A short seven minutes later, @HRBlockAnswers replied, “@r_wett Through the HRBlock website, Federal returns can be completed for Free. Fees apply for states. ^JP”

It’s clear that the social media team at H&R Block is monitoring a variety of mentions of their brand, including “HR block.”

What’s interesting to see is the people behind @HRBlockAnswers respond to all types of brand mentions – even those where customers don’t use the most friendly language!

Another example from that page shows their response to after she checked in to an H & R Block office on Foursquare. Their reply was a simple, “Welcome to the Family! ^JP” In this case, “JP” was not answering a question or solving a client issue. Instead, JP was starting a conversation with a new employee.

On a more personal level, I recently used Twitter to vent my frustration over an issue I was having with H&R Block. In a manner very consistent with the above examples, H&R Block responded quickly (within 11 minutes of my Tweet), provided a few mechanisms to contact them (email or private Twitter message), and followed up with me until the issue was resolved.

H&R Block effectively used Twitter as a vehicle to listen to a customer service issue. However, they took it a step further by moving the conversation from a public forum to a more private channel – direct message, email, and phone – to ultimately resolve the issue. One lesson learned here is consistent messaging. Specifically, the social media team from H&R Block followed the nine steps below to respond to an unhappy customer:

  1. Respond quickly
  2. Apologize
  3. Empathize
  4. Provide an easy way to connect
  5. Make it right (if possible)
  6. Follow up on any promises
  7. (Over)communicate
  8. Be and talk human (not corporate-speak)
  9. Provide a reason to return and/or use product or service again

For more case studies like this, and other examples of how to engage with customers via social media, be sure to download Econsultancy’s latest report, Online Communities Part Two: Engaging Across Multiple Platforms