Why You Need to Reply to Online Customer Reviews

Ignoring online reviews can be a big mistake.

A 2019 report from the customer insight firm, Womply, revealed small businesses that reply to at least 25 percent of its customer reviews earn 35 percent more revenue than their peers.

This is a huge number that's hard to ignore.

Womply's researchers analyzed data from more than 200,000 small businesses across multiple industries and discovered some interesting conclusions. 

  • A 4.5 star rating is better than a 5 star rating.

  • Just 19 percent of reviews are negative.

  • Businesses with at least 9 recent reviews earn 52% more revenue.

You can read the entire report here.

Let's take a closer look at why responding to reviews drives revenue growth and how you can do it gracefully, even when the reviewer is angry, mean, or unfair.

Customer reviews posted on social media.

How responding to reviews increases revenue

There are two ways responding publicly to reviews can grow your business. 

  1. Improve your search rankings

  2. Send a positive signal to potential customers.

Improve your search rankings

Online review sites are also search engines. People actively look for businesses like yours on Google, Yelp, Facebook, OpenTable, TripAdvisor, and others. Most offer free listings for businesses. 

Womply's research found that just claiming your free Google listing can grow your revenue by 10 percent!

My own analysis confirms that Google is the most important listing site for a small business because it's the search engine customers use most often, even when they aren't specifically looking for reviews.

Here's the kicker.

Google is pretty clear that responding to reviews will improve your search ranking. One analyst estimates that actively responding to customer reviews accounts for 15 percent of Google's SEO algorithm for local businesses.

Let's say I'm in Austin, Texas and I want to find a coffee shop. 

Notice how Google serves up a map at the top of the search results along with three businesses that have high ratings:

Screenshot of Google search results for Austin coffee shops.

Imagine how many more customers would find your business if you could get it on that map!

The Hideout Coffee House and Caffe Medici both have over 200 reviews, but the Capital One Cafe has just 32. So how did the Capital One Cafe get one the list?

One explanation is a high response rate to recent reviews, which helps it get ranked higher in the results.

Screen shot of reviews from Capital One Cafe in Austin.

You may notice that Capital One Cafe is part of a major corporation, Capital One. It’s actually unusual for a large corporation to respond to online reviews like this. Most haven’t caught on yet.

So ask yourself this question: Can you do a better job of responding to customer reviews than Capital One can?

Of course!

Send a positive signal to potential customers

Womply's research revealed that businesses with a 4 to 4.5 star rating earn 28 percent more revenue than average. That's even better than businesses with a perfect 5 star rating!

Why is 4.5 better than 5?!

The answer is trust. Many customers seek out negative reviews. They want to know what people complain about to see if there's a consistent trend or just a few grouches. When a business has a lot of reviews, but no complaints, something seems fishy.

Here's where responding to a review can really help.

The response isn't necessarily for the customer who writes the negative review. It's for all the other customers who read the negative review and your response. Research shows that customers are more likely to be empathetic to you and your business if your response to a negative review is polite and professional.

And you might even change a customer's mind. Here's a powerful example:

Image credit: Womply

Image credit: Womply

How to respond to an online review

It's always important to be polite and professional when responding to an online review. The specific way you respond depends on the type of review you receive. There are three general types:

  1. Happy customers

  2. Neutral customers

  3. Unhappy customers

I'm going to use one of my favorite companies, Ideal Plumbing, Heating, Air, and Electrical, to show you how a small business can effectively respond to different types of online reviews.

First, we'll look at a review from a happy customer. Ideal does a great job of acknowledging the customer and thanking them for their review.

Google review of Ideal Plumbing Heating Air and Electrical

There’s a few things to notice about the review:

  • The response thanked the customer.

  • It acknowledged the customer’s feedback.

  • The reply was sent quickly.

The next type of review is from a neutral customer. This particular customer gave three stars, acknowledging Ideal's excellent work while complaining about the prices. 

Screen shot of a Google review of Ideal Plumbing Heating Air and Electrical

Notice the friendly and helpful response.

  • It sincerely thanked the customer for their review.

  • The response called the customer by name to make it more personal.

  • The reply politely offered an explanation for Ideal’s pricing, without getting defensive.

Keep in mind customers aren't reading these reviews in isolation. You'll notice the review right below it commends Ideal on sticking to the budget. So a potential customer might think that Jeffrey is a lot more price-sensitive than other customers like John who value fast service and high quality work.

The final review is from an unhappy customer. Some unhappy customers may have a legitimate gripe, while others appear to be unreasonable. And yes, a few even lie.

The review below is from a someone who didn’t even use Ideal’s services!

This person was upset about Ideal's charges for emergency air conditioning service on a very hot Saturday. Ideal's response is still positive, friendly, and helpful to other customers who might be reading the review:

Screen shot of a customer review of Ideal Plumbing Heating Air and Electrical

There are a few things I really like about this response:

  • It comes directly from the owner, Don Teemsma.

  • Don adds important context that would be helpful to other customers, without getting defensive.

  • He politely explains the fees while acknowledging the customer’s urgency.

Will this response change the angry customer’s mind?

Probably not. But that’s not really the point. Don’s polite and measured response likely assures other customers reading the review that Ideal is an honest business that takes good care of its customers.

I have personal experience with this situation.

Last year, I woke up on a Saturday morning to find my own air conditioner had stopped working. It was going to be one of the hottest days of the year, and I was truly worried about the heat.

I called Ideal first thing in on a Saturday morning to schedule the repair, knowing full well that Ideal was going to get a lot of calls just like mine that day. Fortunately, Ideal is very responsive. Phil, one of Ideal’s friendly and capable HVAC technicians, came out to my house and got my system working again before noon!

That type of service was definitely worth a premium!

Online Review Resources

There are a number of resources that can help you leverage online reviews to grow your business. Womply's report is a good place to start.

You can also watch a webinar with Jess Greene-Pierson, Womply's Director of Go To Market, where we talk in-depth about using online reviews to grow revenue.

Want to really dive in? You can take my LinkedIn Learning course, Serving Customers Using Social Media. There are three ways to watch the video:

Here's a short preview.

The Best Way To Prevent Customers From Tweeting Complaints

Last March, Shannon Watts tweeted a complaint about United Airlines.

Watts had observed what she believed to be poor treatment from a United gate agent towards several other passengers and she took to Twitter to voice her displeasure.

The tweet went viral and eventually made national headlines.


Never mind that Watts only witnessed only part of the incident and had some of her facts wrong. (This thoughtful post from One Mile at a Time clears that up.) Or that United didn't help itself with its poor initial response.

What's scary is this type of viral complaint can be a PR nightmare. 

So what can companies do to protect themselves? I did a study of customer complaints on Twitter to find out and one very clear answer appeared.

Here's what you need to do to prevent 80 percent of those complaints.

Customer opening the Twitter app on their iPad.

Study Overview

I did a similar study in 2014 to find out what customers complained about on Twitter. You can find those results here.

Social media use by customers has risen since then, so I decided to replicate the research to see what has changed.

I looked at tweets attached to three common hashtags that contained a complaint:

  • 100 tweets tagged with #badservice

  • 100 tweets tagged with #customerservice

  • 50 tweets tagged with #servicefailure

A couple of notes here:

Only obvious complaints were included. For instance, the #customerservice hashtag also has a lot of job postings and customer service advice articles, so I left those out.

There's also a clear limitation to this study. Not every customer who complains uses a hashtag, or one that is consistently popular. So it is a possibility that my results are a bit skewed.

Finally, for background, a 2017 study from Sprout Social found that 46 percent of people have used social media to complain about a brand. My own study on consumer response time expectations revealed 40 percent of customers use Twitter for customer service.


The Big Result

There's one insight that really jumped out—80 percent of complaints on Twitter were an escalation.

This means the customer previously had contact with the company via a different channel (phone, in-person, email, etc.) and had not received a satisfactory resolution.

This makes it clear that the best way for businesses to prevent these types of complaints is to get it right the first time. Unfortunately, many companies do such a poor job serving other channels, they effectively train customers to use social media.

Here are the top reasons people complain for 2014 and 2018:

Chart highlighting twitter complaints by category for 2014 compared to 2018.

Number one on the list is waiting for a resolution. These customers experienced some issue with a company and felt it was taking too long to get fixed. This angry tweet could have been prevented if the initial phone complaint had been handled to the customer's satisfaction.

The third most popular reason customers complain on twitter is the customer never received a response to another contact. This customer tweeted about a product issue because she's still waiting for a call. The company probably could have prevented this tweet by (a) fixing the issue or (b) responding to her request for a call.

Many public tweets are a customer's way of venting about a service failure. Quite a few tweets aren't even specific about the issue or what resolution the customer is seeking. 

Take Action!

One thing you can do is trace the social media complaints your company receives. This can apply to Twitter or any other social media channels.

  1. What are customers complaining about most often?

  2. Can you address the root cause?

For example, one company identified a number of complaints were all connected to the same process. They are now fixing that process to help improve customer satisfaction, which in turn should reduce complaints.

There are also a few courses on LinkedIn Learning to help you develop your social media customer service skills.

You'll need a LinkedIn Premium account to watch the full videos. You can get a 30-day trial here or access the training through your Lynda.com account.

How to Attract More Customers with Google My Business

Many small business owners hope Google will bring in more customers.

Some try to advertise using Google Ads. Others wade into the mysterious world of search engine optimization (SEO). The latter often involves hiring an internet marketing wizard who makes strange suggestions for your website.

There's another way Google can help you bring in more customers. It's easy and it's free. Let me show you how this works.

I'll be arriving in Watertown, South Dakota tonight to speak at a Watertown Convention and Visitors Bureau luncheon tomorrow.

Naturally, I need to find a place for dinner, so I Google "restaurant watertown sd." Here are the search results:


Get Listed

Wouldn't you like your business to be one of those top choices when a customer searches for something relevant?

Notice Google prioritizes three options. It shows each one on a map. At the bottom is a link labeled "More places" where I can search for additional restaurants. 

All of the additional search results, including TripAdvisor and Yelp's "Best 10" lists appear in the search results below this box. 


That's pretty good visibility to a prospective customer. I'll see even more choices if I click on "More places" or click directly on the map. This also reveals a larger map that shows where each business is located.


The good news is these restaurants did not pay for advertising to get listed there! These search results come from Google My Business.

Companies can claim a free listing by providing some basic information such as your business name, address, phone number, business category (restaurant, etc.), and website. It's also a good idea to include your hours of operation.

One word of caution—make sure you keep this information up-to-date. You want your customers to know if you change your hours of operation, update your restaurant menu, or move to a new location.


Add Details

Customers can see more information when you click on an individual business listing. Here's what I see when I click on the listing for Guadalajara Mexican Restaurant.


Notice the photos at the bottom. You can upload photos of your business to your Google My Business listing and Google will display them alongside photos contributed by customers.

This is an excellent way to visually entice people to pay a visit!


Improve Your Ranking

Google uses an algorithm to decide which order to display businesses when customers search for particular terms. There are three primary factors that contribute:

  • Relevance
  • Distance
  • Prominence

Relevance refers to how closely your business matches what a person is searching for. The best way to improve your results is to make sure your Google My Business listing is complete and accurate.

Distance is Google's attempt to provide the closest options to the person who is searching. Not much you can do about that one aside from opening a ton of locations all over the place. That may not be feasible, so...

Prominence is Google's estimate of the business's popularity. There are several factors that contribute to this. A big one is the number and quality of Google reviews.

Reviews, my friend, can be used to your advantage because they are often overlooked by big businesses!


Maximizing Review Power

There are two ways to think of reviews. One is how Google uses them and the other is how customers view them. Let's start with Google's own description:

Google review count and score are factored into local search ranking: more reviews and positive ratings will probably improve a business's local ranking.

OK, so it's great to have lots of five-star reviews. No surprise there. 

Some businesses go to great lengths to get good reviews. They provide incentives. Employees are implicitly encouraged to engage in survey begging.

Do yourself a favor and skip those gimmicks. Pressuring customers for good reviews can hurt service quality. There's another way to improve your reputation that customers will appreciate.

Let's look at the first few reviews for Guadalajara Mexican Restaurant in Watertown:


This restaurant has a terrific overall rating of 4.4 stars (out of five).

Now, some business owners might freak out because there are a few bad reviews. The first review shown is only three stars and is somewhat critical.

This is actually a plus!

That's because a few negative reviews can make a business more trustworthy. Customers are wary of any business that has all positive reviews since it raises suspicions that the reviews may be fake.

There's another plus here as well. Notice the response from Carlos Vega, the manager. Vega responded quickly, apologized without getting defensive, and invited the customer to return. 

This tells customers that management is listening to feedback. Presumably, the restaurant is using this feedback to continuously improve.

These Google My Business listings are for individual locations. Most large businesses I see fail to respond to customer reviews. That's because social media is typically handled at the corporate level. 

Here's where the personal touch of a small business can really shine.



Here are a few resources to get you started.

  1. Get your Google My Business listing and make sure it's up-to-date.
  2. Learn how Google determines business rankings.

Of course, there are other places a customer like me might search for a business. The big ones are Yelp and TripAdvisor and your business should have a presence there, too. Each offers a free business listing.

My online training course, How to Serve Customers Using Social Media, can help you make sense of them all. You'll need a Lynda.com account to access it, so here's a 30-day trial if you're not already a subscriber.

Insider Perspectives: SocialPath's Al Hopper on Social Media

Al Hopper, COO & Founder of SocialPath Solutions.

Al Hopper, COO & Founder of SocialPath Solutions.

A recent experience highlighted the evolution of social media customer service.

I was traveling from San Diego to Milwaukee, connecting through Dallas. My American Airlines flight from San Diego to Dallas was cancelled due to weather. 

A long line of customers trying to get re-booked formed in front of the gate agent. Another group of customers pulled out their phones and dialed reservations, hoping to get a live agent without waiting on hold for too long.

I went to Twitter and sent a direct message to @AmericanAir. Fifteen minutes later, I was booked on a later flight to Chicago, which was a good alternative airport for my destination. My trip was back on track with minimal effort.

Meanwhile, a long line of passengers were still waiting to get help.

To learn more about how companies like American Airlines are leveraging social media, I turned to Al Hopper, the COO and co-founder of SocialPath Solutions. His company provides social media engagement and customer care solutions for its client companies.

Hopper was recently named one of ICMI's Top 50 Thought Leaders to Follow on Twitter and is a co-host of Twitter's weekly #custserv chat (Tuesdays, 6pm Pacific). In 2016, Hopper was named one of Conversocial's Top 30 Most Influential People in Social Customer Service.

Q: Outsourced social customer care might be a new concept for some of my readers. Can you tell me a little about SocialPath Solutions and what it does?

"When we were formed in 2014, most companies were using social media agencies to do a lot of marketing push, but not a lot of engaging. SocialPath was created to put the social back into social media.

"A lot of marketing companies don't want to do that. They want to create a campaign, plug it into an automated schedule, and hope it goes viral.

"But there's a real limitation to that approach. One retailer had set up a marketing campaign to tweet special deals on Black Friday. Each tweet contained a link back to the retailer's website, but the website crashed in the middle of the campaign. Customers started tweeting the company to let them know and ask for help, but there was nobody monitoring the Twitter feed so these customers couldn't get a response. Meanwhile, the next automated marketing tweet was sent out, making the company seem like it was deliberately ignoring its customers.

"SocialPath Solutions helps with that engagement piece. Even if you're already working with a marketing agency they're probably not engaging with your customers. Or if they do, it's really limited. We can provide scalable access to 24/7 social customer support."


Q: Social media customer care is a struggle for many companies. What are some of the major roadblocks that you see?

"Scale is a big one. It takes most companies a minimum of $500,000 to staff a social media team 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"Think about a small team with perhaps two agents per shift and a supervisor. What happens if someone calls in sick or wants to take a vacation day? How do you build in time for training or staff development? And how do you ensure there's coverage every day, all day?

"That might be possible for a large or mid-sized company, but a small business has no hope of being fully present on social media because they're already strapped for time. 

"Even if you get the staffing part down, you need to invest in a platform that's robust enough to allow you to engage in active social listening and can generate the appropriate analytics.

"Analytics are key. A lot of business leaders look at customer care as a cost, including social, so you need to be able to get executives to understand that social customer service is really marketing.

"Outsourcers like SocialPath allow companies to minimize their upfront investment by taking advantage of our ability to help you scale. We have a talented team of social media experts and have already invested in robust platforms to manage social customer care effectively."


Q: You mentioned that social customer service is really marketing. Can you give me an example that's different than traditional advertising? 

"Let's say your company is a regional retailer with a network of stores. A loyal customer who has moved out of your region connects with your brand on social media and says, 'I miss you!' Having a social media presence allows you to respond and say, 'We miss you too! Did you know you can shop with us online?' You can share a link and track it to connect that interaction to sales.

"A lot of fast food restaurants have had big wins like that. The most recent example is Wendy's with their 'never frozen' campaign. Organic engagement just happened, the news caught wind of it, and then suddenly it went viral. (Side note: Adweek put together this great recap.)"


Q: How should a customer service leader get started if they want to engage customers on social media?

"The first thing you've got to have is a plan. What are the potential types of contacts that are going to come up? You can use previous contacts from other channels (phone, email, etc.) as a guidepost to help with your planning.

"Next, you need to think about how you are going to respond. (Side note: develop your brand voice using this excellent guide from Stephanie Schwab at Crackerjack Marketing.)

"You should also consider what sorts of messages you aren't going to respond to. Someone might complain that your website isn't loading properly, but in reality they just need to clear their cache, restart their browser, and everything will be working fine. But if 100 people complain about your website, you'd better have a way to respond internally and externally."


Q: What else do you want business leaders to know about social media customer service?

"People are going to be talking about you whether your brand is present on social media or not. So you're never controlling the conversation, you can only contribute to it.

"Executives sometimes worry about a service failure going viral on social media, but if you think about it, all customer service channels now have that potential. 

"In the last few years, people have posted recordings of bad phone calls, shared videos of in-person experiences, or posted emails or chat sessions. Those used to be exclusively one-on-one interactions, but now they're easy to share.

"Another concern we hear a lot as an outsourcer is business leaders are leery about entrusting their social media to another company. But it's really okay to outsource social media if it's done right. You just want to make sure you find a provider that takes the time to become a true partner with your business.

"This is the same consideration for outsourcing any aspect of your customer service, whether its having another company answer your phone calls or hiring a delivery company to deliver orders to your customers. Anyone that connects with your customers should be invested in providing a great experience, no matter what channel it is."

Here's What's New In Social Media Customer Service

Social media is still an immature customer service channel.

That's apparent when reading the latest Customer Experience Benchmark report from Execs In The Know and COPC, Inc. This report is the 2015 Corporate Edition and was published in 2016.

I previously analyzed their 2013 report and their 2014 report and came to the same conclusion each year. Most companies still don't get social media as a customer service channel.

Six years ago, I did my own tiny social media study. That's back when the Starbucks Twitter profile said that some guy named Brad did the tweeting. Things are pretty much the same as even back then. (Except for Brad. I'm not sure what happened to him.)

In this year's report, I did see a glimmer of hope that more companies are starting to catch on. Social media customer service is still far from maturity, but it might be entering it's adolescent years.

Below are three of the more interesting trends revealed in the report. You can also purchase the full report from Execs In The Know. It's full of intriguing insights on social media plus more traditional channels (phone, email, etc.) and emerging channels like self-service and chat.


Trend #1: Ownership

More customer service teams are getting involved, and they're getting more resources to do it. It still isn't great. Here's the breakdown of who owns the social media function:

Customer service has sole or joint ownership of social media in 54 percent of companies surveyed. That's up from 50 percent last year.

The percentage of companies that give their social media agents training is also up, though not quite as high as it was in 2013.

Side note:

What the heck are companies doing that aren't training their employees?! I can just see those managers now.

"Hey Kayla. You're a millennial, right?! Don't all you millennials get social media and stuff? Well, you're in charge now."

I digress.

The other good news is that 60 percent of companies surveyed expected their budget to increase. Only 27 percent of companies surveyed last year planned to increase their budget.


Trend #2: New Channels

Twitter and Facebook remain the big dogs when it comes to social media customer service. 

There are other sites like Pintrest, Instagram, and LinkedIn that have millions of users but haven't really caught on for customer service.

However, there are a few alternative social media channels that are increasing. The chart below compares each channel's share of social media engagements in 2015 vs 2014.

Here, it's helpful to remind ourselves what constitutes social media. This is the definition from the Merriam-Webster online dictionary:

forms of electronic communication (as Web sites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (as videos)

What types of sites are in these three growing categories?

So, the real trick for companies is figuring out where their customers are trying to interact with them and then establishing a service presence in those channels.


Trend #3: Maturity Is Still Low

If something stays the same, does that constitute a trend? 

I'm going to say yes. It's important to acknowledge that many companies are struggling to serve their customers via social media. 

Just 20 percent of survey respondents felt their social media customer service was mature or very mature.

This is going to pose a problem for two reasons. First, social media volume is increasing. The survey found that social media volume increased in 77 percent of companies. 

Second, companies are struggling to keep up with this volume. I examined this 2015 multichannel study from Eptica to learn about social media response rates. 

Here's how the top 500 U.S. retailers fared via Twitter, Facebook, and email:

Yikes! Do these brands hate their customers?

Seriously, brands. I say this with sincerity and affection: If you aren't going to respond to your customers on social media (or email?!) then shut down your account. 

It's social + media. Not media. Sheesh.

Here, I suspect companies are lying to themselves. They think they are awesome when they're not. (I recently wrote about overconfidence causing service failures.) 

There are three data points that support this assertion.

First, the Customer Experience Benchmark found that improving the quality of care was a top priority for contact centers for the second year in a row.

Second, the report also found that 79 percent of companies think they're meeting the needs of their customers, but only 33 percent of customers surveyed agree.

Finally, there's Gartner's famous stat that 89 percent of companies expect customer experience to be their primary basis for competition in 2016.

It's hard to believe we're entering a new age of customer service awesome if companies aren't even responding to basic inquiries. Maybe that's why retail customer satisfaction continues to drop


One Last Trend

There's one last trend that I think explains a lot.

Take a look at Domo's 2015 Social CEO Report. They looked at Fortune 500 CEOs to see which ones had a presence on social media. 

Their sad finding is 61 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs have no presence on social media. It's hard to believe that social media will get the attention it deserves if CEOs don't understand it.

Alaska Airlines Nails Social Listening

A few weeks ago, AT&T stumbled into an #icmichat Tweet chat. It's a weekly Twitter chat that revolves around contact centers and customer service. 

Someone mentioned a poor AT&T experience, which generated a series of automated Tweets from AT&T's @ATTCares account. 

The got trolled for their efforts.

It was an ironic example of how not to practice social listening. Someone on AT&T's social care team evidently got the message because the automated automated Tweets have stopped happening. 

Today, I get to point out a good example. Alaska Airlines provided a textbook example of social listening during this week's #icmichat.

We were discussing how airlines will sometimes match competitor's frequent flyer status in an effort to get them to defect. I mentioned that Alaska Airlines had recently done this for my wife. Another participant asked how to go about it.

Knowing Alaska Airlines is on top of social media, I sent this Tweet:

Within minutes, Alaska Airlines sent Nancy Jamison a direct message:

That was a great move since it established a personal connection and answered Jamison's question directly. Next, they followed up to let everyone else know how to do it too:

Their approach was fast, helpful, and friendly. Angel, the Alaska Airlines customer service rep, also took an extra moment to show a little non-automated personality:

This is the type of Twitter support that companies should strive for. I won't lie to you - getting here isn't easy. There's a lot of time, effort, and planning that goes into it.

Here are a few resources to help you explore how your company can nail Twitter like Alaska Airlines:

Inside Twitter's New Customer Service Guide

Twitter has published a playbook to help companies serve customers via Twitter. 

Overall, it's a very useful guide. It's also a pretty hefty volume, clocking in at 125 pages. This post is a "Cliff's Notes" version that summarizes a few key aspects:

  • Twitter's unique position as a service channel
  • Creative ways to engage customers via Twitter
  • Top challenges companies face
  • How to implement a successful Twitter care strategy

You can also download the full guide here:


Twitter's Unique Position

The Playbook highlights Twitter's unique combination of attributes:

  • Public: Anyone can see it
  • Real-time: Tweets are immediate
  • Conversational: Anyone can join in
  • Distributed: Tweets can easily be shared

Here's a great example of an exchange between a customer and a brand:

Twitter claims that serving a customer via Twitter can cost up to 80 percent less than via phone. I couldn't find a source for that calculation, but it wouldn't be surprising given the short-burst nature of Twitter.

The Playbook also makes a really, really bold claim:

Twitter is the ideal customer service channel.

It's a bold claim. And, they could be right.

The argument hinges on the fact that customers are already on Twitter. They don't have to go to a company-specific channel such as phone, email, or an app to receive service.

Consider this choose your-own-adventure customer service scenario:

You experience a flight delay that will cause you to miss your connecting flight. You now need to get booked on a later flight.

Do you:

  1. Wait in line to speak to a gate attendant?
  2. Use your smart phone to navigate the airline's website?
  3. Call the airline and sit through IVR hell?
  4. Email the airline and wait two weeks for a response?
  5. Trust the airline's wonky app?

None of those sounds like a great option if you're in a hurry. 

The promise of Twitter is you can fire off a Tweet to let the world know you are bummed about your flight delay and the airline's super-responsive Twitter squad will see your Tweet and instantly book you on another flight.

Yeah, it does seem a bit far-fetched. 

But, imagine the possibilities if your company can pull off this magic! You keep the customer in their preferred channel. And, your brand's snappy response signals to others that you are on the ball.

(Yes, I know some airlines automatically re-book passengers in these situations. That service is far from perfect. One airline auto re-booked me to the wrong airport. #fail)

As a side note, Twitter's argument for being the best channel actually works better for text. Text is another way companies can serve you where you already are. Plus, it has the added advantage of being one-to-one versus one-to-one-to-many. 

In fact, text has amazing potential as a customer service tool.

In that same scenario, you could receive an automated flight delay notification from the airline via text. It could also propose rebooking you on another flight. All you'd have to do is text back to confirm. Voila!


Creative Use Cases

The Playbook lays out three general ways that companies can use Twitter for customer service:

  1. Issue resolution
  2. Proactive engagement
  3. Voice of the Customer listening

Many companies are familiar with issue resolution. A customer Tweets about a problem and the company tries to fix it.

The nice thing about using Twitter for issue resolution is other customers can see the resolution too. Let's say your customer asks a question a lot of other customers ask too. You can include a helpful link to additional information.

Proactive engagement is another way to use Twitter. This is where a brand steps into a conversation to offer helpful service. Hilton provides a good example with their @hiltonsuggests handle:

One word of caution here. There's a fine line between helpful and creepy when a brand is being proactive.

Voice of customer listening involves looking at the larger trends. Twitter's Playbook cites an example at T-Mobile where a change to a corporate discounting program caused a large spike in negative Tweets. They were able to quickly address the issue before it got larger.


Top Twitter Challenges

The Playbook also highlighted some of the top challenges companies face when using Twitter. The report mentioned two, but I'll add a third:

  1. Keeping up with volume
  2. Managing multiple touch points
  3. Low preference (my addition)

Twitter's analytics show that tweets to major brands have increased 2.5 times in just two years. They also show that approximately 40 percent of those Tweets go unanswered. 

(Note: a recent Freshdesk study puts the number of unanswered Tweets at 78 percent.)

Managing multiple touch points is also a challenge. A customer interaction might start in a store, migrate to the company's website, and finally escalate to Twitter. 

Companies struggle to maintain a consistent brand voice across all these channels. Many companies also lack the systems necessary to present customer service reps with a single view of customers who engage through multiple channels.

My own addition is that very few customers actually prefer Twitter. 

An Execs in the Know study revealed that only 9 percent of customers prefer social media as their primary channel. And, my own research shows that most customers turn to Twitter after failing to get a resolution from another channel.

Would more customers prefer Twitter if more companies got it right? I don't know, but I'd guess the answer is yes.


Twitter's Guide to Twitter

The most useful portion of Twitter's Playbook are the step-by-step instructions for getting started on Twitter or optimizing your company's presence.

They offer seven steps:

  1. Set your vision (here's a handy worksheet)
  2. Size and prioritize your opportunities
  3. Define the customer service experience
  4. Set goals for performance metrics (try the SMART goals worksheet)
  5. Establish the measurement mechanism
  6. Operationalize your strategy
  7. Iterate and innovate

You can download the full guide if you think these steps might be useful.

Three Social Customer Care Trends You Need to Know

Social customer care should be entering an age of maturity.

The dominant social media channels have been around for awhile. Facebook is more than ten years old. Twitter is now nine. 

In reality, best practices are still evolving.

Here are three trends from the 2014 Customer Experience Management Benchmark (CEMB) study that’s co-produced by Executives in the Know and Digital Roots. These trends all seem to indicate that companies are still trying to find their way.

Trend #1: Channel Priorities

You can tell a lot about a company’s social media priorities by who owns it.

The CEMB revealed that customer care is an owner or co-owner of social media channels in only 50 percent of companies.

Why is this happening?

One explanation could be that corporate CEOs still don’t understand social media. A 2014 Domo study revealed that 68 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs have no presence on social media.

Another explanation is an apparent lack of social media adoption by customer care representatives themselves.

The Twitter backchannel was a virtual ghost town at ICMI’s 2015 Contact Center Expo & Conference. Only a few highly active participants regularly chimed in. 

Likewise, when I conducted an informal poll in my conference sessions, less than 10 percent acknowledged they were Twitter users.

We can't win the social customer care game until we're actually playing the game.


Trend #2: Wavering Commitment

Many companies are experiencing a commitment problem when it comes to social customer care. They're just not as invested in social like they are in other channels.

According to the CEMB, the growth of social media customer care has slowed.

And, fewer companies are training their social media agents.

Even worse, many companies are almost completely ignoring social media as a customer care channel.

Here are two stats that really jump out:

  • Only 14% of companies measure CSAT via social (Source: CEMB)
  • The Top 100 brands ignore 78% of Tweets (Source: Freshdesk)

Brands would love us all to have social media conversations about how great they are. They encourage us to share our positive thoughts using their carefully selected hashtags. 

But, they can't have it both ways. If they want us to engage with them, they'd better engage with us.


Trend #3: Strong Alternatives

Other customer care channels are a much higher priority than social.

The CEMB report revealed that social media is the preferred customer care channel for only 9 percent of customers.

Phone is still the top channel. According to ICMI Senior Analyst Justin Robbins, self-service is the fastest growing channel.

My own 2014 study of customer care via Twitter revealed that most customers view Twitter as a secondary channel, not a primary one. They only take to Twitter when another channel has failed them.

Another Twitter study I did earlier this year suggested that the impact of an upset customer ranting online may be overestimated. Or, viewed another way, a customer who receives poor service via any other channel is just as dangerous.


What’s Next?

Sadly, I could easily cut and paste the conclusion from a similar post I wrote a year ago.

It’s about time more companies figure it out. Key areas for improvement include:

  • Faster response times
  • Fewer ignored questions
  • Consistent service quality across all channels

The few companies that get it right can really stand out from the rest that don’t.

There are a few additions, too:

  • Customer care teams must gain a seat at the table.
  • Customer care professionals must personally engage with social.
  • Organizations must provide their agents with adequate training.

Perhaps most importantly, organizations must strive for consistency across all channels. A service failure can be just as damaging over the phone, in person, or via social media.