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12 Days of Digital – Day 6: Candid Customers…

Candid customers, liberal with their gripes don’t necessarily go through channels preferred by businesses. Yesterday’s post focused on listening to consumers for market research. Today we’re in the proactive world of customer service using Twitter.

The grand daddy of customer care on everyone’s favourite microblogging site has to be Comcast. The @comcastcares formula has been adopted and adapted by everyone from @easyJetcare, (former Head of Customer Experience Paul Hopkins even visited Comcast before it’s launch) to @BTcare. Differentiating the customer service account from other areas of business frees up your team to approach customers, disgruntled or joyous, without risk of ‘spamming’ friends and influencers.

My first personal experience of customer care on Twitter was in 2009 when I was contacted by a then General Manager at Virgin Trains, Richard Baker. I have since become friends with Richard and found his experiences in using the platform for customer care invaluable.

Promoted to a new role in Virgin Trains, in a region he wasn’t familiar with, Richard wanted to build relationships with his new customers and stakeholders for better service delivery. By listening to what was being said about the brand he came across my tweet musing why onboard wifi provided browsers in German.

I glowed with a warm fuzzy feeling at the thought someone from Virgin had taken the time to respond to my random tweet and suspect, for that week at least, by far outweighed any bad press the train line had with my word of mouth marketing. There are times when a twitter account can’t physically help someone’s grumble. It’s incredibly powerful, however, to show someone is listening, says sorry and puts out a hand to start rebuilding a relationship.

Richard is no longer with Virgin. Before he left he set up @virgintrains and established it as the point of call for customer care. The impact on customer relations was swift. It seemed by switching to a nameless logo he was opening the floodgates to abuse. Virgin has persevered under the twitter handle, despite other possibilities.

I’m not a fan of named individuals being twitter handle spokespeople for customer service. Guy Stephens, former Customer Knowledge Manager at Carphone Warehouse, is an interesting case in point. Another pioneer in UK customer service online he was known as @guyatcarphone, Yes, the url could have been changed when he left the company, but the page is now redundant and customers are presumably left seeking who else they should be engaging with.

The likes of @easyJetcare and @ATTcustomercare use happy and obliging ‘faces’ as the identity of their customer service, not logos, but I defer back to the grand daddy for what I see as the most effective use of the twitter bio. @comcastcares’ ‘name’ is Bill Gerth, he has a happy face, his own identity and contact email address (even for the cynical amongst us a dummy email address goes a long way). For me perceived personal customer service is still the way forward, even if there’s a team behind the person, it’s the ‘individual’ care I crave.

So the early pioneers for brands in social media were customer experience professionals, working to provide the best service available by building relationships with their consumers. It was the marketers who then seized on the new opportunity to boost the bottom line. Of course customer service goes towards consumer engagement for higher sales but there are also other, very different, conversations to be had; more on that tomorrow.

Former BBC producer Kate Pickering has worked in broadcast, innovation and digital media for 14 years. She is Director ofmedia140 delivering events and workshops in the UK, mainland Europe and Australia on the transformation of business using social technologies. A collaborative innovation enthusiast and a firm believer the web is for good as well as play Kate is focused on what’s new and what’s next to better business. She has recently become Innovation Programme Leader at Co-operatives UK. Connect with Kate here.

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