Follow Us

Like what you're reading?

Subscribe to receive periodic updates about new posts by email, or follow us via Twitter or RSS.

Please enter a valid e-mail address to subscribe.


You have subscribed.

Social Support #Fail: How Experts Would Fix 8 Twitter Missteps


Responding to customer service requests on social media can go a long way to restoring customers’ faith in a brand—but not all responses are created equal. In fact, just 1 percent of customers say social media provides the best customer experience, and 49 percent who receive a response do not have a positive reaction to it.

Clearly, many companies have room for improvement when it comes to responding on social media. This article will identify several common missteps in customer service interactions on Twitter, and describe how leading social strategy experts would “correct” these mistakes to provide a better customer experience.

How These Tweets Were Identified

To compile the Tweets for this article, I created a list of the 130 most socially active brands (those listed on The Social 100, the 2012 Social Customer Service Index, the 2012 Brands on Twitter report and Forbes 20 Most Social Brands Report). I then set up queries with analytics tool Brandwatch to pull a month’s worth of social media data for each brand.

To narrow down my list of 130, I focused on those companies with the highest ratio of negative sentiment (Note: This sentiment analysis is automated. It is possible that some mentions were incorrectly identified as being negative, and vice versa for mentions that were categorized as neutral or positive). Then, I created a filter to only pull mentions from Twitter that included the words “customer service” and had negative sentiment.

Silence Is NOT Golden: Don’t Leave Your Customers Hanging

In the example pictured below, a customer describes the experience she had when calling Adidas, saying she was “hung up on.” Despite taking to Twitter to voice her complaint, she never received a response from the brand (at least publicly).

Adidas Tweet

According to our experts, this is one of the most common missteps companies make. In fact, one study found that only 29 percent of customers receive a response when voicing a complaint on Twitter.

While it’s unlikely the contact center actually “hung up” on the customer (they may have simply been disconnected), Kim Garst, co-founder and CEO of Boom! Social and one of Forbes’ “Top 50 Social Media Power Influencers,” says the brand should have responded to her Tweet with an apology right away.

Adidas does respond to customers on Twitter occasionally, but from scanning their Twitter feed (primary handle here), it appears the channel is used primarily as a marketing platform. Garst says there’s no excuse for Adidas not responding in this instance. To effectively handle a situation like this, she says companies should respond with a Tweet that does four things:

  • Acknowledges the issue head on;
  • Addresses the customer by name;
  • Apologizes; and
  • Attempts to fix the issue.

As an example of the response Adidas should have Tweeted, Garst suggests the following:

Adidas fixed Tweet
Similarly, she suggests the below response to a customer’s Tweet directed at PayPal and Ebay that didn’t receive a response from either company (at least publicly):

Paypal Tweet
Experts say these types of missed opportunities are likely caused by two factors. One, companies haven’t programmed their social listening software pick up these types of negative instances (instead programming it to identify engagements that signal marketing opportunities). Or two, the companies don’t have the tools for effectively triaging these tweets to a customer service agent who could respond.

Don’t Tell Customers to Do Something When They’re Upset

Schaffer Consulting Managing Partner Ron Ashkenas recently wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review that described why low-effort customer service—making it as easy as possible for customers to do business with you—is one of the most important factors when it comes to fostering customer loyalty.

In the following customer interaction, our experts say the social customer service agent did the exact opposite:

American Airlines Tweet
Twice in a row, the customer service agent asks the customer to tell someone else about the problem, instead of doing it for them. Shep Hyken, customer experience expert, keynote speaker, author and founder of Shepard Presentations, says the agent should have responded with a message more like Kim’s suggestion for Adidas:

Shep Hyken Tweet

“The problem with [American Airlines’] response is the customer service representative didn’t appear to take any responsibility,” Hyken says. “It’s the same as saying, ‘not my department.’ The passenger needs to know someone cares.”

If it was absolutely necessary in this instance for the customer to fill out a feedback form, he says the agent could have Tweeted something like, “Once the form is filled out, I’ll have a better idea of how to help you and promise to get back to you within an hour.” Providing a time frame helps put the customer at ease, because they feel like you’re actively working on the issue and have made a promise to stay in contact either way to update them.

According to Unmetric Global Marketing Manager Peter Claridge, poorly executed responses like this one are symptomatic of agents not having the tools needed to actually resolve the issue. Instead, they’re left to simply express regret for the issue happening. It’s possible the American Airlines agent in this case didn’t have access to customer records, so they literally didn’t have the option to help Connor.

“Staff need access to data and to be empowered to ‘make things right,’ which can cover everything from issuing refunds to booking them on the next available flight, perhaps even on a competing airline,” Claridge says.

Don’t Just Respond. Tell The Customer You’re Here to Help

One of the most common metrics used to assess social media success is response rate, or the percentage of total mentions that receive a reply. While this is an important metric, our experts say many companies make the mistake of exclusively evaluating their performance against these aggregate measures.

Simply monitoring social channels through this lens won’t reveal interactions such as the first Tweet in this exchange:

Starbucks UK Tweet
Similar to American Airlines’ response, Dave Evans, vice president of social strategy for Lithium Technologies, points out that Starbucks is sending the customer to another channel.

Additionally, he says the responder doesn’t clearly state their desire to help the customer. While it’s implied that the customer can email the address provided to get a response, the agent should have specifically said the words “we want to help.”

“Starbucks is an unfortunate case—while the brand receives kudos for ‘My Starbucks Ideas,’ the brand’s use of social (or any channel, per the above conversation) for genuine customer engagement is clearly lacking,” Evans says.

In this instance, Evans suggests the agent should have instead responded with:

Starbucks UK fixed Tweet
In this next interaction shown below, Target acknowledges the issue, but then doesn’t offer to fix it, and the agent doesn’t use the word “help” in the first response. Later, as other Twitter users chime into the conversation, the agent uses the word “help,” but does so by asking the customer to visit one of Target’s physical locations.

Target Tweet 1

Target Tweet 2

Target Tweet 3

“Don’t ask your customer to invest more time and effort than they already did,” says Iris Vermeren, community manager at Brandwatch, pointing out that this is a perfect example of an issue escalating “out of control.”

In addition to not making a clear offer to help immediately, Vermeren says Target’s response is robotic and typical of companies using canned responses in social media interactions. In fact, it follows almost the exact same format as the American Airlines example mentioned earlier: the agent says some iteration of, “We’re sorry for your frustration,” and then asks the customer to contact someone else.

Since other Twitter users were already part of the conversation in this instance, she suggests the following response:

Target Tweet 4

Choose Your Words Carefully

Our experts agree that Toyota is also guilty of the Twitter response offenses we’ve covered thus far. In the below example, the company doesn’t offer to actually “help” the customer. It then asks them to try another channel, but neglects to actually provide contact details for getting in touch with someone.

On top of this, Sendible Marketing Analyst Vishal Pindoriya says the company highlights another important lesson for social customer service responders: think carefully about every word you use on Twitter:

Toyota Tweet 1
As Pindoriya puts it, “If you’re going to ‘convey’ something, you’re just describing it—it doesn’t imply that you’re going to take action.” Toyota’s response is available for all to see, and Pindoriya says it definitely doesn’t send the message that the agent is ready or willing to help.

With so few characters in a Tweet, it’s critical that agents choose their words very carefully and consider the potential for varying semantics in what’s said. Pindoriya suggests the following response instead:

Toyota Tweet 2
About 47 percent of customers have reported using social media for customer service, and businesses estimate the channel now accounts for approximately 16 percent of all customer service inquiries. In this type of environment, Pindoriya warns that customers will be increasingly less tolerant of these types of impersonal, poorly thought through responses.

Don’t Forget to Close the Issue Publicly

So far, we’ve looked at a few situations where an agent moved the interaction to another channel. In most cases, our group of experts doesn’t recommend doing this—you want to serve the customer within the channel they used to contact you, because it’s clearly the one they prefer.

However, they say there are instances when it’s acceptable to ask customers to contact you privately, such as when you need their account information:

Dish Tweet 1
Dish Tweet 2
In this instance, Dish did a good job of making efforts to follow up with the customer and resolve the issue. However, the company doesn’t make it clear to other Twitter users that the problem was ever solved.

As John Rote, vice president of customer experience at Bonobos, once told me, “Social care is like troubleshooting in a coffee shop or bar… It’s likely more people will hear about it and pull friends from across the room to listen.” Once the issue was resolved, Dish could have circled back and Tweeted something like, “So glad we were able to find a resolution! Please let me know if you need anything else!”

Debbie Hemley, a social media consultant and blogger for the Social Media Examiner, suggests another way this interaction could have been improved: by providing the customer with an email address instead of asking them to follow Dish on Twitter in order to message them directly. For example:

Dish Tweet 3

Ask the Customer for a Chance to Rectify the Experience

For many companies, one of the biggest fears of providing service on social channels is that it will encourage customers to complain on Twitter if they want something. For this reason, experts suggest being careful not to abuse this next piece of advice—it should be reserved for instances when the problem isn’t something you can’t technically “fix” because it’s a negative experience, rather than a problem that needs solving.

Take this interaction, for example:

Pizza Hut Tweet 1
In a case like this, Parature Senior Marketing Writer Tricia Morris recommends creating an opportunity for the customer to give you another chance. She suggests the brand offer to rectify the situation by giving the customer something for free.

While you want to be careful not to offer “freebies” to every customer to prevent others from expecting the same, there wasn’t anything in this instance the agent could do to speed up the delivery. Instead, they could have responded with the following:

Pizza Hut Tweet 2

In addition to offering a coupon or other offer, Morris says the agent also could have asked for the Pizza Hut location where the order was placed, then contacted the store to investigate the issue. Once the issue was resolved, they then should have responded publicly so anyone following the customer on Twitter could see the issue was fixed.

“Essentially, you need to take ownership of the issue,” says Erin Robinson, senior communications manager at AOL. “Ensure the customer that you are looking into the issue—and really look into the issue.”

To Respond, or Not to Respond?

Our experts agree that it’s impossible to expect large brands such as those mentioned here to respond to every message on Twitter, so the fact that they reply to any customers shows they are taking some initiative. But for many customers, this may not be enough.

“It’s important to understand that there is no obligation, per se, on the part of the brand to respond [on social media]—participation is the brand’s decision,” Evans says. “That said, it is also then the right of the customer to draw from this whatever conclusion one wishes. Most customers, left ignored, would conclude the brand is disinterested in satisfying them.”

In other words, while social media isn’t a “required channel” in the way phone and email support is, companies should recognize the risk they take in not making it a priority: they could end up losing customers.

Consider, for example, that 89 percent of customers say they stopped doing business with a company because of a bad customer service experience. On social media, these negative experiences can travel further faster, so one instance can end up negatively affecting far more people than just the original customer.

Share this post:  
Ashley Verrill

About the Author

Ashley Verrill has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Her work has been featured or cited in Inc., Forbes, Business Insider, TechCrunch, GigaOM,, Yahoo News, the Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal, among others.

Connect with Ashley Verrill via: 
Email  | Google+