Who Won the Great Social Customer Service Race?

January 30, 2013

Ashley Verrill Guest Poster: Ashley Verrill

It is my pleasure to introduce Ashley Verrill. Ashley is a market analyst with Software Advice. She has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Her work has appeared in myriad publications including Inc., Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal.

In today’s Yelp and social media-saturated world, online reputation management is paramount to success. This is particularly true for Twitter, where even one negative tweet can instantly go viral if left unmitigated.

But there’s good news. Social media also provides the unique opportunity to surprise and delight your customers by responding to their messages in real time. A brand detractor can become a promoter with the right response.

A Social Customer Service Experiment

Recently, Software Advice, a research consultancy, conducted an experiment to see which of the nation’s top 14 brands take advantage of this opportunity to manage their reputation on Twitter. The project called “The Great Social Customer Service Race” tested whether or not these top companies respond to negative and positive mentions about their brand.

For the race, myself (@ashleyfurness) and three of my coworkers used our personal Twitter handles to send one tweet to each brand every weekday for four weeks. We timed how long it took each company to respond and the percent of total messages that received a response.

We also did an evaluation regarding the quality of the responses. Were they robotic? Did they really answer the question, or did they just send a general link that left us digging for the best answer? Did they try and build rapport?

Three social media technology developers independently evaluated our questions to ensure they were queries the company should respond to. They fell into one of five buckets: negative, positive, urgent (purchase happening now), FAQ and technical (likely needing more than one tweet to answer).

Who Won the Race?

Overall, it’s clear at least some of these companies realize the value in engaging on Twitter. We had several instances of brands responding in less than 15 minutes and continuing the conversation past one tweet. Also, several times one company would retweet the interaction, realizing the chance to market a positive interaction.

On the flip side, several of the companies didn’t respond at all, while a competitor did. Particularly in the banking sector, I received several tweets from outsiders suggesting I use a different institution. Even when we used key words like “angry” or “#fail” we didn’t receive a response. This is a huge misstep and a potential online brand management disaster.

Below, the infographic shows how each company performed in their industry bracket, along with several lessons we learned along the way.

Lessons Learned About Social Customer Service

Don’t Leave Us Hanging
Despite winning the matchup for response rate and time to respond, Coca-Cola committed a big error when one reply came four days after the question was sent. Taking four days to respond to a straightforward question “is basically the same as not replying at all,” says Anna Drennan, the marketing manager for social listening software Conversocial, especially when you consider most customers expect a response withing two hours.

Instead, if you agent knows the response will take longer, or needs to be escalated, they should use a placeholder. For example “I’m looking into this now! I will get back pronto! – AV.”

Track Important Keyword Triggers
Customers that tweet requests on Twitter are seeking instant gratification. For companies that receive thousands of mentions a day, it’s impossible to expect them to catch everything, but businesses should have a system for picking out the most important messages. During the race, many of the participants missed messages that indicated huge risk of switching brands, or high purchase intent.

Social CRM programs allow users to customize prioritization rules with things like key word identifiers, social influence and customer history. So a company could for example make sure a tweet with “help,” “mad,” “#fail,” “thank you” and the brand name, is moved to the front of the service queue.

Be Human
Customer service expert, best-selling author and speaker Micah Solomon told me recently that being human in your engagements with customers on Twitter is one of the most important considerations. Twitter is a social platform, you’re responders need to talk and act like they would interact with their real friends and family.

Listen for Your Brand, @ or No @
There was a huge disparity during the race for messages with the @ and those without. Certainly brands shouldn’t insert themselves in someone else’s conversation, but these interactions also provide an opportunity for the company to express proactive customer service. These interactions increase the likelihood the customer will share the interaction and refer your brand to friends.

Social Support Still Not the Norm
When I started this project, I assumed that if any company was ahead in the social customer service game, it would be a major brand from this group. Whether the issue is one of strategy or technology, brands are still far from meeting customers’ expectations on Twitter.

What has been your experience reaching out to companies on social media?

Guest Post Disclaimer: Guest Posts on the Customers That Stick blog are submitted by individual guest posters and in no way represent the opinions or endorsement of CTS Service Solutions, its owners or employees. CTS Service Solutions does not represent or guarantee the truthfulness, accuracy, or reliability of statements or facts posted by Guest Posters on this blog.

4 thoughts on “Who Won the Great Social Customer Service Race?”

  1. Hi Ashley,

    What a great experiment! I really enjoyed seeing the comparison between companies in the same sector. It would be interesting to see the results of this same experiment if it were replicated a few years from now. Thanks for the awesome Infographic, too!

  2. What I found most interesting in the study Ashley was the use of trigger words to try to elicit a response. Major consumer brands like Coca-Cola or McDonald’s might not realistically be able to respond to every tweet that has an @ or No @ mention in it.

    However, large brands should know what keywords typically are indicative of important brand engagement scenarios such as dissatisfaction or purchase intent. And, as you point out, most social CRM software makes this a snap.

    Also, I must say I was surprised to see the financial services sector have the highest response rates overall. Would have never bet on that in a matchup against consumer and technology brands!

    Thanks for such an informative guest post.

  3. Pingback: Monthly Mash and Social Monitoring Tools

  4. Pingback: How Your Business Can Take Advantage of Major Social Media Events

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