By Deborah Wroe

In December 2012 Twitter announced it had surpassed 200 million monthly active users. Despite this massive growth Twitter still has its detractors……“I don’t have the time”, “I don’t care what Beyonce had for her breakfast”, “It’s just for kids”. And from the marketing community, “don’t put all your marketing eggs into one basket – go where your customers are”, “it’s too difficult to measure”. With 200 million users worldwide, and 10 million of those in the UK, unless your product or service is very niche, your customers and/or potential customers are likely to be using Twitter.

Twitter is not a selling platform but it is a highly effective communication tool and customer service is where it really comes to the fore.

Consumers are becoming more savvy with social media and know they can elevate a query, issue or complaint by using social media, in a very public way. How you as a brand/company deal with it is also public and your reputation can be enhanced by a positive response.

I have had many positive encounters with local and national brands using social media. For example, an online order I placed with the Body Shop was missing an item. Their online form to report it crashed for me so I tweeted them. They followed me and over a couple of direct messages (DMs) the issue was resolved. I have one now with my energy supplier – unresolved so I won’t name names, but after lengthy telephone calls I resorted to Twitter and asked for someone to email me, which they did, within 24 hours.

And some not so good…a local takeaway which took an age to deliver, delivered luke warm food, and not great food at that. I politely tweeted them whilst waiting for the food, as I couldn’t get through on the phone, no reply. I politely tweeted them after the food had arrived stating my disappointment, no reply. I think I may have then tweeted again on a weekday during the day, again no reply. Yet they were tweeting out offers and plaudits, so were actively using Twitter, but blatantly ignoring me. I voted with my feet and have never used them again. Yet they had the opportunity to turn that around – and missed it #fail. Unless @ replies and DMs are treated as a priority, it is best not to use Twitter at all. Bad use of social media adds to the problem, good use can turn a negative into a positive.

We see many brands using social media to signpost rather than deal with issues, “Sorry about that, please phone our call centre”. This is not using social media effectively, it’s called fobbing off.

The person tweeting should be responsible for answering the query. They should be empowered to follow the complainer and deal with the issue by DM or telephone or email, and take it out of the public arena of Twitter. If necessary, add initials to the end of a tweet to show who is managing the account at the time.

Whether it’s you as a business owner tweeting, or a social media manager/PR agency tweeting on your behalf doesn’t matter (and is a whole other blog). What matters is getting it right and using Twitter effectively as an extension of your customer service team.