Social customer service

In all the excitement about Twitter – a gift to gobby Mancunians everywhere – over its short life to date, some marketeers quickly cottoned on to its potential for enhancing or even replacing existing customer service infrastructure. Why have expensive human beings sitting around just waiting for calls and drinking the firm’s terrible coffee, or customers forced to listen to shit jazz while they wait half an hour as some bit of AI tells them they are sorry about the wait, you are a deeply valued customer etc, then connects you to a bad line in outer Mongolia and they hang up on you, when you could manage it more instantaneously and engagingly (and cheaply) via Twitter.

Bit like…..why have all that messy democracy and the expense of a bunch of suits on private jets and big shouty White House press conferences when you can have some old bigot on a toilet with a smartphone.


Indeed, the theory is sound. Twitter is absolutely my favourite SoMe platform, I spend so much time on it my assistant Kylie has threatened to break my arm and I was thinking of auditioning to be a judge on The Voice (love that show, bloody love it. Max to win.) Twitter could have a good run at being the 8th Wonder of the World. It is democratic, intelligent, fast, versatile, marvellous.

On the other hand it is used by most of the worst racist, sexist, homophobic, semi -literate, unpleasant, ranty, bigoted, stupid, broadcast-mode (on an engagement platform!), self obsessed, authoritarian wankers in the world. They use cars and phones and toilet paper also. We should blame cars and phones and toilet paper????

As my (clearly disappointed ☹️) first girlfriend once said, it ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it. To paraphrase, it’s not your number of characters that matter, it’s what you say with them.

People say things on Twitter,  Facebook and other platforms they would never – apart from the worst of the racist, sexist, etc etc twats on Twitter (“TATs”) – say face to face or even down the phone. AI is no substitute for empathy.

This week I have directly addressed, in politest Byrne-speak, four major brands as a customer – a major transport organisation, a world class media brand, a major high street brand and one of many runners up in the The UK’s Crappiest Train Operator awards. Not one has tweeted, messaged back. That is not engagement. You may think your customer is demanding, fickle, maybe a bit bolshy, but you don’t ignore them on one of the world’s most public and democratic platforms.

With Twitter brands can engage with fans, customers, detractors, potential customers, where they are and right now. Yet so many just use it as another one way blah blah marketing platform, and overlook that it can help to make your brand human, it can engage and inform, in an instant. Sometimes they do get it but download it to some poor intern not yet steeped in the science of great customer service and experience.

So frankly I was pissed off. I get more engagement with my mum on Twitter than with a train company I spend fucking thousands of pounds a year on.

I was mildly ranting about this with my friend Kate in the office. She had a different story. She was walking past a building site and the builders, wittingly or unwittingly, covered her in cement dust. She was pretty pissed, as this is one stylish, smart and strong woman. She yelled at them. She reached for her Twitter Machine ready to blast the buggers into Kingdom Come.

But then she did something less fashionable but more effective. She called the building company. She talked to a person. They had a civil conversation and the customer service guy followed up with an email apologising again and promising an investigation into what could have been a serious accident.

Good customer service. Good engagement. Person to person.

So while I enjoy a good old twitter rant about my duffo train company, and get loads of retweets from Twitter accounts just set up to lampoon and digitally flay them alive, truth is it is all heat and noise. The buggers aren’t listening and don’t feel they have to.

So, Twitter can be a great customer engagement tool. But if a brand just isn’t listening, if the Twitter account was the idea of the Chairman’s clever grandson Rupert and a SoMe token gesture, it just makes bad customer experience even worse.


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