Every business has customers. Well, at least every successful business. If someone walked into your store to ask you a question, would you tell them that you just didn’t have time to talk to them?
If you want to provide great customer service, the first thing that you should know is that it’s no longer good enough to answer questions in conventional channels (email and phone, or in person) or at conventional times (during work hours, perhaps on weekends.) Twitter in particular is a channel for customer response that’s changed the expectations of customer service most dramatically, and forever. Your customers talk to you on Twitter because they feel it’s an immediate connection to the people in your company who can solve their problem.
Fine. What does that mean? First of all, it means that the expectations for the timeliness and breadth of your customer service have become headline driven. Can you answer the customer, respond in the appropriate tone, and/or redirect the issue with valuable content in under 140 characters? That’s what your customer expects.
Yet customers who contact you on Twitter don’t always want to have a public conversation about their entire account. This shift demonstrates another way that customer expectations have changed in our always-on world. Customers use Twitter because it’s fast, easy, and mobile. It’s also extremely easy for them to share their experience when things go right (or, when they go wrong.) And they contacted you because they want your business to learn the “right” way to contact them – which is a very personal requirement and might even change communication channels during a single issue – and for you to remember that preference.
The second main item to note about the change in customer experience is that customers can now easily compare your brand or service to the most responsive and service-centric brands in the world. Should you be worried? No way! You now have a direct method to learn from @VirginAmerica, @StarwoodBuzz, and @ComcastCares, and other companies that do a fantastic job extending their service culture onto Twitter.
You might think that all of this online activity means that you need to be “always-on” and “always available.” It’s certain that being accessible to customers is one way to respond to customer needs and you should definitely consider this as an option … if you’re ready to respond on a 24/7/365 schedule. You should also respond even if you’re not going to be around all of the time – and you should ensure that your hours of operation in that channel are very clear to your customers.
Finally, you should know one thing that hasn’t changed about customer service in general even as the ways customers contact you has changed: that treating people well matters. If you create, communicate, and deliver unique value through service, your customers will respond. And in the age of Twitter and other social tools, they’ll tell their friends too.