Recently, Twitter announced several changes to how it calculates the number of characters in a tweet. Marketers rejoiced because they now have additional characters with which to include photos, videos, and polls. Twitter purists rejoiced because the platform kept its 140-character limit and didn't expand to a once-rumored 10,000 character limit.
But one group that remained pretty silent was social customer service leaders - and that’s because one of the changes seems to be much less, ahem, socialized. And that change has nothing to do with character length.
In the coming months, tweets that begin with a user’s handle will become visible to everyone. This is a big change from today, when a tweet that begins with a user’s handle is visible only to the sender, the recipient, and anyone following both parties. Interestingly, the old rule will still apply to replies that begin with a handle, but not to new tweets. (Users have long leaned on a simple hack to add a period before the @ sign in order to make their tweet public; this will no longer be necessary.)
Why is this important? Because the vast majority of customer service tweets begin with a brand handle. So now virtually all posts to brands – positive, negative, or neutral – will be visible to the entire world.
On one hand, this is good news for those of us who've been evangelizing customer service on social media for years, because it creates a brighter spotlight on brands and their successes or failures in this space. It’s therefore good news for brands like the ones we’ve featured on the Focus on Customer Service podcast, who've prioritized social care, hired and trained outstanding teams of customer service agents, chosen the right technology, and established clear processes that allow them to scale the operation. For these customer service leaders, nothing really changes because they are already best in class – other than perhaps more people will notice.
For those companies that have yet to get on board with social customer service, though, this change is going to make things more difficult.
Inquiries that are public will create even more pressure to respond, and respond quickly, because more people will be watching. And since we know that social media continues to play a growing role in overall customer experience, companies that continue to ignore the customer service component of social media will risk drops to their customer experience scores.
As Jay Baer reports in his new book, Hug Your Haters, customer expectations for customer service in social media are rising quickly. The study he conducted with Edison Research concluded that only 40% of social media complaints are addressed, even though the same study revealed that responding to complaints increases customer advocacy, while not responding decreases it by more than two-fold. Brands are also still too slow to respond on social, with customer expectations hovering around 1 hour - and dropping - and brand response times (for brands that actually do respond) landing at nearly 5 hours, on average.
Twitter’s changes will likely increase demand for customer service on the platform as other users see people in their feed asking questions to brands. This is part of an intentional strategy, as Jeff Lesser outlined in this Focus on Customer Service podcast episode. By trying to establish itself as the best online source for customer service – both for customers and brands – Twitter can address the slow user growth that has plagued its stock.
But customer service on Twitter doesn’t need to be difficult. Here are some keys to success:
Answer all questions, comments, complaints, and compliments tweeted directly at your brand handle
Monitor mentions of your brand that don’t use your handle for additional engagement opportunities
Respond quickly – less than an hour is becoming table stakes; less than 15 minutes is best-in-class
Show empathy to customers experiencing problems with your product or service
Personalize the experience by using the customer’s name and signing your response with the agent’s first name
How do you think this change will affect your company's use of Twitter for customer service?