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How to Respond to Public Complaints on Twitter

If you are using Twitter for customer service, some people in your company may start feeling a little nervous (usually, they’re in the legal department). They may be thinking, do we really want our company’s screw-ups on the Internet for everyone to see?

Don’t worry: Your screw-ups are already online. Every major and minor mistake you make has the potential to show up in a tweet or blog post. The billing department’s error leads to angry tweets, the video of a sleeping cable installer appears on YouTube, and someone will devote an entire blog post to his broken eyeglasses.

The question isn’t whether people talk about you — because they do, and they have a place to do it. The question is whether you have a way to respond and help resolve the problem just as publicly as the customers can complain.

Don’t assume that you can keep complaints and problems from going public. You have to assume that every gaffe and error could become a public issue. In many cases, your CSR team needs to become a mini-crisis response team. How they respond determines how far customers’ issues travel.

Fix customers’ problems quickly and to their satisfaction to make them not only stop complaining but also maybe even sing the company’s praises. Blog posts about problems with products are often updated with the resolutions to the problems, praising the companies involved.

Avoid getting into angry debates and discussions on Twitter. Not only does it embarrass you and your company, but it also lives forever on the Internet for anyone to find. If you find yourself getting testy, take several minutes to cool off (remember the time gap between tweets; no one will think anything of it), and then get in touch with the person by phone.

However, use common sense: Many of your customers’ problems are ones that you can’t or shouldn’t discuss on Twitter, such as issues with a customer’s account, billing problems, personnel issues, or any kind of information that anybody (customer or staff member) could find embarrassing or in which you would need to release private, personal information.

Also, avoid using Twitter if it’s your only foray into social media. If you have only a website that you haven’t updated in five years, you don’t have a blog, and your Facebook page is one your 14-year-old nephew set up for you so that you can play Mafia Wars, you don’t want to start out with Twitter. First, update your website (and put a blog on it), and made it look like you’ve joined the twenty-first century.

If you’re not monitoring the social media realm for your brand or company name, you shouldn’t be on Twitter, either. Otherwise, you miss the important tweets from customers who need your help. You’re better off not having a Twitter presence at all than to miss tweets from people who know you’re on there. It’s equivalent to not picking up your office phone during business hours.

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