In many respects, it’s getting harder and harder to satisfy customers – and we all know that nothing is more important to your brand and bottom line than keeping customers happy.

… thanks to the advent of social media, consumers are becoming more demanding than ever, expecting answers and solutions right here, right now.

Upset a customer and they may well flame your business to friends, colleagues and neighbors.

And now, thanks to the advent of social media, consumers are becoming more demanding than ever, expecting answers and solutions right here, right now. And if they don’t get them, well, then their less-than-satisfactory experience with your brand is blasted – in a public forum.

It’s that public nature of feedback-sharing that should have all companies at the ready and seriously considering the social media universe.

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Twitter is especially effective as a customer service/relationship tool.

Below are a few real examples of customer service delivered in 140 characters or less that I’ve experienced. You’ll notice that some companies really understand the power of Twitter as a customer service tool, while others try, but fall short on follow-through. And, yes, there are other businesses who haven’t yet chartered that water.

Empowered to resolve

I was prepping for a trip to the Middle East back in April and needed an international plan turned on for my iPhone. I went to the local Verizon retail store. The line was eight people deep and I didn’t have 45 minutes to spare, so I spent the next 10 frustrating minutes navigating the company’s website to find a way to contact someone. No luck. So I tweeted.

Within three minutes, a response: “@stanten, how can I be of assistance to you today? We’re eager to impress you with our customer service!”

“@VZWSupport Need to activate international plan. Travelling to Middle East end of next week. Help?”

Three tweets and 420 characters later, issue resolved. So, of course, I shared my satisfaction publicly: “Thank you @VZWSupport! Amazing how the world of #customerservice has changed!”

Verizon is smart enough to know they don’t need angry customers raking them over the coals on Twitter. So they have people not only monitoring Twitter, but also people who are empowered to act to keep Verizon customers happy.

Customer service gone social.

A tale of two cable providers  

We were having spotty Internet connectivity at Altitude’s Emmaus office, so we scheduled a service call with RCN, our current provider. I get an email confirmation saying someone would be there “between 8a and 9p.”

Can you imagine if I told a client I’d meet with them sometime in a 13-hour window for a business-critical issue? I’d fire me!

So I tweet my frustration.

Two minutes later, I get an apologetic Twitter direct message. RCN was able to narrow the window down considerably and a service technician showed up at 9:15 a.m. the next morning. Issue resolved, thank-yous exchanged publicly via Twitter, everyone is happy.

A week or so later, as part of our periodic cost review, we wanted to make sure we were getting the best deal for our Internet/phone/cable package. So we called Service Electric, the provider in our area with whom we do not currently do business. After sitting on hold for what seemed like an eternity, we took to Twitter.

“Dear @sectv: I couldn’t take being on hold for another 40 minutes, but all I need to know is … do you offer biz Internet service in Emmaus?”

Three DAYS later we get a response via Twitter saying that business questions can’t be answered via Twitter and we need to call for business account customer support.  I don’t think so!

This is an example of a company that either simply doesn’t get it or doesn’t care. But it left me thinking if the customer experience is this bad when we are a prospect, what would it be like if we were a customer? Now, think about how your customers and prospects will act and react if you don’t respond as they expect.

Some good. Some try. Some not so much.

When Zappos.com messed up our summer intern Alex’s cleat order a few days before his big tournament, he was seething. Rather than punch his way through a voicemail tree, he tweeted his frustration. Passive-aggressive customer, 21st-Century style? Not at all. And by understanding the power of social media, Zappos was all over it.

Zappos saw the tweet, checked the order status and fixed everything. Alex then tweeted again — this time about his positive experience.

Zappos prides itself on having the best customer service on the planet. And they delivered, in this instance, 140 characters at a time. The cost to manage customer service this way far outweighs the ill will and bad publicity that can be brought upon a company when consumers are handed a megaphone.

And there are those that try, but fumble on the follow through. When I needed a replacement part for my son’s batting cage, I went to the Franklin Sports replacement part website. I found what I thought I needed but wasn’t quite sure. I was happy to see that they made it easy to send an email with a question. But after I hit send, I got a bounce-back message that said it may be up to five business days until I get a response. Really?! Five days?! That is unacceptable even by telecom company standards! So I took to Twitter.

I got a super-fast (and apologetic) response. However, the rep wasn’t empowered to do anything other than tell me who I needed to email directly to get a quicker response. So, while Franklin monitored Twitter and diffused the situation, the company failed to address my question.

Good first step, Franklin, fumble on the follow through.

Not letting me off the hook

SiriusXM also was quick to diffuse via Twitter, but made the strategic decision to not resolve the issue easily. I went to their website to cancel my account only to discover after about five minutes of searching that I couldn’t.

I tweet, “@SIRIUSXM why is it that I can add whatever services I want, extend my term and pay online, but cannot cancel online? #curious.”

I did get a quick response telling me to “fill out this form out this form and we’ll be happy to help you.”

I dutifully do so thinking this will be the end of it. But Sirius wasn’t giving up without a fight. Within minutes of sending the form in I get a call from a customer service rep. I needed to sit on the phone for 10 minute while they tried to re-sell me. If I knew that, I would have just called in the first place, but my goal was to avoid the re-sell.

Just let me cancel. Please. And in 140 characters or less.

Client communication – Twitter-style

If your company has a Twitter handle, you can expect to see both compliments and complaints.  The size of your customer base will dictate much of how you approach Twitter-based customer service, but here are five things to consider:

  1. If your customer base is large and demands for customer service high, set up a separate Twitter handle specifically to handle customer service. This helps separate the customer service complaints from your main feed.
  2. Monitor Twitter 24/7. Literally. It’s easy to set alerts on smart phones when someone tags your handle or direct messages you via Twitter.
  3. Respond within five minutes. This diffuses the situation in the case of a disgruntled customer or client.
  4. Take it out of the public Twittersphere and into private, direct message chat immediately.
  5. Empower the social media monitor to handle the top 10 most common problems – or at least arm them with the ability to provide a timeframe in which someone who can answer the question will get back to them. And then deliver on that promised timeframe.