How to Manage Your Retail Customer Relationships on Twitter

How to Manage Your Retail Customer Relationships on Twitter

We are not talking about selling on Twitter, but instead how to manage customers on Twitter. Whether they are ranting about your product, your customer service, or, on the flip side, complimenting you, we look at all sides and how you can best manage any situation. To help us dive into this we invited Gini Dietrich, Founder of CEO of Arment Dietrick, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm to help us understand:

  • Why Twitter is the platform of choice for customer rants and raves
  • How soon you should act on any customers negative comment on Twitter
  • Here recommendations of steps an online retailer should take if someone is bashing their product that they have purchased
  • Does a response on Twitter undermine your customer support and does it lead encourage that person and others to assume Twitter is the place to get help
  • How customer relations and support have changed via social
  • Should an online retailer feel obligated to follow-back or respond via direct messaging
  • What has been the recent key to the revival of Twitter

Why is Twitter a convenient place to rant about the customer experience?

Bob: Let’s start out with the perspective on what’s happening with Twitter before we really go deep into that rabbit hole. Obviously, on Twitter, there’s a choice to rant about stuff, a lot of stuff. And I’m sure that online retail gets their fair share of rants. Can you give us your perspective on why?

Gini: I think it really is because it’s easy to do. First of all, you’re limited to 140 characters, right? You have to be very succinct, but you can reach almost anyone. I remember back in the day, when Twitter was not even a household name yet, Zappos had done ads on the bottom of bins at the airports, so the bins that you put your shoes in, they had ads for Zappos. I took a picture of it and I tweeted it, and I actually copied @Zappos and Tony Hsieh responded to me. I remember thinking, “This is the coolest thing ever!” I think that’s why. Certainly it has its pros and cons, but I think that’s why. We can access companies and brands and people without having to friend them, or follow them, or like them, or anything like that. We can do it without even having to be technically on Twitter.

Bob: Yeah, I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been surprised. I’ll tweet to somebody and it’s like, whoa.

Gini: It’s a very cool platform.

How long should an online retailer wait to respond to a rant about their product?

Bob: Yeah. Definitely. Now, let’s kind of jump into the retail part of it, and the whole Twitter thing. When a retailer sees a rant about a product, should they really jump on it right away, or should they sit back and watch where it goes? And if the latter, at what point do they jump in, or are there many variables there?

Gini: For sure, it depends, which is a crappy answer, but typically what we like to see is that a retailer would respond immediately, and that’s within the first 24 hours. I would say even sooner if you can, because typically people are having a challenge or an issue that they’re not able to solve anywhere else. Usually, when they go to Twitter it’s the last resort, because most people don’t want to be complaining and all those kinds of things. Trolls are a completely different subject, which we can cover in a minute, but typically, people have taken to Twitter because they’ve tried Customer Service, they’ve tried an email, they’ve tried all these other avenues, and they’ve not been able to get their problem solved. You want to respond fairly quickly.

If you can do it in less than 24 hours, even better. That’s the thing. People just want their issue solved. They’re not usually doing it to get something free, or be a troll, or anything like that.

Bob: Yeah, and I think that, like you said, there are certain people that they’re just going to take advantage of it. I want to give you a couple of examples.

Gini: Okay.

At what point should a retailer move the conversation offline?

Bob: I’m obviously making these up. I didn’t do them, maybe I did. Whatever. Okay, so the first example. Let’s say that Joe’s out there and he bought this super duper brand mixer and he thinks it sucks. Because it doesn’t mix well, it just doesn’t work for him. Right away he gets on Twitter, says something, four people respond in agreement. At this point, what would you recommend for your client as a retailer to do?

Gini: We would recommend that they respond, and say, you know something along the lines of, “I am so sorry to hear this. If you direct message me your phone number or email address, we’ll take care of this for you.” Then it’s up to the person. Are they really going to take the time to DM and send the phone number or email address?

Then you take it offline. You never, ever want to get into a conversation about anything like that publicly on Twitter, ever. If you can do it in person or a voice, that’s better because then you have the nuances of the person, where you don’t typically have that with the written word. Never, ever, ever, make sure that you respond to it and say, “I’m happy to help you with this, I hear you. I’m so sorry, let’s take care of this offline.”

Bob: When you do that, and this is kind of what I’m seeing as a gray area, as a retailer you’ve made the decision to take it offline, now they take it offline, and this is kind of all around the same question. How long do you think, as a retailer, you should dig out that email, make sure it goes to the right person? Maybe you decided to take it, you know, have them email you directly, because you don’t want them to come back on a few hours later or however long later and say, “Wow, I emailed you, what are you doing, ignoring me?” What do you suggest to the retailer? I mean they can’t be just sitting there waiting.

Gini: I would say that most organizations have some sort of customer service process set up. I mean if it’s the jewelry store down the street, they probably don’t, and it probably is the owner hitting refresh over and over again. That’s okay, because I think that people, if the email goes two days without a response, that’s a problem, but if it’s a couple of hours, I think people are pretty respectful of the fact that we have other things to do. In your mixer example, that company’s going to be larger, so they will have, they’re going to have something like a zen desk, or some sort of platform set up for customer service so that, if there is an email, that somebody is responding to that email pretty quickly.

Will our response on Twitter give the customer the idea that they can bypass customer service and go directly to you?

Bob: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay. Now the other example is a little bit different. Were going to say that I bought this X brand of clothing and I get on Twitter and have to say, hey this has been the worst customer service I’ve ever had in my life because maybe I contacted them, they didn’t take care of things, maybe I’m just really picky. I don’t know, whatever the case. I’m going to go on there and then I add a second tweet because I’m so riled that, telling my friends, don’t ever buy a single piece of clothing because these guys really suck. Here’s my question. Now, as a retailer, you would maybe likely step in and reply that you would be happy to take care of this personally, please contact us.

Gini: Right.

Bob: Kind of what you said. Now, with support, have you just undermined your support staff, that’s kind of one part of the question, by saying oh, well obviously they didn’t do their job or whatever. I mean you wouldn’t say that. Does this give the people the impression, other people that are watching this, that hmm, it seems like if I want to bitch about this particular thing, why even mess with customer support? I should just get on Twitter. What danger lies there?

Gini: Well, in answer to your first question, typically customer service and the social team are pretty well connected. If they’re in silos, that’s an operational issue that needs to be fixed pretty quickly. Typically, either it is the owner who is the customer service department, and the social media person, and all those things, or they are connected. You have social going directly to customer service and saying, hey, I have this issue. I don’t think that, unless the company is siloed and there are other operational issues, I don’t think that that’s a challenge.

In the second part, I think for sure people go to Twitter instead of going through email because it’s faster and you do get a response. A really great example of that is the email software that we use. For two weeks, we emailed back and forth with their product team, and finally I just got frustrated. I was like, this is, it’s been two weeks, I can’t do this anymore, and so I tweeted, and it was benign, I didn’t rail on them, but I tweeted to their community manager and it got fixed in about 30 seconds. I mean, not quite that fast, but yeah. I mean, next time I have an issue with my email software platform, I’m going to Twitter, I’m not going to email.

For sure, it does that. Then, I think what happens is organizations start to go oh, well, Twitter is faster, it’s easier to manage because I don’t have to have a customer service platform like a zen desk set up. I don’t have to have 5 people ready to respond. I don’t have to have a live chat on the website. I can hire somebody to manage Twitter and, from a customer service perspective, and really focus there, and it becomes easier to manage overall.

Bob: Right, so basically these brands, especially if they’re old-school, they’ve got to kind of open their eyes and say, hey, traditional customer service is kind of out the window. I need to start seeing how my customers talk to me, how they communicate with us, and instead of sitting there going, why can’t you build a customer relationship, you know, send an email, we’re going to use Twitter. It really kind of puts the, I don’t want to say pressure, but it puts the responsibility back on the business to change with the times.

Gini: Absolutely. It’s, to your point exactly, if you are getting responses or people are having conversations on Twitter, or Facebook, or LinkedIn, or wherever it happens to be, you need to be there. You can’t force people to go where you want them to go. They’re just not going to do that.

What’s the best way to handle trolls?

Bob: Now, I have a couple other questions, but before I do, we had mentioned the trolls. The people who are the epitome of evil or something. I don’t know what.

Gini: They don’t have anything else to do.

Bob: They don’t. if you have these consistent trolls, do brands actually end up blocking them or, what do they do about these really, really, trollish type of tweeters?

Gini: Policy. Have a very, very clear policy that says, if you do X, Y, or Z, we will ban you, we will block you. You can do that, but it has to be very clear. They have to, you know, it can’t be like you’re just mad at them because they’ one time or twice said something negative about you. It has to be somebody who keeps coming back and trying to start fires and trying to rile people up that you can say, look, our policy is this, and if you continue to do that, we will ban you. If they continue to do it, you can absolutely block them.

Bob: It seems like there’s a lot of education that they have to teach their people that are actually handling these Twitter accounts as far as what to do, when to do it.

Gini: Yup, and I think people, too, get nervous about it. You know, what if I block this person and is my boss going to get mad about it? What happens with the community? I think in general, the community is waiting for you to do that. It’s kind of like when you have a bad employee, and you go back and forth about whether or not you should fire this person, and what you should do. As business owners we all go through this. Should we keep this person? What do we do? Can we work with them? When you finally let them go, your whole team is like, it’s about freaking time. It’s that same idea, where the community will say, it’s about time you did that because this person is toxic.

Should we be looking at the good stuff customers say on Twitter, too?

Bob: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. Well, let’s go on the flip side of this. I don’t want to just talk about all the negative. You know, people do, we’re human, we tend to complain more than we do actually compliment. Do online retailers, can they get bogged down with the negative so much that the good stuff is happening out there too that they maybe don’t pay as much attention to and do they really need to say, hey, I’m going to take as much energy as we are taking in dealing with all this crap and looking at the good stuff and also responding to that, as well?

Gini: Yes, and it’s really hard because it’s human nature, right? It’s human nature to pay attention to what the critics are saying and not to what our grand loyalists are saying.  It’s really difficult to say, okay, I’m just going to put that aside and not pay attention to it. Now, if it’s constructive criticism, that’s different, right? That’s how we grow and that’s how we evolve, and that’s how we can make change that really is effective. Yeah, when you have people who are just bashing you to bash you, and you will, you’ll have that. It’s really hard to ignore it, but I think you’re absolutely right that you have to focus on the people who are really loyal to you, that are really fired up about you, that will do anything, or share anything, or talk about you in a positive way. Focus there instead of on the handful of people who clearly are sitting in their mom’s basement eating Cheetos.

Should we follow our most supportive customers back on Twitter?

Bob: Yeah. This is a question I just thought of, and it’s kind of not really in line with what we’re talking about, but it just occurred to me and I was curious about it. Have you ever had clients come to you and actually say, as a brand, I’m wondering, I have these wonderful customers that are always saying good things about me, do I feel obligated to follow them back on Twitter?

Gini: We’ve never had that situation. It’s a really good question. We have had people say, do I need to friend or follow my employees on Facebook, but never on Twitter. I don’t necessarily know that you have an obligation to do that, at all.

Bob: Yeah. Cause I know that most of us on Twitter, we don’t, I mean when we follow a big brand, we don’t expect them to follow back. And if they do, you’re like, whoa, what happened there?

Gini: Yeah, I don’t think there’s a quid pro quo or an obligation necessary at all.

Bob: I’m sorry, I keep thinking of these other questions.

Gini: Oh, damn you! [laughter]

What about direct messaging?

Bob: Yeah. How about direct messaging? Twitter now has it where you can accept direct messaging from people who do not follow you. Do retailers actually say, okay I’m going to go ahead and do that because I want people to direct message me or do they even want that option thrown in there?

Gini: Typically, we only recommend they follow them so that they can DM if there’s a challenge or an issue. You know, if they’ve said, DM me and I will, DM your email address and I’ll help you out, then yeah, we expect that the person, the community manager will follow them, that person. Otherwise, no, I don’t necessarily think that you have to do that at all.

Bob: Yeah, and it might not be a good idea.

Gini: It could backfire, yes.

Bob: Yeah, definitely, and something about that DM seems a bit more personal, so they’re going to expect a quicker response from you.

Gini: Absolutely.

Any other thoughts you’d like to share about Twitter with our listeners?

Bob: Okay, I’ve tried to touch on some of this, I know there’s a lot more to it, but is there anything before we leave that you would like to share about this whole Twitter thing that we haven’t covered?

Gini: You know, it’s interesting, I really thought Twitter would be gone by now and I think that the President of the United States has saved them because they were fading pretty quickly, and now, all of a sudden, everybody’s back there. I really do think he has remade it into a household name. I do think it’s interesting because there’s all these platforms, you know, Twitter is one of many, that we have to pay attention to as brands and figure out where are our customers and our prospective customers hanging out and that’s where we should be. Maybe it’s Twitter, and maybe it’s Instagram. You have to figure that out for your organization. The key really from an organization’s perspective is being respectful. I’ll give you a really good example.

I saw this morning that the governor of Maryland is responding to people and it’s not respectful. He’s saying things like, you don’t know what you’re talking about, or get the facts straight. You know, when you’re talking to your constituents, who in the case of this conversation are your customers, you don’t speak to them like that. Even if they’re wrong, even if they’re off their rockers, even if their facts are incorrect. You have to be respectful and say, let’s have a conversation offline and let’s be professional, and let’s be grownups about it. I think it’s really difficult to do that when we’re behind our computer screens.

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