WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg
There’s more than one way of doing customer services on social media:
- some don’t bother at all;
- some do it using just a single account to handle both brand engagement and customer services;
- some separate their customer services from their brand account.
This isn’t usually a problem on Facebook, as a lot of brands just resort to posting on their timeline, while reserving their Facebook wall for any customer care issues (e.g. Hotels.com, Virgin Media, EasyJet). Other pages, however, have a closed wall (for various reasons), leading customers to vent their frustrations as comments under brand posts (e.g. TalkTalk, British Airways, Uber).
Things change when you look at Twitter, and it’s interesting to see what brands do on the platform when it comes to customer services.
Take BT for instance: they have a separate account for brand messages (@bt_uk) and one for customer services (@btcare); they also have an account for their B2B division (@btbusiness) and one for B2B customer services (@btbusinesscare). In total, BT owns over 30 Twitter accounts, including one for the BT Tower, a popular London landmark. The main reason for this division is that all of these accounts are handled by separate teams, each with their social media/community manager. So, to cater to this separation of ownership, each community manager has a dedicated channel – and the same applies to their customer care counterparts.
This is just one example. The reasons and approaches may differ from brand to brand.
Perhaps you’re wondering what the pros and cons are for you: maybe you’re just getting started on social media, or maybe you already have an account and you don’t know whether to consolidate or divide. Before you make a decision, there are mainly 5 things to consider:
- How will you handle customer queries?
- How will you communicate issues to your followers?
- How will you own your account(s)?
- How will you manage your community?
- How will you handle your tone of voice?
One account for both:
This is by far the most common approach on Twitter: tweeting out branded content, handling customer care and brand engagement from one account. Most brands start with just one account, to consolidate their followers and to not spread themselves too thinly with too many profiles. Splitting this account in two (branded vs. customer care) is more of an afterthought once the follower count reaches a certain threshold, or once the number of customer queries gets so high that it justifies having a separate channel to deal with them properly.
While you’ll often find one person doing all of this work behind a single account, it’s not uncommon to find two (or more) people or teams “handling custody” of one account – on one side taking care of branded content, engaging with the community; on the other side, taking care of customer services.
The main misconception in having one account for both branded content and customer care is that potential customers will land on your account, see you replying to a long list of customer queries and issues, and be turned off from either following you or buying anything from you. A lot of brands have split their customer care account for this very reason, so that all their service replies are “hidden” from the main account. Others have stopped responding to customers’ issues altogether, as if that made those queries disappear.
Don’t forget that these potential customers can still find these service queries by doing a quick search on Twitter anyway. Besides, they can find a lot more outside of Twitter about you too, both positive and negative. The reality that you have flaws and customer queries to take care of is not something to worry about: if you’re selling a product or providing a service, you’re guaranteed to have customer queries regardless. If anything, seeing how well you deal with this demand may attract customers to you. You’ll be surprised by how many people choose a brand because of their customer service standards.
- Handling messages: if you have only one account, you will receive all sort of messages, including replies to your branded content and customer queries. All of these will come into one bucket: your inbox of notification. If there’s only one person taking care of this account, then you won’t have much to worry about. However, if ownership is split between two or more people (or teams), you have joint responsibility. When dealing with one account, you need to have workflows that list what type of messages to expect, and who needs to deal with each type of message. Failure to have such workflows can lead to either or both of these:
- “double-handling”: when both the social media manager and a customer service representative reply to the same message. Not only is this confusing to the customer, but it also clearly shows that there are some internal issues when it comes to handling customer queries;
- ignoring messages: when the social media manager assumes that the customer service representative is dealing with a message, and vice versa. This leads to the message not being dealt with, and the customer being ignored.
- Communicating issues: if you only have one account to post from, then that will be the one you’ll use to communicate any issues to your community: faults, outages, resolutions etc. By having just one account, your customer care team knows to only look at mentions coming to that profile (unlike when you have more than one account).
- Ownership: you can either have one team taking care of one account, or split ownership between two teams – one taking care of branded messages, and one taking care of customer services. This will undoubtedly lead to a few questions internally: where does social media sit in the company? Does it belong to a dedicated social media team, taking care of all social aspects (marketing, community management, customer care etc.)? Does it belong to the customer care team? The answers to these questions may help you justify having one account.
- Community management: as you’re managing your community from one single account, the lines between community management and customer services may blurry. Sure, a good community management does include customer services. However, if customer care isn’t part of your workflow, you don’t want to come across to your community as the “this is not my job” type. That’s anothe reason why having seamless workflows is key to good community management.
- Tone of voice: tone of voice is incredibly important if you’re going to handle everything from one account, even more so if community engagement and customer services are going to be handled by two different people/teams. EE are an example of a company that uses a jovial tone of voice in their branded messages as well as their customer replies. The same tone you use when interacting with your community should be the same when handling their issues. Even if it’s different people, teams or departments, your tone of voice should be consistent in the messages coming out from your account:
Separate account for all:
The main misconception in having a separate account for customer care is that people’s timelines will start being flooded by all your customer care replies. That is inaccurate. People won’t see your customer service replies unless:
- You’re replying to them,
- You’re replying to their followers,
- Someone they follow retweets you,
- You tweet a message out to all your followers. With the exception of #3, these points have one thing in common: they require these people to follow your customer care account, thus opting in to receive your messages in their timeline anyway.
Some points you need to take into account include:
- Handling messages: having a separate account for customer services is a sensible decision if you’re having a large number of customer queries. While people may still contact your main account, it’s up to you to manage their queries and hand them over. For instance, notice how NOWTV seamlessly pass customer queries (see right) from their branded account to their dedicated customer care account (@NOWTVHELP). Even if you’ve split your accounts, people will still mention your main brand account, mainly because that’s what will appear as the top result when people search for your brand name on Twitter. Most customers who are looking for help won’t care if they’re tweeting to the “right” account or not: as long as it belongs to the right brand, they’ll use it. These customers believe that it is your responsibility to dissect brand engagement from customer service mentions. That’s why you need processes to handover and intercept these messages:
- Handover, i.e. having processes in place so that customer queries get handed to your customer care personnel, and other mentions to the appropriate teams;
- Intercept, i.e. keeping an eye on mentions of both accounts, and if the care team sees a message towards the brand account that needs to be handled, they’ll reply from their own account and take care of it, without the brand social manager needing to hand anything over, knowing that any mentions that aren’t for them will be handled anyway. The same applies to messages that don’t explicitly mention you, messages that you can find through social listening (e.g. someone complaining about your brand while not mentioning any of your brand handles).
- Communicating issues: now that you have more than one account you need to decide where to communicate issues from – the brand account, the customer care account, or both? If it’s a major customer care message then it usually gets retweeted by the main brand account, and if it’s a major brand announcement (e.g. change of name, acquisition, product release) then it usually gets retweeted by the customer care account. Retweeting these messages is a way of keeping comments down to one thread, instead of duplicating the message. Take this Tweet from BT as an example, and notice how this message (see right) got retweeted by the main BT account. Now that Twitter gives you the ability to add your own comment to Tweets, you also have the option to retweet and add your own commentary – while that will create a new Tweet, you’re also linking customers to the original Tweet.
- Ownership: separate accounts, separate ownership. That is the case for most brands out there with multiple accounts, usually to reflect the internal team structure: if you have different people/teams taking care of brand engagement and customer services, then having separate ownership of these accounts will make it a lot easier for each team to take full responsibility and ownership of their processes and messaging.
- Community management: care accounts aren’t immune from community management. In fact, customer services is still part of good community management. This will become more and more evident as you start noticing the number of people following your care account. There are mainly two reasons why people follow these accounts:
- DMs: even though this is technically not required anymore, it’s still the norm for people to follow care accounts if they want to exchange private information via DMs (e.g. mobile number, email address, date of birth). A lot of people who follow these accounts for this won’t unfollow after their issue has been resolved: while some genuinely do forget to unfollow, others will still follow a customer care account if they’re regular customer, meaning that they’ll be contacting you often. Rarely will you find a customer care account that gives you any other reasons to follow it, and Tesco Mobile Care is one of them – with its witty, quirky and informative Tweets, it’s no wonder why 9.5k people follow the account. (I genuinely wonder how many of these 9.5k people have a Tesco Mobile account.)
- To keep track of any issues: some of these care accounts post regular updates on any faults, so it’s handy to follow them for updates on downtime and uptime. For instance, 352k people follow the @nationalrailenq account on Twitter, an account dedicated to National Rail updates and enquiries. Most of these people don’t follow the account because they’re looking for quirky facts about National Rail trains: these people follow the account because they want to be kept up to date on any train disruptions that may affect their journey. Also, bear in mind that people who follow a care account won’t automatically follow your brand one, especially if they’re only looking for updates and not marketing posts in their timeline.
- Tone of voice: while you may want to be consistent in your tone of voice between marketing messages and customer care handling, you do have the option to tweak your tone of voice a little when dealing with customer care. You may want to be colloquial in your brand messages and have a slightly different tone when handling customer care issues. If these messages aren’t handled by the same team, having a slightly different tone of voice may come naturally.
So, which one is better?
Both options are great, and they’re definitely better than the tone-deaf approach that quite a few brands take: posting a lot of brand content, ignoring customer services, thus turning their Twitter account into a one-way street.
A study from Simply Measured in 2013 showed that 30% of the top brands have a dedicated customer service account, an increase from 23% in 2012. (See their study here.) The number has jumped to 43% this year, showing an increasing trend of brands separating the two. These brands understand that when dealing with customer services you need to give customers your undivided attention and care.
Now that we’ve compared both approaches, there’s one aspect left to talk about: tools. What are the best tools to use for customer services, whether you’re doing it from a joint account or a separate account?
There are quite a few professional tools dedicated to social customer care. Here are some of the best ones:
- Conversocial: Conversocial have recently announced their partnership with Synthesio, a best-in-class social listening tool. Thanks to this partnership, you’ll be able to be more proactive in customer services: instead of waiting for people to explicitly mention you for help, you can monitor any mentions from people who need you, or people who may need your help, or people who may be potential leads.
- Hootsuite Enterprise: Hootsuite Pro is fine, but I definitely recommend Hootsuite Enterprise mainly for the integrations with other customer service and enterprise tools (e.g. Yammer, Attensity, po.st, Google Analytics).