Customer Service Via Twitter? Some Companies Are On It, Others Not So Much

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With retailers working hard to grow the ranks of their Twitter followers, consumers are increasingly using the service to get basic customer service and even to try to resolve disputes. But a new study, released Wednesday by STELLAService, shows their success rates vary widely.

The top performing companies in the test were Zappos and LL Bean, followed by Overstock.com, Dell.com, and Best Buy. Other companies included in the test were: Amazon.com, Staples,  Office Depot, Walmart, Sears, QVC, Office Max, Newegg.com, Sony, Costco, Macy’s, Victoria’s Secret, Hewlett-Packard, J.C. Penney, Target, TigerDirect.com, Gap, Williams-Sonoma, HSN, Overstock.com and Toys ‘R’ Us.

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Some companies, including Zappos.com and LLBean.com, have clearly embraced Twitter as an alternative to traditional customer service. But many other companies kept consumers waiting for answers, demonstrating that while Twitter can be used by consumers as a customer service tool, it can’t be relied upon.

Zappos.com and LLBean.com responded to every question in a 45-day test by STELLAService, which studies and measures customer service. But overall, only about 44% of the questions asked on 25 retailers’ official Twitter accounts received a response within 24 hours, the study found.

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Similarly, STELLAService found in a March report that retailers’ performance on Facebook was spotty when it came to answering basic consumer questions.

The studies highlight the need for consumers to continue to pursue more traditional channels for dealing with customer service issues. For some on Twitter, the ability to engage in a brief but immediate back and forth is part of the appeal. Among the retailers studied, only Zappos responded to Twitter questions in less than an hour.

Companies with smart social networking strategies realize that when one customer asks a question or needs help, others are watching. So a handful of companies, including Southwest Airlines, have quickly developed reputations for aggressively working with consumers who have tweeted a problem or concern.

STELLAService CEO Jordy Leiser says companies that are not responsive to customer service issues aired on Twitter are taking a big risk.

“It’s becoming clear that social media savvy consumers are an incredibly important segment of any company’s customer base, both because they have higher service expectations and they have wide broadcast networks for sharing their experiences with others,” Leiser says. “By failing to take Twitter seriously as a customer service channel, companies may be inadvertently ignoring some of their best customers at their own peril.”

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