Talking Twitter: Customer service through social media

For the modern brand online, dealing with customers face-to-face isn’t an issue – but the fervour that people voice over the phone isn’t as drastic as the vehemence of ornery online consumers.

Social media engenders a sense of freedom and often entitlement, leading to outlandish statements from users who are disgruntled by brands. You can try to placate them, reason with them or ignore them entirely, but some social media teams choose to riposte with scathing or witty comments.

Brands often disseminate information through varied channels, having different personas for different branches of the company, or offering dedicated customer service accounts. This allows the use of disparate voices to address its audiences.

Running contrary to the conventional wisdom of integrated marketing communications, it often can be beneficial to use differing tones with individual branches of a company.

Tesco Mobile

Tesco Mobile has been lauded for its feisty social media engagement. In fact, @tescomobile has enjoyed an 82% boost in followers over the past three months, compared to a 29% increase for @tesco or a meagre 8% for @O2 (source).

While correlation ≠ causation, the coverage gained from their online shenanigans is undeniable. Their irreverence and flagrant self-adulation is a hit with their following and is in keeping with their humorous communications, marketing their service as #nojoke.

The social media team was obviously keeping a close eye on brand mentions when they quickly responded with this, rightly, famous tweet. 

Tesco mobile burn






























Turning the tables on the derider gained Tesco a lot of retweets, favourites and admiration from followers and social media lovers alike. As well as a huge stream of advances from interested tweeters.

While it might mortify certain brands to attempt to publicly insult a customer where this might just as easily been have ignored, the clever quip was in fitting with the brand’s tone of voice and resulted in the furthering Tesco Mobile’s standing as an account worth following.

What’s less documented is the follow up the TescoMobile team had up its collective sleeves. After calling into question @JayFeliipes’ romantic prowess, the Tesco Mobile team was kind enough to offer a truce of sorts by offering a kit guranteed to set him up for his, no doubt, forthcoming slew of dates.

While this tactic is obviously a high-cost of acquisition, the resulting sentiment more than makes up for the value of a small gift pack. In these instances the team would likely choose engaged recipients with a large following who show a tendency to retweet content, tools like Followerwonk can help identify accounts with a predisposition to retweet and to measure their ‘social influence’. 

tescomobile truce














The team also jump at the chance to steal any disenchanted customers from their competition. Should they keep up the social media romance, then they’ve probably guaranteed themselves at least this loyal, if slightly over-affectionate, customer. 

an affectionate potential customer



















MusicMagpie, the UK based online buyer of used entertainment, is a brand that often receives mixed reviews, and its fair share of disgruntled tweets. Dissatisfied with their main identity being inundated with customer service queries, they promptly deferred questions to a dedicated account.

As with many online-only businesses, there are a great deal of requests related to orders, payment times and terms and conditions. Aside from general queries, the customer service has been subject to some less-than-kind tweets. Some customers take exception to the website’s offering and have chosen to share their disaffection publicly, often directly attacking the company’s operations. The customer service team chose to tackle the problem head on, riposting with quips and deflecting the customer’s aggression. 

musicmagpie rebuttal













Following many larger brands, musicMagpie are trying to actively interact across a range of customers on Twitter, from the above, abusive gentleman to those who have given positive feedback. Finding instances of positive brand experience and engaging with the customer should be of paramount importance to social media teams.

In this, and other, cases musicMagpie maintain the irreverant tone by quickly professing their desire to wed their customer. The lighthearted response doesn’t simply acknowledge the brand’s service of the customer, it actively encourages more positive engagement (pardon the pun), moreover the use of an image makes the response even more attractive.  

musicmagpie proposal


























For a company that deals in what could be construed as a low involvement service (buying old, unwanted CDs, DVDs and the like), it’s important for them to foster a brand personality in the face of the opposition from an ever growing list of competitors.

Bank of America

The Bank of America was exposed for some truly diabolical social media management earlier this year. When one street artist was chased by police after artistically expressing his distaste for the multinational, @BofA_Help responded to a reply with a clearly automated tweet asking if there was “anything they could do to help”.

The fallout (seen here) demonstrates the lack of importance that the brand was placing on Twitter at the time. A multitude of automated responses (many of which were duplicated) to the anti-capitalist sentiment sparked further uproar against the “heartless corporation” 

bank of america graffiti

bank of america automated responses






















A spokesperson revealed that social interactions are handled by real people, and that they respond to mentions to help identify customer issues; though on this occasion their tweets were akin to poking a hornet’s nest. Granted, the number of enquiries that the bank deals with is in the hundreds of thousands, necessitating their 100+ social media reps. With a corporation so large, some deal of automation is to be expected but the brand was certainly guilty of not implementing smarter filters to weed out the scathing tweets.

This kind of isolated incident might not be detrimental in and of itself, but the fact that I (and others) have written about it demonstrates the expanding ripples that can be generated from a single incidence on social media.

Closing Thoughts

I’m not advocate an aggressive response to customers in need of assistance, in hopes of gaining a cult following for your social media banter. Though, when faced with a customer more interested in exercising their love of profanity, options are limited to silence, futile attempts at placation or to retort. None of this is to discount excellent customer service; customers often place more weight on a problem solved than on a standard, run-of-the-mill experience.

Oftentimes these overly aggressive “customers” aren’t going to be preached to or converted, they’re not going to provide lifetime value and are just out for a virtual shouting match.

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