Ten years ago, a customer who was having a problem with a product or service only had one option: call customer service and wait on hold until someone eventually addressed their problem. These days, they’re just as likely to hunt down the company’s Facebook page and begin complaining on its wall or @ messaging its account on Twitter. And the longer it takes for the problem to be dealt with, the more frequent and louder they tweet.
As much as a company would like to just use Twitter to broadcast its marketing messaging, it will likely need to establish a customer service messaging strategy for when any complaints come in. And the more customers you have, the more complaints you’ll get.
The website hosting company Dreamhost hosts over 400,000 websites, and so it has to field any number of messages from users who are dealing with site outages and other problems. I spoke to Social Media Specialist Ellice Soliven and Event and Community Manager Marissa Rosen about the structures Dreamhost has put in place so it can deal with customer messages efficiently and effectively. We discussed how to prioritize which Twitter users to respond to and how to streamline the customer service process.
When you’re assembling a staff that’s focused on customer service on social media, how much focus do you have to put on Twitter versus other social networks? How likely is a customer to voice their complaints on Twitter versus Facebook or some other online forum?
Marissa: Twitter is first and always has been first. There are certainly people who use Facebook, and we used to not have our wall open to the public, so nobody could actually comment on it. But we opened it about a year ago so people could comment on the page and it definitely brought in much more feedback, but it’s still not nearly as much engagement as what Twitter sees.
And why do you think that is? Why does Twitter see the most engagement?
Ellice: I think it’s because it’s more real-time. They know we can provide them immediate support. When they start panicking, even if they’ve submitted a support ticket, they’ll still come to Twitter because they know we’re there.
Do you think they’re trying to put a little more public pressure on you because they know it’s a public network?
Ellice: Yeah, some people do. Some people will use it to their advantage. It works and that’s what we’re there for. We just jump on the issues as soon as we see them. It’s kind of a huge collaborative effort as far as customer support goes, because it’s Twitter support working with the email support working with livechat support. We have to communicate the complaint coming from Twitter to the actual tech support team on our side.
Let’s say you’re running social media customer support. How should you decide to staff it? Is it just based on the number of customers a company has? Are you trying to spread your staff across timezones to have people on call most of the day?
Marissa: To be honest there’s not really that many calculations involved. Everyone is locally based out of California, just because that’s where our two offices are. We at this time don’t provide 24-hour support on social. But there’s tech support for 24 hours. Those people who might be screaming on Twitter, there’s still an opportunity to submit a support ticket and get their questions answered. They just might not be receiving that immediate response on Twitter. I haven’t felt that that’s been an issue for us.
Ellice: As of the last two to three years since we’ve had the social support team, we’ve always worked from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. And based on the metrics we’ve seen, most of our customers are on the West Coast. There’s not a lot of action during the midnight hours. Usually if people complain on Twitter and they need help, if we follow up with them when the team gets in at 6 a.m. it’s OK, but as long as we’re following up with them and making sure everything works and reaching out, people are usually receptive to that. We have three to four people monitoring Twitter and Facebook all throughout the day so nothing goes unnoticed. And we have people working every day of the week.
Marissa: They’re also monitoring our forum and Google Plus, which doesn’t see as much activity, but our forums do see a lot come through there so it’s a place that might not be a social media network, but our forums are a great place for the Dreamhost community to be involved in.
What goes into the training of staff in terms how to respond on Twitter?
Marissa: That’s something we’re developing further right now. A lot of it came from the social support manager doing a lot of hands-on support in regards to knowing the Dreamhost side of the customer panel and tickets and some of the technical issues. But they’re also learning how to publicly speak to these people because when you respond it’s not the same as talking to someone on the phone or writing an email. You have 140 characters to get something across, and if the person is really upset, you can’t just use a smiley face when responding. So there are a lot of customer service aspects going into it, but since the team has been changing, and with Ellice and I working more closely together, we’re trying to work with that social support team so that the marketing aspect is in line with that. Ellice has been working on a training program so they have a little bit more personal touch to them.
Do most complaints fit into just a few categories to where once you’ve seen a certain number you’ve seen them all?
Ellice: Yeah, pretty much. It’s mostly people whose sites are down or if our livechat support is a little busy and they’re waiting on livechat they’ll come to Twitter. That’s where we come in and say we can see you in the queue and sometimes even I would jump off Twitter and go into livechat and do it myself because I had enough technical knowledge to answer their questions. They really appreciated it because they got the attention they wanted right away. They’re always responsive to that. Our social support members not only have customer service skills but they ideally will have the technical knowledge to help people so they won’t have to wait for their tickets to get answered for a few hours. That’s something we strive to work on.
Marissa: That’s one of our biggest goals, to make our response times shorter. If you’re coming on Twitter to reach out to a business, you don’t want to wait 24 hours. That’s why you didn’t submit a support ticket in the first place. So at least on Twitter they know they’re going to get a response hopefully within the hour.
Is there any official kind of accountability that’s put in place? Are there measurements on how quickly you were able to spot a tweet and respond to it?
Marissa: We use a tool called Sparkcentral. They have all that in place. That’s actually how we respond to everybody. The whole social support team logs into Sparkcentral and they have this really great tool that if you can’t get back to the person right away, you can set a “boomerang,” which is a time when it reminds you to follow up with them. That’s been the best tool we’ve implemented.
Do you think there should be some level of prioritizing based on the number of Twitter followers a customer has?
Ellice: That’s one of the features within Sparkcentral, which is setting them up as a VIP. There are certain people who are major influencers, and it can hurt the brand. We also want to treat everybody as if they’re a priority as well, so it’s kind of a delicate balance.
Marissa: But you can definitely see on Twitter some people who don’t have a profile picture yet, and they’re just creating an account to reach out, and that’s kind of delicate too, because if they’re taken the time to go that route, then you want to make sure to respond to them even if they have no influence in that community at all.
Is it difficult to streamline the process from someone on your support staff seeing a tweet, getting in contact with that person, and then finding the right person in the company to address their concerns?
Ellice: Hypothetically, if someone complains, the first thing we do is locate their account. If there’s anything in their profile that indicates they have an account with us, like a domain name, we’ll locate the account and check their support history, see what kind of customer they are and what kind of help they’ve had in the past, what kind of help they’re getting now, and we’ll get back to them. If they have a support ticket open, we’ll say OK I can see we’ve received it, I’m going to fix it myself or find an expert in that issue. If someone had an issue with their domain registration, we have certain people on our support team who are really good at that and we can talk to them and see if they have time to help. We get the technical support team member to address the ticket and then we reach out to the person on Twitter to let them know, “I have someone looking into it, if you have any further questions, let me know. Just look at the email and we’ll get you covered.” We just want to let the person know that they have our attention and we’re getting to their complaint.
What’s the best way to approach them? Through the main corporate account? A special customer service account? Or should each individual staff member have an account they use?
Marissa: We have a social care Twitter account and a brand account. Even though we split into two four years ago, some people don’t know that we have a social support system so our goal is that if a tweet comes into the @dreamhost account, which is the marketing brand one, the response always has to come from @dreamhostcare so people realize there’s a whole support Twitter account they can focus on. And those people who know the @dreamhostcare, that’s what they’ve been using and they know they’re going to get a response.
Ellice: We also have a separate Twitter account that tweets out status posts, so if there’s some kind of maintenance or something huge that’s affecting a large portion of our customers, that Twitter handle will automatically tweet out those issues.
I notice a lot of customer reps try to take the conversation off Twitter and on to email or phone. Is this in part to direct the conversation away from a public forum where people might see it?
Marissa: I actually think some people want to continue the conversation on Twitter, and we find it hard to make them understand that if an issue has come in and someone has checked on it and said back “Actually I checked your support ticket and it looks like you’ve been responded to, so check your email and respond there” — you could repeat that 12 times, and they’ll still only want to communicate on Twitter rather than going to right where their answer is, which is in their inbox. And that’s really interesting to me because they’re still saying we haven’t responded yet, and we’re saying, “Yes, check your inbox.” Sometimes people are on Twitter asking for things that are security or abuse related, and we cannot give out, even as a private message, that information. And that is, I think, a very hard thing for people to accept. They don’t want to go the route that needs to be taken. They want to give their credit card information over Twitter. They want to give phone numbers through that medium, but we won’t interact in that way.
How often to do people thank you guys on Twitter after you’ve helped them?
Ellice: Kind of a lot. We get a fair number of compliments and thank-yous on Twitter.
Marissa: I always like the ones who come in who weren’t even helped on Twitter, but they’ll publicly thank someone who helped them in livechat or helped them in their email. Even if they have phone support. They’ll actually go on Twitter to say the thank you rather than starting on Twitter with the negative.
Do they name the customer service person who helped them?
Ellice: Yes. Sometimes they’re really creative with their tweets. One time when I was on the team it was pretty awesome because this girl who was helped wrote a Tumblr post about how awesome her service was and then she linked it on Twitter. I responded to her with “Thank you so much, that’s awesome.” And then she tweeted us a little haiku about how much she loved us. So I tweeted back to her a haiku about how awesome she was. She got a kick out of it and it totally made her day. We don’t need to be formal all day. That’s something Dreamhost prides itself on. We’re irreverent. We’re fun. It doesn’t have to be robotic tweeting all the time.
Marissa: I would say we don’t want to be robotic. You want to be as human as you can over a social media platform.
Ellice: People don’t expect it sometimes.
Marissa: We have a guy on our team who’s a comedian, and he has that tone of voice the way he answers people. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but at least he gets to be himself instead of being something that he’s not.
Do you think users who maybe a decade ago might have called a customer helpline are now being trained to go to a place like Twitter to complain because they’re more likely to get a response?
Marissa: I think it’s still generational. Certain generations like mine, this is the new way to get in contact with people. I see it too with some of our older customers, especially the ones that have been with us for 10 years, they’re still wanting to get on a phone call. Those people are very hard to transition.
Like this article? It was excerpted from my book: Your Guide to Twitter Marketing. I sought out some of the world’s most powerful marketers and grilled them on their subject matter expertise. This book gives you direct insight into how the world’s top marketers approach Twitter and use it to drive sales and influence.
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