16th January 2017 David Waddington

Anti-Social (Part 1) – Twitter and the art of response

‘They’ say that organisations should treat Twitter like a ringing phone: you wouldn’t leave the phone ringing off the hook, you would answer it.

I get the adage – if someone is going through the effort to communicate with you, you should engage with them.

But a ringing phone is (usually) anonymous. Until we answer it, we don’t know who is on the other end. Twitter, on the other hand, gives us some (if not all) the information we need to ascertain whether we need to bother replying.

Twitter is the digital equivalent of a peep-hole. We get a glimpse of who is there, but not the whole story.

This blog post will inevitably be the first of many when it comes to the art of responding on social channels. Different channels can have different approaches. And there are so many different situations that you could write a book (indeed many have).

But a recent personal encounter with some bad responding made me want to start kicking things off.

Engagement vs Disengagement

There are many reasons why you should engage with your audiences. To nurture customer relations, answer queries, retweet consumer recommendations, etc, etc.

But not all encounters on public social channels are positive ones. Sometimes people just want to complain.

And I was one of them!

The set-up

I purchased a vacuum cleaner from Currys PC World using their ‘click and collect’ system. I was told I could come and pick it up in minutes, but I opted to go the next day to avoid the sales.

Upon arrival at their ‘click and collect’ counter I gave the order number and was told the item would go and be collected. So far so good.

25 minutes later…. they turned up with a steam cleaner.

15 minutes after that… I finally got the vacuum cleaner.

In-between receiving the wrong vacuum cleaner and the right vacuum cleaner, I vented on Twitter.

Not my finest hour, but relatively calm and civil compared to what some organisations deal with on a daily basis.

So off it went into the Twittersphere. It got a ‘like’. It got read quite a bit. And that was that.

Or so I thought.

The reply

I tweeted on 31 December. They replied on 3 January. More than three days later.

If we used the ‘ringing phone’ analogy here, the phone would have burst into flames from not being answered.

Prior to this tweet, life had moved on. My venting was lost in the annals of time. But they felt a need to engage. Which then prompted this:

I didn’t want to have another dig, but it seemed too deliciously poignant not to point out that I was complaining about a horrifically slow service on what should have been their ‘express’ sales point, and they then chose to wait three days before replying to me on what should be an instantaneous communications tool.

Twitter best practice

So what should Currys PC World have done? Used common sense.

Every user is important, and while I would love to say everyone should be treated equally, in the digital realm that isn’t the case. There is an entire scoring system (Klout being one of them) that literally determines how important you are based on how many followers you have, how often you post, etc.

If a company says they don’t at least glimpse at this data, then they are either lying or they are missing out on a majorly useful tool.

Example: you find someone is aggressively complaining about your company. You try and placate them but things are quickly turning ugly. Their tweets are verging on the abusive. Before engaging further you take a look at their Klout score and account in general. Turns out they have 4 followers, 3 are bots, 1 appears to be the user’s mum. Is this person worth your time and effort, or is it best to block them?

My score is relatively high in the scheme of things, so I may have been flagged up as someone who should be contacted in response to my tweet to try and improve my impression of the company following my negative experience.

But three days later? This was such a time-sensitive situation that if the reply did not come ‘within the moment’ then it wasn’t needed or required.

All their response did was remind me how bad they are at communicating with their customers, so in this case they could have let it lie.

Quite conversely, by getting in touch they actually made matters worse.

But it’s not just the time! Let’s break it down further to pick apart why it was such a poor tweet.

The break-down

Twitter post

Reply time

We’ve covered this, but seriously – three days? If you can’t reply immediately, best to just leave it (unless the customer starts poking again).

The content

They start with an apology (good), but then come in with their excuse which takes the form of a blanket statement ignoring the nuance of the situation (bad).

It may have been three days earlier that I was there, but my memory is clear enough to know that despite it being December 31, the store was dead. There were staff milling around doing nothing. There were very few customers. And plenty of customers came and went during my ‘click and collect’ experience with their items in hand. I know this because I was there.

To speculate on an environmental reason for the delay (the alleged massive influx of customers) and suggest that it is the fault of the very people buying from them (too many of you darn shoppers) rather than their store management for not operating the ‘click and collect’ system properly or hiring more people during their ‘busiest sales period’ is inexcusable.

Consumers are savvy enough to know that the social accounts of companies are controlled in a central office somewhere and not ‘on the shop floor’. Don’t pretend otherwise as it makes you look foolish.

Who is this from?

I tweeted @curryspcworld yet my response is from @knowhowtohelp. Different handles, different names, different logos.

@knowhowtohelp is the customer service twitter account for Currys PC World, Currys PC World Ireland, and branches of Dixons in airports. From an organisational point of view it makes sense to have a central account as they are all part of the same company.

This means nothing to the customer.

There is no connection between the account I contacted and the account that replied at all.

All it does is suggest that @curryspcworld get so many negative tweets their way, that they are desperately trying to manage their brand reputation via a brand-neutral channel.

And this is not to say that @curryspcworld do not reply to negative comments via that account. They do! A lot!

Whether my experience is purely a victim of workflow escalation, or sheer mismanagement of their social channels, from the customer point of view it is baffling and echoes my in-store experience of one hand not knowing what the other hand is doing.

To tweet or not to tweet…

From my perspective, @curryspcworld should have left my tweet alone.

I was not demanding a response. I was just being a bit snide. A minor, (not very) amusing shopping anecdote that I happened to tag them in.

If their corporate policy is ‘tweet back always’ then a simple look at my data would have helped inform the perfect response.

My recent tweets were funny retweets. I enjoy digital and marketing. My twitter bio says I used to be a journalist. From this data you can pick up on what kind of response might actually work for me, especially considering the light-hearted nature of my original tweet.

Keep the apology, then maybe go for something similarly light-hearted connected with the vacuum I was trying to collect:

‘Apologies David. We sorry about the delay. We hope the service didn’t ‘suck’ too much. We’ll have to ‘clean’ up our act.’

Not necessarily the best example, but you get the point.

Knowing the consumer has never been easier, so talk to them in a way they would like. Other companies have done so to great success. Such as the fantastic Argos offering in response to a tweet directed their way that said: ‘@Argos_Online YO wen u gettin da ps4 tings in moss side? Ain’t waitin no more. Plus da asian guy whu works dere got bare attitude #wasteman’

On Twitter the consumer is no longer anonymous. Use that information to inform your responses. Tailor your communications for ‘the individual’.

It doesn’t require rocket-science. It’s common sense.
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