TwitterTime for some more MMI live from SXSW Coverage! And it’s time to talk Twitter (and a few other things).

Let’s face it. Traditional customer support is out the window with the advent of sites like Twitter, Facebook and GetSatisfaction. Customers can hop online from anywhere and vent about products or services in real time. Since we encourage our clients to engage with their customers via these platforms, I jumped at the chance to attend Customer Service in a 140 Character World!

The panel was made up of Twitter customer service experts Frank Eliason with Comcast (@comcastcares), Lois Townsend (@ltownsend) with HP, Toby Richards (@TobyRichards) with General Motors and Jeremiah Owyang (@jowyang) with the Altimeter. The panel was moderated by  Caroline McCarthy.

What I liked most about the panel was that there were differing opinions about Twitter. There was a lot to take in! For example, Lois said that HP considers Twitter a way to connect but not converse. If someone complains about your product on Twitter, reach out to them and tell them where to go and be their virtual concierge. As soon as she was done with her explanation, Frank jumped in to totally disagree. If you follow @comcastcares, you know they definitely treat Twitter as a dialogue.

There was also great debate about who handles online customer service… Is it your customer service team or your PR team? There was a consensus among the panelists that BOTH teams need to be involved. Your customer service team needs to be reaching out to those customers that need help while your PR team can monitor the conversation going on about your product and offer relevant information to followers.

The question was asked; what happens when you get someone with a huge Twitter following and a vast number of fans tweeting super negative things about your brand?

The response from the panel was pretty clear. Eventually this is going to happen to your brand and it actually doesn’t take someone with a million followers to effect your brand. In social media, anything can go viral. Always treat people with complaints well. When something bad happens, leverage that by showing people you are responsive and open about the problem and willing to help get their issues resolved. This approach goes a long way to helping turn that unhappy customer into a super fan.

Frank did make one really great point during this part of the conversation. He said “transparency doesn’t always mean say yes to the customer.” He goes on and says that “transparency means that you are listening, responding and being open with your customers. You can’t give everyone free cable just because they complain about it online.”

Here are the biggest takeaways I got from the panel:

  1. It’s important to establish listening systems
  2. Empower your staff to act quickly by creating a best practices guideline
  3. Be genuine
  4. You still need traditional customer service measures
  5. It’s okay to stop responding when someone becomes a troll (some people are just mean)
  6. Integrate. Integrate. Integrate.
  7. Link to solutions
  8. Keep your eyes on where your customers are going
  9. BE THERE!

Tomorrow is the last day of SXSW so expect another post then. I’m going to be sad to say goodbye to Austin but I’m ready to be home in Houston soon.

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