James Paterson, PR and social media manager at O2, says brands should respond to customer complaints on their main social media accounts instead of relegating customer service to Twitter's 'back of beyond'.
When The Drum recently ran an article titled 'Top 5 tips for handling customer service on social media', I was interested to see just what five tips would make the list.
Customer service on social media has changed so much over the last few years - when we at O2 set up our Twitter account in 2008 it was a vastly different world to the one we're in now. Then, one person did all the responding to tweets, resolving problems and creating content. Now, we're lucky to have a team of around 30 people at O2 who play a regular role in social media day to day plus at least that many more having a more casual involvement in what we do. It's a much bigger operation and it's a successful one too.
That's why I was so disheartened to see Fiona Dow's second tip - setting up a customer service-only Twitter account. This, I feel, is a fundamental flaw in social media thinking.
Customer service is an integral part of any brand's activities in social media. You haven't really earned the right to promote your products unless you also engage in aftercare and product advice, and that's true whether you're selling a car or a phone or a holiday. And while it's great to see Fiona isn't advocating this type of one sided communication, the fact she's suggesting customer service be hidden away, almost like an embarrassment, is almost as bad.
Fiona states 'no-one wants to see a Twitter feed cluttered with apologetic @ messages'. Indeed, she's right. But the solution is Twitter's 'no replies' option on a company's profile page, not to hive off customer service elsewhere.
Indeed, one of the brands Fiona highlights as good practice in this area spends a great deal of their time directing people to their separate helpers Twitter feed. This, in the eyes of a customer, looks worse than responses to problems - it can give the impression that this feed has no time to help out, just to promote itself. This kind of asymmetrical relationship is bad practice in social media, just as it is in life itself. Just try it yourself - next time your nearest and dearest talks to you about their problems, tell them to speak to someone else. Just don't blame me if they're not your nearest and dearest for much longer.
Meanwhile, Fiona's next assertion is that 'your brand [should] take the spotlight on your main profiles'. This, while correct, suggests that good customer service cannot be a brand trait - we can only assume Fiona hasn't spoken to Zappos about this particular matter. At O2, we're lucky enough to have a highly trained and highly skilled team of customer service people working on our Twitter account who've earned their fair share of love from the work that they've done. Would Fiona have all the brand kudos they've created be hidden away?
It's fair to say that boiling social media down to five tips is never going to be easy. And to be fair to Fiona, I agree with four of her points. But if brands want to show that they're serious about treating customers well, they shouldn't relegate their customer service interactions to Twitter's back and beyond.
You can follow James on Twitter @HelloJP