Getting Customer Service Beyond 140 Characters

By Neil Glassman 

With Twitter increasingly used by consumers to ask questions and register complaints, many brands are increasingly prepared to provide customer service on that channel. There are circumstances when the issue is more efficiently and effectively resolved offline.

Under what circumstances should customer service reps take the conversation private, how can customer resistance to moving the discussion be addressed and what are the best practices for making this technique work?

At the recent Social Media Customer Service Summit organized by Useful Social Media, Claire Spinti, who heads Global Social Media Engagement Strategy for 3M, responded to these questions.

Spinti offered practical, actionable advice that can be applied to most social media platforms.

When is it best to take the conversation offline?

Consumer uses threatening or abusive language

  • A warning can be posted that the conversation needs to be kept professional or will be discontinued
  • Fan bases don’t appreciate such language and will generally support the moderator asking that the conversation be moved offline

Account and/or personal information is required

  • Consumers generally understand this reasoning
  • A direct message (DM) may be insufficient or inappropriate

A deeper conversation is needed

  • Probing questions may need to be asked for additional information/clarity
  • Follow up may be prolonged and could add “noise” to the social channel


Why consumers may resist?

They are turning to social for transparency

Consumers are forcing companies to be personal. No longer can brands hide behind anonymous 1-800 numbers and the safety of the company’s official line.

Claire Spinti, Global Social Media Engagement Strategy, 3M

They are turning to social for accountability


Consumers want to keep brands on the record, writing in “social ink.”

They are turning to social for peer input

Consumers want to get input into their buying decision from their friends, communities and larger networks. The brand is now simply one voice among many.

They are turning to social for power

Consumers may be looking to use social media as a power play and as a way to turn the power tables away from big corporation. They are also using social networks to build their own influence and brands need to respect this new power dynamic.


How can trust be created to make it work?

Consumers can be asked to “leave the room”

  • Moderators should not assume willingness
  • Be polite and respectful, not forceful

Provide superior service (surprise and delight)

  • Don’t lead with “please call”
  • Give some context and reasoning
  • When possible, begin with a DM before moving off-channel

Full circle resolution

  • Allow/encourage/recognize that the consumer will return to the original channel and share their resolution (or lack thereof!)
  • Remember that offline does not mean private, it just means taking the conversation elsewhere for a period of time.


Final takeaway:

This process is not about shutting up consumers — it’s about helping them out


Neil Glassman is principal marketing strategist at WhizBangPowWow, where he delivers integrated social, digital and linear media solutions. Contact Neil by email and join his conversations on Twitter and Google+.