How positive customer service interactions on Twitter boost consumer spending

Good customer service is key to good customer relationships and has big payoffs.

For many, Twitter has become a de facto online customer service platform. For instance, every month Twitter users send over 100,000 questions, complaints, and comments to major US airlines (Twitter internal data, November 2015).

During the busy holiday travel season, we wanted to see exactly how much customer service on Twitter is worth. We partnered with Applied Marketing Science to analyse public interactions between airlines and their customers.

Our main finding: prompt customer service really does pay off. Customers who received replies from airlines on Twitter were more satisfied with their experience, more willing to recommend the airline, and willing to pay more money for a ticket for that airline in the future.

On top of that, the faster the airline responded to a Tweet, the more customers were willing to pay. In this exchange, Southwest Airlines () responded to the Tweet in just two minutes.

Replying to Tweets has revenue-generating potential.

When a customer Tweeted a question or complaint to an airline and received a response, they were willing to pay almost $9 on average more for that airline. At a time when air travel is highly competitive and fares from one airline are nearly identical to others, a single friendly Tweet can provide a quantifiable competitive edge.

For context, compare this $9 in goodwill to the various fees that airlines routinely charge flyers, such as $7 or more for a snack, $10 for a pillow, or $15 for priority boarding.

The quicker brands reply to Tweets, the more revenue potential exists.

When we looked across all Tweets, the median time to first response was approximately 22 minutes (some airlines did respond in as few as 3 seconds). We found that when an airline responded to a customer’s Tweet in less than 6 minutes, the customer was willing to pay almost $20 more for that airline in the future. By contrast, when the airline took longer than an hour to respond to the Tweet, the customer was willing to pay only $2.33 more for that airline in the future.

Tip: Respond to customers’ Tweets as promptly as possible. Customers are often surprised and delighted when brands respond quickly to them on Twitter. Even just acknowledging their Tweet and letting them know you’re working on a solution is preferred over no response at all. We also know that personalised customer service on Twitter drives satisfaction, so try to use the person’s real name and have agents use their initials.

Responding to Tweets drives higher satisfaction than other customer service channels.

We asked people how satisfied they were with their customer service experience on a 5-point scale, with 5 being the highest. Those who Tweeted and received a response reported higher satisfaction scores (3.72) compared to those who reached out via traditional channels such as on the phone or in person (3.38). Meanwhile, people who Tweeted at an airline, but received no response had a score of only 2.68.

Tip: Convenience is vital to travellers. It can be much easier to send off a Tweet while on public transit or in line for coffee than it is to call a 1-800 number or draft a detailed email. It’s a big relief for customers when they can get answers without changing their routine.

Satisfied Twitter users spread the word.

We also found that flyers were more willing to recommend an airline after a positive interaction on Twitter. Among those who received a response from an airline on Twitter, 82% reported sharing their positive experience with others. By comparison, in the group who reported using other channels for customer service (phone, email, chat, in-person, other social media), fewer than half (44%) shared their positive experience with someone else.

Tip: People are often surprised when brands are more accessible on Twitter compared to other channels. Tap into this by responding to users’ Tweets promptly and offering to help. Also, make sure to convert your customers into brand advocates by liking and Retweeting their Tweets. That encourages them to publicly share their good experiences with your brand.

Does increased satisfaction also translate into higher willingness to recommend? To measure this, we asked respondents in each group to answer the question “How likely are you to recommend the company to friends or family?” on a 10-point scale.

We found that when airlines responded to a customer’s Tweet, they increased their likeliness to recommend scores by 41% compared to their baseline average score among all Twitter users. When the airline failed to respond to the customer’s Tweet, their scores remained unchanged.

Tip: Replying in public might feel odd at first for customer service, but there’s a real, quantifiable risk to brands that choose to stay silent. Even simple replies like “thanks for the feedback” can have a meaningful difference for the business!

Our methodology

We identified over 600,000 customer service-related Tweets sent to major US airlines from March to September 2015 and classified them into two groups: those that received a response from the airline on Twitter and those that did not.

We then partnered with Applied Marketing Science to take Twitter users through a market simulation task called conjoint analysis. We presented users with a series of blinded exercises that simulated the same choices and trade-offs made when shopping for tickets. In each exercise we asked users to imagine they’re taking a two-hour non-stop flight. We then asked them to identify which airline ticket they would purchase. In each offering, we varied the airline, the ticket price, the on-time arrival rate, and the availability of window/aisle seats versus middle seats.

A total of 1,156 Twitter users completed the conjoint exercises. In addition to users who Tweeted at airlines, we made sure to include Twitter users who had customer service interactions via traditional channels (such as on the phone or in person), as well as Twitter users who flew by airplane in 2015, but had no customer service interactions on any channel. We then used these results to develop a model that measured exactly how much flyers valued each airline.

More info

Download the Customer Service on Twitter playbook to learn more.