But adding Twitter as a conduit for grief also changes expectations about what “good customer service” really means, says Savannah Peterson (@Savissavvy), founder of Savvy Millennial, a community engagement consultancy based in San Francisco.
"Twitter changes the velocity at which the conversation happens," she says. "Every customer is now having a face-to-face conversation with you, even if there’s a screen between you and them. That’s why they expect responses so fast. They think, ‘If I sent my Tweet in two seconds, why can't they respond in 30?’ The longer one waits to address a complaint on Twitter, the hotter and more widespread the fire burns."
Responding quickly not only puts out fires, it can also generate revenue by meeting and exceeding customer expectations. Research has found that the fastest responses generate the greatest revenue impact.
72% of people who use Twitter to lodge complaints expect a response within an hour, according to an October 2013 report by Lithium Technologies. That puts huge pressure on companies to have both staff and a strategy in place to deal with customers on Twitter, notes Nick Brennan (@Enjeibee), founder and CEO of Watch Social Media, a marketing and media firm in Chicago.
Time lag is one of the biggest challenges, especially when there’s a potentially incendiary Tweet and multiple people must weigh in on how to handle it.
"The first thing you have to do is assess the conversation and the account you’re dealing with," Brennan says. "Is this person just trolling or honestly willing to have a dialogue with the brand? Even if they are trolling, do they have a large following or are they using popular hashtags? It might be worth responding to them, simply so other people can see the way your brand addresses the situation."
Most of the time, the worst thing you can do is ignore it. Companies that fail to respond to legitimate complaints—or do so in an inauthentic or dismissive way—only make things worse for themselves.
"Twitter has turned customer service into a spectator sport," says Jon Symons (@JonSymons), principal of Until They Smile, a marketing firm based in Edmonton, Alberta. "With the ability for any Tweet to go viral, businesses have tremendous pressure to monitor and to craft impactful replies to mentions of their brand. Humour and generosity are rewarded, self-service is punished, and defensiveness is attacked."
Twitter can also make some problems seem worse or more widespread than they really are, adds Savvy Millennial’s Peterson.
"That’s the dark side to customer engagement," she says. "You might only have 10 people Tweeting about an issue, but because those people have influence, there may already be reporters working on a story about how you failed as a company. You need to quickly put out that digital fire before it turns into a meme."