Guest Blog: The Social Great Customer Service Race


Click on the image to see the full infographic.

Social media is without a doubt quickly emerging as a popular channel for customer service, when previously it has only been viewed as a marketing tool. Whether companies realize it or not, customers that are obsessed with instant gratification have likely already been contacted for support via Twitter, Facebook and social other platforms. The real question is what do you risk by not responding?

This was the primary question that prompted a recent four-week research project Software Advice conducted called “The Great Social Customer Service Race.” We tested and analyzed 14 top brands for social customer service responsiveness on Twitter. From this, we devised a list of key takeaways for customer service strategists wanting to dive full-force into social service

The goal was to evaluate which messages were prioritized and how consistently they responded. This included messages with an @ symbol and brand name, as well as others where simply the brand was mentioned. We sent the tweets every day from four different personal Twitter handles, for four consecutive weeks. We tested 14 brands in seven industries.

Here’s a snapshot of the results:

  • 90% of the responses occurred when the @Brand was used, less than 8% came from Brand mention with no @
  • The negative questions by far received the least amount of responses (5%). Others: Urgent (24%), Positive (22%), FAQ (24%), Technical (24%)
  • Bank of America and Home Depot were the only ones who responded to no @ mentions
  • Bank of America had the overall best response percent at 17.5%
  • MasterCard responded the fastest when they did respond with an average 34-minute response time
  • Starbucks, Visa and Apple didn’t respond at all

Leverage Service Tweets for Marketing

In our credit card group, MasterCard was the clear winner. Not only did the company post a better-than-average response time, MasterCard capitalized on an opportunity to market a customer service interaction.

When one of our participants asked whether the credit card is accepted globally, the MasterCard team responded and re-tweeted her message. This showed their 30,600 followers that they listen and respond. In another instance, they used a customer service interaction as an opportunity to pitch another product.

If Response Delayed – Use a Placeholder

Several times during the race, companies took several days to respond to one tweet. This is a huge misstep when you consider many consumers expect a response within two hours. To mitigate this issue, require agents to post a placeholder response if the question has to be escalated or rerouted.

Something like “Thanks for tweeting us @customername! I’m looking into this now and will let you know ASAP! – AV”

Really Solve the Problem

In one interaction with McDonald’s, the agent didn’t provide a good answer to our problem and it wasn’t immediately clear she was with the fast food chain. We asked about placing a regular weekly order for a business and she simply replied that we should contact out local store.

If she really wanted to wow us, she could have asked the location of our office. Even better, she could have found that number of the nearest McDonalds, or even called them herself.

Prioritization is Key

Most listening software can be customized with keyword identifiers that send important messages to the front of the line. During the race, it was clear several of the brands prioritize messages with “thank you,” with one company responding in about 13 minutes to that tweet.

At the same time, many more messages with important words such as “mad,” “help,” and “thinking of switching” went unnoticed. Companies should work with their team to program software to prioritize messages with these words and others that indicate risk of negative messaging, or intent to buy.

Listen for Your Brand, @ or No @

Overall, less than 8 percent of the responses during the race came during the weeks we didn’t use the @ with the brand name. Just because the customer doesn’t address you specifically, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t respond. This isn’t true in all cases, but consider this example.

Each of the tweeters in the race sent this message that didn’t receive one response:

“I’m thinking of buying a  new laptop today. It’s Macbook vs. HP? What do you think?”

Both brands missed this high purchase-intent tweet on four occasions. Your listening software should listen for mentions with the @, without, and #brandname.

Social Strategy Needs a Change

These brands responded to a mere 14 percent of the 280 tweets delivered during the race. Whether the issue is one of strategy or technology, brands are still far from meeting customers’ expectations on Twitter.


About the Author:
Ashley Verrill is a market analyst with Software Advice. She has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Her work has appeared in myriad publications including Inc., Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal. Before joining Software Advice in 2012, she worked in sales management and advertising. She is a University of Texas graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

About Swiftpage Guest Blogger

We love to share the limelight on our blog and feature guest bloggers. We select guest bloggers who have a unique perspective or expertise to share. Enjoy their posts!


  1. Marketing Moment: The Year of Twitter? | Swiftpage Marketing Blog - February 25, 2013

    […] to Tweets your business is tagged in. Many of the big brands are not very socially responsive (source). Smaller companies have a real advantage […]

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