In today’s social media age, Twitter-based customer service is expected to be speedy. But according to mystery shopper research by BDRC Continental, many brands struggle to keep pace.
Established retailers are among the worst brands for answering customer queries on Twitter, while high street banks and credit card brands are the top performers.
Silence is costly
Fashion retailer French Connection, which saw sales in 2015 fall 8% to £164.2m, comes bottom of the pile in the research, taking an average of 39 hours and 22 minutes to respond to customers on Twitter.
“The longer a brand waits, the bigger the risk that a customer will decide to go and shop somewhere else,” says Tim Barber, director at BDRC Continental. “It is 2016 and people expect a rapid response. If they don’t get it, you could lose them forever. French Connection could be unintentionally sending that waiting customer to Topshop.”
With an overall score of 10% across several metrics including customer satisfaction and speed, French Connection is the worst-performing UK brand according to the study, but it was not the only guilty high street retailer. The brand is joined by high street giants including Starbucks, Waterstones, Vodafone and McDonald’s, which are among the 10 worst performers.
As part of the research, more than 9,000 tweets were sent to 395 high street brands in 32 market sectors. Each of the brands’ responses was ranked by the quality of their answer, whether additional information was offered, the friendliness of tone and if a reasonable effort was put into the response. All brands were sent the same 25 queries by 25 different users to allow for benchmarking of the responses.
Barber says the research produced its fair share of horror stories. “The worst thing a brand can do is respond even when they haven’t properly read a question or use automation to just cut and paste answers.”
He reveals: “One of our shoppers asked a payments brand if there was a charge to pay by American Express, and it bizarrely responded: ‘We take MasterCard, Visa and American Express’.
“Another shopper asked a popular high street restaurant if they could bring their own wine to a meal or if there was a charge. The response was an aggressive: ’No, absolutely not. If you do, you will be instantly removed from the premises’.”
Finance industry are top tweeters
High street retailers could learn a thing or two from the financial sector, however. According to the report, Nationwide has the best customer service on Twitter with an overall score of 88%. In fact, seven of the top 10 best performers are either credit card or banking brands.
The financial industry has had its fair share of PR disasters since the 2008 banking crisis and Barber says this works in its favour. “The banks, credit cards and rail companies are all used to being attacked regularly in the media. As a result, they have huge teams in place to manage their social media and PR. If they can make a customer happy on Twitter, it’s an easy PR win.”
At four minutes and 25 seconds, Virgin Trains has the quickest average response time. However, Barber says speed is not everything and that there is still a trend of “quick answers that don’t really answer a consumer’s question”.
The rise of online forums also means that the public can find answers to most queries through the simplicity of a Google search, suggesting brands that cannot do a good job of customer service on Twitter should not do it at all.
“Apple doesn’t answer any tweets, so it isn’t necessarily imperative that you go down the route of using Twitter as a customer service tool,” says Barber. “But if you are on the platform, you should invest in doing the job properly as it will pay for itself in the end. If you’re on Twitter and responding to customers poorly, it will do more damage than good.”
Ultimately, Barber says brands must be consistent if they are to achieve success through social media customer service. He suggest brands such as Holland & Barrett and Waitrose, which achieve scores of 77% and 75% respectively, do well to balance both helpfulness and personality.
Barber advises: “You need to be consistent with every single tweet and treat everybody like an individual. You have to have the infrastructure in place to respond to every single tweet – that’s important.
“You don’t pick and choose who you speak to when someone walks into a store – you aim to speak to everyone, so why do the opposite on Twitter? Treat every Twitter user like a shopper inside your flagship store. Remain consistently helpful and you’ll inevitably improve the sentiment towards your brand.”