Suffering a service outage? In a crisis? Tweet about it, study says

You can promote good will while keeping call center costs down, a study has found.

Ever have one of those frustrating conversations with your colleagues during an emerging issue, where you’re trying to figure out whether acknowledging an issue online will defuse it or make it grow hotter?

You know, the one that goes something like:

A: “Have you seen all the chatter about this issue online? We should get out there and let people know what’s going on.”

B: “No—it’s only a few people—if we post about it more people will know there’s a problem.”

People have a natural reluctance to admit something is wrong. That’s all the more so online, where people can talk back and ask uncomfortable questions. So, unless there’s someone with enough authority to navigate a response through the objections, this is often where a stalemate is reached.

Even if you do manage to convince people of the need to communicate, the time it takes to do the convincing often means that you miss the boat on getting your response out there in time for people to see it.

That’s why I was really interested to see a note from Shashi Bellamkonda on the Social CRM Pioneers group, pointing to some interesting research by Microsoft and Psychster on the effect of companies acknowledging issues via Twitter and the actions and perceptions of customers.

The white paper, titled ” Using Twitter to Reassure Users During a Site Outage,” looks into the effects of a company’s informing people—or not—of an outage via Twitter, and the varying effectiveness of different approaches to doing so.

The conclusions provide some useful ammunition for those who advocate a more proactive approach to managing issues via Twitter:

  1. Any kind of acknowledgment online will result in lowered negativity and improved perceptions, and it may prompt fewer people to phone your call center.
  2. Companies need to think about who posts the information, not just what is posted. A trusted community manager may be better than an executive or an anonymous company account.
  3. Companies can improve the effectiveness of their acknowledgments by explaining the nature and cause of the issue.

It’s particularly interesting that the study identified that the acknowledgments do more than just change perceptions; they also decrease the likelihood that people will phone your call center.

During a panel on online support at SXSW this year, Frank Eliason explained that he was able to calculate the tangible benefit to his team at Comcast by looking at the cost of the team, the number of people they had helped, and comparing that with the cost of high volume in Comcast’s call center.

Even the most math-averse person can understand that if you reduce the number of people calling you for information, and do it in a cost-effective way, it should be an easy sell.

What’s more, this is a two-pronged benefit—communicating via Twitter can lower your support costs while improving people’s perception of your company. So, you’re not only decreasing costs, you’re potentially generating revenue in the long term.

Dave Fleet is Vice President of Digital in Edelman’s Toronto office.

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