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Many consumer-facing brands are using Twitter to receive and respond to customer service requests, a tactic that has been hugely successful for some and incredibly unsuccessful for others.

If you plan to handle customer service via Twitter, keep the following tips in mind.

1. Have a Personality

Don't send canned tweets. Your customers are approaching your Twitter account to hear the voice of your brand, and if that voice is stale and unengaged, they won't come back.

Pick a personality style that captures the brand image you want to reflect, and run with it. A law firm, for example, may want to go with an objective, authoritative tone, while an amusement park could stand to keep things lighthearted and informal. But personality is only marginally about tone. It's really about being personable. Listen and respond to your customers in earnest, and you'll be on the right track.

2. Respond Immediately

Speed is a large part of what makes Twitter an ideal customer service channel. A customer can post a question and receive an answer in a matter of seconds. But this only works if your company is able to monitor and respond to tweets immediately. A dead Twitter account is worse than no Twitter account at all.

If you've intentionally established your Twitter account to handle customer service issues and your customers are aware of this, you must be able to deliver. You must be able to monitor the account and respond in real time. If you can't, you'll end up harming your brand image and frustrating your customers.

3. Expect Complaints

If you're offering to help resolve your customers' problems, you better expect to hear about their problems. Social media users are more than willing to blast companies with complaints given the opportunity. There are two reasons for this.

First, negative feelings are more likely to spark action than positive feelings. You can expect to hear from a higher percentage of unhappy customers than happy ones for this reason alone, regardless of the channel. Second, the relative anonymity of the internet removes many of the traditional social constraints that would prevent certain outbursts from occurring in other situations, such as face-to-face or on phone calls. In short, the very nature of Twitter lends itself to complaints. Be prepared, but don't let this bother you. Every complaint you receive gives your business a public opportunity to make things right, which, rather than harming your brand image, will most likely improve it.

4. Keep Private Information Private

By definition, social media is primarily a public medium. This means most of what you do will be visible to others. For some customers service requests, this medium may simply be improper due to privacy concerns.

Put a standard in place to determine immediately which types of customer service requests or support issues can be handled and resolved in the eye of the public and which ones must be taken offline to a more private, one-on-one medium. Whatever you do, make sure you don't inadvertently include any private customer data when replying to a request or complaint.

5. Be Careful What You Say

What's said on Twitter lasts forever and could potentially be seen by thousands of individuals. Always think before you reply, especially when replying to a complaint. The way you handle negative feedback will affect how your brand is perceived, and even a single insensitive, sarcastic, or dismissive tweet can damage your reputation. Those kinds of things go viral these days. Be careful what you say.