Social Media for Customer Service


Earlier this month, my boyfriend and I took a trip to Dublin to visit my best friend. After a weekend of eating and drinking (standard procedure for a trip to Ireland), we left on the Monday morning to catch our Ryanair flight back to Edinburgh somewhat jaded. On arrival at the airport, I casually turned to my 27 year old partner and asked him if he had his passport – expecting him to say it was neatly tucked into the pocket of his hand luggage.

No. Ah! Frantic search in bag. Socks flying everywhere. No it seems he did not have it. It transpired that the passport was still lying on the floor in my friend’s house in central Dublin, she was fast asleep and our flight was in 1 hour. Idiot.


‘Oh no, what will we do’, he panicked. Shall we go and queue up at the Ryanair desk and ask for help? ‘Will I be able to fly back without a passport since we aren’t in the UK?’

At this point I was contemplating leaving him in the terminal building, but decided that would be rather mean. Looking at the 50+ people queuing at the Ryanair desk made me shiver, but I knew exactly what to do to avoid this mayhem.

I pulled out my iPhone (my boyfriend has a Nokia 3310…don’t ask), and messaged Ryanair on Twitter to explain the situation and ask if he could get on the flight with his Drivers License. They replied within 8 minutes to say yes it would be fine and they’d made a note on our booking so that the check in staff were aware of the situation when we board the flight.


Job done. Panic over. Ryan Air we love you (sometimes).

Customer service on social media is nothing new, and while there are lots of companies that do it perfectly, there’s still a pretty big gap between what customers want from social media customer service and what many brands are actually delivering.

It’s simple: Customers want, expect and are prepared to reward great social media customer service. Buffer recently stated that when companies engage and respond quickly and effectively to customer service requests over social media, those customers end up spending 20% to 40% more with the company.

And this definitely rings true with my recent Ryanair experience. I don’t love the Ryanair flight experience (who does) but the fact that they replied to my tweet within 8 minutes and went above and beyond to help us was hugely appreciated. I now think highly of them as a company, I tweeted about their excellent customer care and will naturally book with them again.

But this efficient and quick approach is definitely not true for all companies. An infographic from HelpScout uncovered that “80 percent of companies think they are delivering superior customer service, where only 8 percent of customers think these same companies are doing so”.

Customer Service Stats

So, I decided to put it to the test and tweet 6 different companies to see:

  1. How quickly they respond
  2. The quality of the response
  3. The tone of response

I tweeted o2 to ask a question about costs when travelling abroad. They replied 4 hours later which is too long and sent me the wrong information that was not relevant to my question. – FAIL

O2 Response

I tweeted Stagecoach to ask why their daily bus from Stranraer to Carlisle had stopped running (bone of contention with my Granny!). They replied 15 hours later (far too long!) with a very impersonal tweet – FAIL

Stagecoach Response

I tweeted H&M to ask if their Balmain Collection would come back in stock. They replied within 9 minutes with a lovely personal message to say no but sorry I missed out. – WIN

H M Response

I tweeted Scottish Power to ask why I couldn’t log into my online account. They replied in 40 minutes with a friendly, clear response. However they asked me to call them and I really don’t have half an hour spare to sit in a queue on the phone – FAIL

Scottish Power Response

I tweeted Hello Fresh to ask a question about my food delivery box. They replied in 10 minutes with a friendly, clear answer and we took the problem to email which is fine. I like online comms – WIN

Hello Fresh Uk Response

I tweeted the SSE Hydro to ask what time Faithless were playing on Wednesday night. They didn’t reply at all – FAIL

So more FAILS than WINS here…

What social media customers want

It’s not rocket science really. Exceeding expectations may be easier than you think. Treat customers like real people and genuinely care about their issues (and fixing them) and you can majorly wow them.

This is exactly what the Sunshine team do with our clients.

We run the social media customer service for Edinburgh Airport. We’re super quick, helpful, personal and we genuinely care about making passengers journeys as easy as possible. We talk to our passengers like we know them – and many of them we do know as we have the same passengers week on week.

Hello Customer Service

We also work with a spa hotel near London. Due to our quick response time (average of 6 minutes) and our helpful, friendly approach, 80% of customer service queries now come through Facebook rather than through the in-house reservations team. This means that customers call the reservations team already equipped with the all the knowledge that they need to book their trip straight away. This frees up the reservation team and ensures maximum productivity across all teams.

So how do you get it right?

Here are my top tips for nailing social media customer service:

1. Respond quickly

The no. 1 thing customers want? A fast response! According to an Edison study, 42% of consumers expect a response on social media within one hour, and 32% think it should be within 30 minutes. If you don’t respond quickly then people will get frustrated and turn to other channels for the answer.

2. Show that you care

It’s easy to feel like an insignificant speck in a sea of social media, but your customers need to know that they’re not. They want to know that their issue is as important to you as it is to them. Add a personal touch but always included their name into the tweet and sign off with your name or initials.

Hold your hands up if you mess up and say sorry – people will appreciate that more than dodging the issue.

Where appropriate, have a chat with your customers and add a little bit of fun to your conversations.

Sainsburys Response

3. Provide relevant help

Listen and understand your customer’ issue properly. Don’t just pan them off to the website to call a number or email someone. There is a reason why they turned to social media in the first place so deal with the issue there and then.

4. Know when to ignore the trolls

There are people who are abusive, rude and just downright mean. Know when to ignore these people. If you cannot add value, do not answer the message.

5. Offer 7 day a week support

Make sure your social team operates 7 days a week, 365 days a year and clearly state what hours you operate on your Twitter bio. The questions still come in even at 11pm at night.

The bottom line

There’s a huge opportunity for brands to excel with top class social media customer service and not everyone is doing it. Give yourself that competitive advantage and wow customers – it can be worth its weight in gold.

Jenny Emslie Photograph

Jenny Emslie

Founder & Managing Director