twitterIf you tweet a customer service complaint to @Microsoft, then you may not receive an answer. However, if you tweet about a problem to @MicrosoftHelps, then you’re likely to receive a response in less than an hour.

Like many other brands, Microsoft has developed its Twitter handles to separate customer support issues from branded messaging. In a social media sphere where bad news can spread like wildfire, dedicated handles divert potentially negative traffic and give staff a better opportunity to respond to complaints.

If they haven’t already, business graduate programs, including both traditional and online masters of organizational leadership Texas students and students from other states may choose to enroll in, need to help students understand brand management in social media. Organizations that develop a dedicated Twitter handle for customer service should follow three important practices to make this channel effective.

Best Practice Number One: Respond Quickly

In September 2012, Time Warner Cable received a frustrated tweet from an angry customer in Brooklyn. The tweet was directed to their branded account. “All I wanted to do was set up a new account with @TWCable_NYC, but 36hrs later I’ve lost the will to live,” the customer said. Unfortunately for Time Warner, it wasn’t just any customer. It was actor Sir Patrick Stewart (@SirPatStew), who has nearly 350,000 followers.

Time Warner’s dedicated customer service account responded in two minutes to Stewart’s angst. While the average customer may not receive a reply in two minutes, 42 percent of customers expect to receive a reply in an hour. Simply Measured conducted a study of 30 companies with dedicated customer service handles. Only 10 percent had a response time of less than an hour. Microsoft was the fastest, with a response time of 42 minutes. The average response time for all 30 companies was 5.1 hours.

The top 10 dedicated handles account for 59 percent of company mentions on Twitter. Companies that want to improve their response times had better “make it so.”

Best Practice Number Two: Respond Often

Only three of the companies reviewed by Simply Measured responded to over 70 percent of customer service tweets: Ford, Nike and Nokia. Still, many brands have improved their response rates, focusing more on getting to the majority of customers rather than speeding up their response times.

Getting back to as many people as possible is important, but companies need to balance thoroughness with speed. Unfortunately, an increased response rate has meant combing through old tweets and resolving issues sometimes days later. For example, of the branded handles reviewed by Simply Measured, @BlackBerryHelp had the highest volume of mentions in three months at 514,000. However, @BlackBerryHelp also had a sluggish 19.7-hour response time.

A 100-percent response rate is neither feasible nor desirable. Customer service doesn’t have to respond to every “thank you” or to every user who sends out brand-bashing tweets. However, the average response rate for top companies is 42 percent. This means many companies have room for improvement.

Best Practice Number Three: Respond Efficiently

For small and medium-sized businesses (SMB), 24/7 monitoring of Twitter may not be realistic. However, these businesses can set up regular routines for going through customer service requests and set their standards for realistic yet speedy response times. Better yet, SMBs can invest in social media monitoring software tools that monitor Twitter and other social media mentions for potential issues, then send automated notices when problems arise.

Organizations with dedicated Twitter handles for customer service must devote resources to keeping an eye on customer service tweets. Before creating a dedicated account, a business should consider whether it has the resources to handle a high volume of around-the-clock requests. If it doesn’t, then setting up the dedicated handle could cause more problems when the response time doesn’t meet expectations.

When bad social media publicity strikes, organizations need strategies that allow them to contain and repair damage. A dedicated customer service Twitter handle diverts negative messaging away from the branded platform. In addition, it provides crucial information that could potentially be mined to discover trends in customer complaints. But if you’re going to create a Twitter account for customer service, then you must have the resources to meet customer demands.