Twitter Customer Service: Two partial DMs from AT&T do not make a whole

by | Jun 6, 2012 | Social Media Writing Courses, Writing Matters Blog | 0 comments

If you’re using Twitter for customer service, you’ve got to live within your means. Yes, the 140-character limit is a struggle. It’s hard to solve a customer’s problem or answer a question in such tight quarters. Even the Pledge of Allegiance (flowery wording, but concise) doesn’t fit. You’d have to cut “with liberty and justice for all” to squeak in at 140.

Take Two – They’re Small

AT&T seems to have gotten little mixed up about replying via direct message (DM) to a customer’s request for help. A few weeks ago, I tweeted AT&T about ongoing problems I was having with my landline. In response to my tweet, AT&T sent me this stopped-in-mid-sentence DM.



And two minutes later, AT&T finished the thought with this started-in-mid-sentence DM.


That approach simply isn’t going to work. If AT&T can’t answer my question, solve my problem, or relieve my frustration in one 140-character DM, they shouldn’t try. The AT&T social customer care agent should have realized that she had more to say than she could fit in one DM, and she should have used the DM to ask me whether she could call me (on my cell, not my landline) or e-mail me, so she could express herself fully. Or, at the very least, the AT&T agent should have mentioned in the first DM that another one was coming. She could have used 9 of those 140 characters on the word “continued.” (Actually, that strategy would have made the two-partial-DMs approach a less bad idea, but definitely not a good idea.)

And don’t even get me started on the utterly unreadable sentence created by combining the two DMs. The AT&T customer care agent wrote:

Leslie, I wanted to assure you that AnthonyG has engaged our executive office of the matter to get Verizon technicians engaged to look for the source of this issue even if it is working when they go out to keep it from happening when it rains. Thank you.

I think she meant something along these lines:

Leslie, I want to assure you that our executive office knows about the problems you’ve been having with your landline each time it rains. We have the Verizon repair technicians looking for the source of this issue, so even if your landline is working when they come to check it, the technicians can take steps to solve the rain-related problem. Thank you.

And at 355 characters, the readable sentences won’t fit into Twitter.

So, we agree that cutting message in half and packaging it as two DMs is wrong. Here’s how to write social customer care messages that work.

5 Tips for Writing Direct Messages or Tweets to Customers

  1. Use simple, direct (short) words. You’ll be squeezing a lot of meaning into a very small space, so you’ll have to avoid bureaucratic phrasings such as “I wanted to assure you” when you could write “please understand” or “to get Verizon technicians engaged to look for” when the simpler “Verizon technicians will look for” will do.
  2. Have a personality. In DMs, you should avoid stiff business diction such as “We appreciate your prompt response …” and use friendly, personal wording instead: “Thanks for getting back to us …”
  3. Tell the customer what to do or what you will do. Tweets and DMs offer a tiny communication space. Most customers who turn to this channel for service want to know who’s going to do what to solve their problems, so most tweets or DMs to customers should feature the required or impending action. Your slim, trim DM should help get something done.
  4. Include links to more detailed info at your site. Really, how much customer service can anyone deliver in 140 characters? Even the best writer in the world will work hard to get complete, readable, and helpful content into a DM. So save some of those characters for links to detailed help content at your website: demos, tutorials, FAQs, or knowledgebase. And use a link shortener like or TinyURL.
  5. Ask the customer for information. It’s actually pretty easy to ask a good question in a 140-character direct message. So if you need information from a customer (an account number, the date he visited the retail store, a product name), a DM is a good way to ask.

So, to wrap it all up, social customer service is a good idea, but not if the channel stunts the service. Always answer a customer’s DM, but don’t be shy about moving the discussion out of Twitter if you’ll be able to give better service in another channel.

Tags: Social Customer Service, Social media, Twitter


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