Rapid social response is good service


As the UK’s leading independent retailer of train tickets, thetrainline knows how to treat people online. It’s not surprising that they’re also leaders in social customer service.

The company’s relatively modest Twitter following masks their real activity on the platform: listening for customer conversations around the brand and responding quickly and effectively. And thetrainline Facebook page is starting to grow as a front-line customer service resource.

Because they take social media so seriously as a customer service channel – and resource it properly – thetrainline is one of our Social Heroes.

On Twitter: @thetrainline
On Facebook:


Douglas Macnaughton, Customer Relations Manager, on Twitter

We use Twitter exclusively for customer service. It’s a two-pronged strategy:

First, we listen for mentions of our brand so we can respond to any customer issues.

Second, we use Twitter (and Facebook) to let our followers know about any system outage or problems we might be having – to pre-empt problems. We might also use these channels to warn people about train delays – if we see them early enough.

On resourcing

As a UK business, people expect us to be available at least during working hours. We're on Twitter to help 8-8 Monday to Friday and 9-5 on the weekends.

Everyone in the Customer Relations team spends some time on Twitter but at least two people are on it full time, to cover the 8-8 window.

They spot issues with customers, then step in to see if we can help. About 70-80% respond and welcome the approach. 20-30% may never respond – often because the issue has resolved itself.

We’ll try to address the problem right away, taking it offline if necessary by offering our contact details. Once we’ve spotted an issue, we have an option to initiate a case to follow up formally. But, most often, we just solve the issue right away.

On social media training

We don’t do formal social media training – just a chat about our style and approach when using social channels. We use the same customer service principles as we would in other channels but it’s generally a bit more informal in social – less jargon and a bit friendlier without being over-familiar.

On responsiveness

Social Media is a good way to deal with issues immediately. And we see things we might never see – customers who are unhappy but would never contact us to tell us about it. That gives us a chance to resolve issues we never would have known about.

We might reach out and offer a refund – that generates really positive sentiments. And we’ve had a few public responses where a journalist might get a good experience on Twitter and write about it. A Guardian journalist picked up one Twitter service experience.

Another example: a comedian tweeted that he wasn’t able to collect his tickets before travel so had to spend more on a ticket. We spotted it and refunded the difference. He tweeted and blogged about it. So a good experience in social channels can get amplified in the same channels.

We also have a small group of hard-core advocates who will jump in and recommend us or will even help resolve issues. We make sure they know about any service outages right away to prevent frustration and amplify the news.

On separating marketing from service

We don’t use Twitter for selling or marketing. Facebook will get a bit more marketing and community-building going forward. We do sell tickets on our Facebook page and I expect that will grow.

We’re looking into developing our Facebook page a bit more, with a peer-to-peer forum and using some of our self-service content like FAQs.

On costs

Social media gives us a very low-cost way to resolve issues and to get our service updates out there.

Our customer service costs have been falling since we started using social media but we’re giving a better service. It’s not all a result of social but it does contribute to it.

#Social Success Lessons

  • If you can’t monitor social channels 24x7, tell people when you will be there (and make sure you are!).
  • Find your advocates and give them the information they need to help you.
  • Think about the right style for each customer service channel.
  • Empower the team to correct problems as quickly as possible.
  • Be careful combining marketing and customer service – being overly promotional can backfire in a channel used primarily for support.

Read about more of our Social Heroes.

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