You can use Twitter for more than just gaining a huge mass of followers. It's also a great way to engage with customers--even dissatisfied ones--and turn them into happy advocates of your brand in less time than traditional customer service often takes. All it takes is being active on Twitter and following a few simple steps.
Track the entire conversation around your brand
To use your business's Twitter account for customer service, first you're going to need to identify Twitter users in need of your help. These customers may not be following you on Twitter or even talking directly to you, so you'll need to check more than just your regular Twitter feed. Try creating a few saved searches for words and phrases customers are likely to use on Twitter when talking about you.
Creating a saved search on Twitter is easy; just search for your company or product name using the box at the top of your Twitter page. Once the search results are up, click on the Save this search button and you'll be able to repeat this search easily again later by going to the Searches tab on your Twitter page.
If your company uses a Twitter client or service other than Twitter.com, like Hootsuite the exact process for this might be different. You should be able to set up custom searches just as easily in other services, but you can use Twitter.com if you have any problems. You'll obviously want to use search for your company name as well as "#yourcompanyname", but also try the names of your more popular products and services.
Respond Quickly and Helpfully
If your company has a customer service rep or a social media manager ask them to look through your saved searches once or twice a day for customers who are upset or in need of help. Make sure the tweets are recent; otherwise, if you're contacting them days later they may have already solved the problem and you may just end up upsetting them again.
Once you've identified a customer who needs your help, send them a quick @Reply (by clicking reply, beneath a relevant tweet or beginning your message with @customername) offering information or assistance. If it's possible to solve the problem over Twitter, then feel free to do so. Otherwise, try to direct them to someone within your company who can get the problem fixed quickly. Don't just send them to the same customer service line they've probably already tried; the goal is to provide help faster than users can receive it from traditional channels.
You'll want to chiefly use @Replies especially when you're first starting to use Twitter for Customer support. An @reply will make it easy for customers to see what you're doing and you can send an @Reply to anyone. If the customer seems especially upset or if their problem is in any way sensitive try to move the conversation to direct messages (DM), as quickly as possible.
Don't Fake It
Most importantly, remember that this is about the customers. A lot of companies have embarrassed themselves on Twitter by trying to turn a bad customer experience into an opportunity for free public relations. This is far more likely to backfire on you than it is to help build your company's image. Remember that Twitter was modeled on conversations, so try to talk with customers instead of at them. The reputation you'll gain from helping customers and being honest with them is the best PR you can buy on social networks. For more information on starting a conversation with your followers read our "Tips for Reaching Out to Twitter's 50 Million Daily Users".