I was looking up the Twitter handle for NHS a moment ago as I wanted to add them to a leaderboard I created – UK Twitter Social Customer Care Leaders. As I was reading through some of the Tweets from @NHSDirect, something struck me about their tone of voice. Whilst it appeared personable on the surface, there was something that grated away at me, almost as if the ‘best wishes’ here, and the ‘take care’ there, were somewhat formulaic; someone attempting to be empathetic but not quite knowing how. We talk about social being in your DNA, about ‘getting it’: @NHSDirect almost gets it, but not quite. It’s as if they have simply transferred their contact centre mentality to Twitter, adjusted the way they might have responded via email by reducing the number of words to 140 characters.

I don’t often put organisations under the spotlight, as I think they have an incredibly hard challenge to try to navigate their way through the internal complexities and myriad customer expectations that social presents to them. But the following brief exchange left me feeling disappointed at @NHSDirect‘s response. And as I read on, there was something about the tone of voice throughout their entire Twitterfeed that simply left me disappointed and disheartened. This exchange brought home to me the importance of tone of voice, of the one word that has been associated throughout with social customer care: empathy.


For so long, within a social customer care context we’ve talked about how Twitter has brought a sense of intimacy and empathy back into customer service. We’ve talked about the opportunities it presents for organisations to engage with their customers. We’ve associated words such as openness, authenticity, trust with social. We’ve talked about how Twitter is shifting customer service from a transaction to an experience. We’ve talked about the increasing importance of stories and storytelling and the key role social plays in this.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I’ll leave you to make up your own mind about @NHSDirect’s story and whether they ‘get it’…