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TurboTax Experts Take Over Twitter
Intuit is the maker of TurboTax®, the leading tax preparation software "winning recommendations from PC Magazine, CNET.com and The New York Times." However, the company has long faced a unique problem-the need to rewin customers each tax season. Fortunately, in the age of social media, Twitter provided an unexpected channel for helping the firm retain its customers with year-around engagement.
Intuit, Inc., was cofounded by Scott Cook and Tom Proulx in 1983. The company introduced a personal financial management application called Quicken, which put the company on the fast track to success. By the early 1990s, Quicken had become one of the best-selling software applications in the world, making "Intuit... the leading U.S. developer of personal finance software."
In late 2008 Seth Greenberg, director of online advertising and Internet media at Intuit, along with his team, created Twitter feeds for several of Intuit's brands, including their powerhouse TurboTax brand. Since Twitter's audience primarily consists of end users, Greenberg's team thought Twitter would be an ideal medium for reaching consumers interested in TurboTax, their tax preparation software. Intuit partnered with Google in March 2009 to create display advertisements, which incorporated tweets from the TurboTax Twitter feed. Consequently, "Twitter's unique visitor counts went from less than 5 million in January 2009 to more than 15 million in April , according to comScore."
Tax software maker TurboTax has a unique problem. Their customers find them incredibly useful. But for a very short period. [It's a billion-dollar business in the 15-week period following January 1 of each year. Customers are very passionate, but they need to be rewon annually.] The company has gotten used to the seasonal nature of its business, but [in 2010 they tried a different approach using Twitter].
By ramping up their staffing efforts on Twitter-and bringing some much needed expertise to the space, they happened on something great for business: an excellent customer retention program.
Chelsea Marti (@TTaxChels on Twitter), TurboTax' Social Media Manager, explained the company's approach at TWTRCON in New York.
The company wanted to scale its Twitter effort to help customers with their taxes during tax season. To do so, they follow the approach of Intuit's founder, Scott Cook. Cook created the concept of "follow me home" by literally hanging around Staples stores in the beginning of Intuit's history until someone bought his product. He'd then go home with them to see how simple (or difficult) the install process was for them. Says Marti: "Getting that close to the customer, he was able to make better products year over year."
That philosophy has been ingrained in Intuit employees. And according to Marti, TurboTax has taken the same approach to its Twitter strategy: "We've basically lived the dream of our CEO and founder Scott Cook."
The company's approach to Twitter has grown in importance and size over the last year. TurboTax now has over 20 million customers. And those customers are greatly interested in the company every year in the lead up to April 15th. Says Marti: "We have a short period of time to get those customers the help that they need."
TurboTax' seasonal business is both a strength and a weakness. On Twitter, the company has the chance to engage the users who are interested in and commenting on their taxes. But that means devoted resources to the endeavor. And until this year, TurboTax wasn't able to do that.
Before this tax season, the company had two people in corporate communications and marketing on Twitter. [In 2010,] they launched TeamTurboTax. The feed went live in February , at the beginning of tax season and up-scaled the company's Twitter efforts from two employees to 40 staffing the feed. They had a live community team-including experts-and scaled the idea of helping customers.
"During tax season, we see a running stream of our keyword," says Marti. "Two people handling that is not the best situation for a customer."
According to Marti, they've now utilized those customers and the conversations they're having online: "Our overarching theme on Twitter is that it's a persuasion engine that lets us keep customers."
TurboTax has found that on Twitter customers can help each other. Corporate communications became the hub that farms out questions to the appropriate spokes. The company also uses CoTweet to [ferret] out all the incoming customers.
Now if a customer has a complaint or a problem, it is assigned to the right person. As their Twitter feed bio reads, "TeamTurboTax is who you ask when you have tax, tech or TurboTax questions!"
[As] the 2010 tax season progressed, the company realized people were using the feed differently than they expected. Mostly twitterers were coming to ask TurboTax personal tax issues.
"We set out thinking we'd have more technical questions," says Marti. "But we found out quickly we were getting tax questions."
The company had employed tax experts for their effort. They enabled them to find a buddy, train a buddy, or recruit a buddy. That effort added 10 to 12 people to the team. Says Marti: "For us, Twitter was a great way to help customers, but it wasn't the be all and end all. What really made it for us was the expertise that people brought to Twitter."
Marti acknowledged if the feed had been staffed by her and corporate communications alone, it would have been far less effective. With experts on deck, the response time was fast. It took an average of four minutes for TurboTax to get back to Twitter questions.
At least half of the people who came to the feed were about to finish a return. The company also found that most of the people seeking out tax help from TurboTax turned out to be existing customers. And they found those customers were 71% more likely to recommend TurboTax because of their interactions with the company on Twitter.
In the end, TurboTax' expanded efforts on Twitter became a great customer retention program. Says Marti: "Everyone knows it's less expensive to keep a customer than create a new one."
Review Questions for TurboTax Case Study
1. TurboTax has strong name recognition from Intuit's software Quicken. How did this affect the company's Twitter strategy?
2. Name the pros and cons of asking for tax advice on Twitter. What specific social media marketing tactics does the company use to better manage the rush around tax day?
3. How does the seasonal nature of TurboTax's work make social media marketing easier? More difficult? What specific steps do you think the company takes to make the rush around tax day easier to manage?
4. The article names word-of-mouth recommendations as one advantage of TurboTax's Twitter strategy. What other advantages exist that weren't mentioned?