AUSTIN, TX: Many brands are failing to exploit the potential of real-time marketing as a customer service tool, a leading executive has argued.

"For us, real-time is about one-to-one interactions every day," Rick Wion, director/social media at quick-service restaurant chain McDonald's, said.

As a company boasting some 14,000 branches – almost 90% of which are independently-owned – across the US, and serving over 26m people a day, it was clear that engaging with them on the web would be vital.

That involves connecting both with "happy customers" and assisting those who "come in and are upset," according to Wion. "We need to speak to them, too," he said.

Adopting such an approach has significant benefits for brands, but is a subject often neglected by marketers keen to focus on the more glamorous tasks of generating impressions and viral buzz with their creative.

"What's lost in the real-time marketing discussion is the customer service stuff," Wion said. (For more, including how the company "plans for spontaneity", read Warc's exclusive report: How McDonald's takes part in real-time conversations.)

"When we got started on Twitter years ago, we were very particular in making sure that we had a customer-service team as part of our original launch team."

McDonald's currently has 2.3m followers on Twitter, and has used real-time marketing to communicate with them around major events like the 2014 Winter Olympics, of which it was an official sponsor.

However, it does not let such activities define its output; rather, they form part of a holistic approach of building its brand.

"We knew we would have things that people would complain about, and we wanted to make sure we were able to take care of those customers," said Wion.

Data sourced from Warc