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I read this post today by Jason Baer on the Marketing Profs blog. This is such timely information, and I wanted to share it with you. Here is his post:

The toll-free number.

The email to tech support.

The Tweet?

Is Twitter the natural evolution of customer service? The immediacy and transparency of tweeted support is all the rage, with defined case studies (@ComcastCares, @JetBlue) and emerging software to enable and track it.

The software support is the more recent and intriguing development. CRM behemoth (more than 50,000 corporate customers) and SaaS superstar released an add-on that automatically scans the Twitter-sphere (using some flavor of Twitter search). If tweets matching pre-defined keywords are located and for example, a support ticket is automatically opened in Salesforce and is routed for attention similar to a phone or email inquiry.

Co-Tweet (currently in beta) enables corporations to have multiple tweeters involved, but keeps tweets synced and organized across the enterprise. Early testers include Ford, Pepsi, JetBlue, and Alaska Airlines. Advisors include members of the Twitter royal family @pistachio and @guykawasaki

It’s clear that provision of customer service via Twitter is going to expand, at least in the short term. This scenario has clear (at least to me) pros and cons.

Consumer Benefits

  1. SpeedCustomer service on Twitter is defined by rapid response. Thousands of companies are actively eavesdropping on social media conversations, enabled by Radian6, Techrigy, Spiral16 and other software. Those that are choosing to engage the consumer are typically doing so by addressing concerns in real-time. No “an agent will respond to your request within 2 business days.”
  2. FrictionlessIn an effort to reduce costs, most medium and large companies have made getting help about as easy as booking a Michael Jackson concert tour in the Bible belt. Automated menus. Lengthy hold times. Outsourced staff. You’d think companies would WANT to know when their products have an issue, but that’s not the message they’re sending.

    It’s different on Twitter. It’s hassle-free complaining. You bitch about something, and if the company is engaged, they tweet you back and try to help. It’s like being able to press “0” for an operator without needing a phone.

Company Benefits

  1. CostI haven’t seen any reporting on this yet, but I believe Twitter-based customer service is incredibly cost-effective on a per resolved issue basis. Why? Consumers have to get right to the point. No four minute preamble detailing that they were “with their Aunt Gert when they brought the product (may she rest in peace)”, and that the “weather was frightful that day. A real Nor’Easter.” Just 140 characters of complaint. In an era when call center efficiency is measured by the second, this is a meaningful advantage.
  2. TranslucencyThe notion of “transparency” is a big one in social media circles, but I prefer Beth Harte’s more realistic use of “translucency” since companies will not and cannot be truly transparent. (Trust me, my first job was at McDonald’s and you don’t want full transparency re: the nature of Big Mac sauce).

As Tony Tsiah emphasized at his SXSW keynote, and I referenced in my post about Please and Thank You, there are two advantages to being publicly helpful. First, other people see you being helpful, and that improves overall brand perception. Second (and this is really big in a Twitter context), other people see your answers, so they don’t have to ask the same question.

Customer Drawbacks

  1. The Great UnknownJust about everyone knows Comcast is on Twitter. But is Sony (I’m actually having a TV problem right now)? Is Trek bicycles? Is the company that made the cork flooring in my laundry room that’s looking a little sketchy? Is Diet Dr. Pepper?

    As a consumer, I know every brand has a phone number, a Web site, and an email address. Twitter engagement is still VERY circumstantial. I have to guess whether the brand I need to communicate with is involved. That’s inefficient, and a hassle.

  2. Shouting from the RooftopsCertain customer service issues (mainly those where the brand is clearly at fault) are ripe for Twitter enablement. But sometimes, the consumer shares the blame, and needs help for a problem that might be better handled in a quiet, 1:1 fashion. I’m thinking of the “I didn’t read the directions, and now my hair turned green” scenario. Do you want to tweet that to all of your followers?

Company Drawbacks

  1. Lack of Account History One of the most useful components of modern CRM systems is their ability to pull up complete account history during the call, email, or live chat. The agent knows what you’ve bought, when you’ve called before, whether or not you’re a kook, etc. On Twitter, the customer service representative has very little information (possibly not even your real name). That makes service provision tricky.

What do you think? Should all companies get involved with customer service on Twitter? Only certain industries? None?