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Why do people think Twitter is a good Customer Service platform?

Because Twitter helps customers solve problems and they can vent – there a simple answer. But, the current approach will not scale!

I believe the following statement to be true:

The need to broadcast a problem to the world would not be necessary if the customer had confidence that their issue would  be solved timely and to their satisfaction.

There are lots of and lots of good reasons to broadcast, this post is not about all those good reasons: Co-Creation, Innovation, Community, Collaboration, to name a few. This post is also not about Service Communities like Lithium and Helpstream, Parature and others. While not about them, they might be part of the solution.

Using Twitter for support masks a larger issue. Therefore I believe the following also to be true:

If your customers are trying to get your attention on Twitter to solve a specific ‘me only’ problem, your processes are either horribly inefficient, broken or you have product issues.

Twitter is not SocialCRM. Twitter is immediate gratification meets CRM

There are lots of companies who are taking the opportunity to try and make things right, by watching for issues on Twitter and helping those in need. Unfortunately, this also promotes bad behavior, let me paint a mental picture:

In order to get your cable box fixed you needed to go down to the local service provider office. It just so happens that you have your 5 yo daughter in tow. The drive is 20 minutes, you figure the line should not be too bad – ooops, wrong, you need to stand in line for an hour or more. While in line, after 1/2 hour the person who just came in the door starts to yell really loudly about poor service.

In the real world, we all know what would happen (or what should happen anyway). The person yelling would be asked to quiet down, or leave. This would be done nicely of course, but that is what would happen. Right? How do you suppose it would go over if after the second ‘rant’, the best technician in the company walked over and opened up a new station at the counter, and called that individual over, fixed their problem, then left? <rhetorical>

But, this is exactly what happens on Twitter, day in and day out. No scenario or metaphor can perfectly represent the Twitter scenario in real world. Are Twitter users playing the system or cheating the system? Or simply taking advantage?  I am aware of the United video (this fits into the broken category), as well as some really great uses of help and support, like Best Buy.

The Reality

Companies who are responding well are putting the best and brightest Customer Support people in the  role of Marketing and Support, and calling them Support. They have a direct line to anyone who can help solve your problem.  This will work for a while, maybe even a year or two – but then everyone will have the secret number – and we will yell and scream, but still be stuck in the queue. Support communities may very well help here – but not for all industries, company sizes or geographies.

The key is turning the data into information and turning the information into insights, then the insights into action. When this really gets mature 3-5 years, we will be able to predict – but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. As the Twitter user population grows as well as Facebook and others, the call center and help desk models will simply not be able to scale. Organizations use predictive models to determine staffing and there only so many ‘A’ players (the ones the vendors are using to filter and watch Twitter).

Take the opportunity to learn and figure out what is broken or wrong, and fix it. In order to learn, you need to put processes in place to learn. Am I wrong?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Mike Boysen October 29, 2009, 2:07 AM

    Execellent post Mitch. I’m right on board with it.

  • John Moore October 29, 2009, 10:24 AM

    Mitch, great points all the way around. Twitter will NEVER be the equivalent of Social Support Communities nor will it equate to the intersection of Social and CRM.

    It will, however, remain a good public channel for 2-way communication and, as technologies increase in ability (sentiment analysis, automatic routing of resolutions based upon message, robust TTS and STT) it can scale further.

    John

    • Mitch Lieberman October 29, 2009, 7:07 PM

      John – Thanks for stopping by, and adding to the conversation, it is appreciated.

      Agreed, a public channel is good to keep everyone honest. In speaking with Andrew Mueller today (@andrewmueller) he brought up an excellent point that Twitter may simply become the channel that a consumer wants to use. They may not scream, rant or anything else, except use an @ reply and say, ‘hey, my widget is busted, please help’

  • Kathy Herrmann October 29, 2009, 5:25 PM

    I agree with John. I do think it’s important for companies to monitor Twitter, though, because it will give them an avenue to hear what customers are saying about their services.

  • Kathy Herrmann October 29, 2009, 6:45 PM

    Just had another obvious thought. Twitter is also valuable for customer service in terms of tweeting out news or important alerts. For example, info on outages for utility companies. If doing that gets customers informed a situation and impending problem resolution, and cuts down on inbound calls while keeping customers happy, then I’d call that a big win.

    • Mitch Lieberman October 29, 2009, 7:10 PM

      Kathy – Thanks for your feedback, I always look forward to your comments!

      I do not disagree at all, you are spot on. The focus of the blog was more towards preventing the rants and screamers from using Twitter to get to the head of the queue. Outbound messaging is another interesting use, but we would need to consider how that might ripple into things we did not expect. Should that be email? Text?

  • Dayna Tenorio October 29, 2009, 7:02 PM

    Many organizations, even those trying to implement resources to improve customer service don’t have the support they need at an executive level to create the customer-centric shift that needs to take place to provide positive customer experiences and thus get blasted on Twitter. Additionally, there are those people/customers who quickly react to a situation, letting their fingers do the talking before they have given other support channels a chance; they just want to tell the world of their experience, thus blasting an organization on Twitter. In either case, Twitter may be seen as a good customer service platform because it is bringing issues to light that will hopefully improve the customer experience in the end. There are also those customers who are just social, they may be indifferent to a company’s support, but while they are in their online social environment they have a question and decide to throw it out to the organization in Twitter land just to see if they can get a quick response. If they do, in fact, get a response from the organization, is that good customer service?

    Regardless of whether or not it is a good customer service platform, customers are taking their issues social and they can’t be ignored, so have your support teams send them a link to a knowledgebase article or self-service portal where they can do their own search, submit a ticket or chat with a service rep. It doesn’t have to be an “all or none” channel, just an extra channel. If I tweet and someone replies with a brief answer, or a link to get an answer to my question that transaction can begin the customer service experience.

    That said, at this early stage of social support, our customers are telling us that they are mostly experimenting with Social CRM and seeking out ways to leverage the information with the hope that it will be a useful support channel, and as they figure that out they want a way to monitor customer sentiment and leverage this valuable information within their support teams. They want to monitor trends and respond when appropriate; currently taking that support to another channel to resolve.

    Let’s not forget that Twitter isn’t only a platform for airing grievances or seeking customer support because it failed in other channels, but also a way to communicate and spread the word about positive experiences; providing support teams and organizations with positive reinforcement to continue the good things they are currently doing.

    -Parature

    • Mitch Lieberman October 29, 2009, 7:15 PM

      Dayna / Parature :-) Thanks for the great reply and feedback. You raise some excellent points. My favorite quote from your reply is:

      “Regardless of whether or not it is a good customer service platform, customers are taking their issues social and they can’t be ignored”

      An excellent point in the debate/conversation. Whether I am right or wrong does not really matter. Customers, Partners, Happy or Mad will use Twitter, we just need to get used to it. I would hope that we can learn, and make adjustments internally based on what happens on the Tweet stream.

  • Kathy Herrmann October 29, 2009, 7:49 PM

    Dayna – Excellent points – and I’d choose the same money quote Mitch did in his comment immediately above mine.

    Mitch – You do make a valid point about the potential for companies to fall into squeaky wheel traps from Twitter ranters.

    To my mind, the best way to prevent that problem from occuring is preparation – go back to the Rules of Engagement we discussed in your previous blog post and in the article I wrote today on the Customer Life Cycle.

    Link to your article = http://mjayliebs.wordpress.com/2009/10/27/sales-is-much-more-than-just-sales-people/

    Link to my article = http://community.intellicore-design.com/blog/2009/10/28/take-ownership-of-your-customer-relationships-and-win.html

    Companies need to consider all their customer touch points, including social media if it’s having an impact on their business. And for each touch point, the customer-facing teams needs to define the Rules of Engagement for different types of customer situations, including the ranter.

    With rules in place, the customer service teams are more likely to be consistent in how they interact and avoid getting swept away by someone’s rant.

  • Esteban Kolsky October 29, 2009, 9:24 PM

    Coming in late and lots of what I would have said has been said, so won’t go back to that.

    However, what is the obsession with treating Twitter or Communities or Forums or ESP as a special situation?

    Any channel a customer choses to contact an organization is a channel the organization should be listening on – or have a clearly stated and well-known reason not to (example: you cannot contact your broker about a trade via email due to latencies). I hope we are not discussing that.

    What I think we are discussing is the suitability for any specific channel to be used for any specific function. That is a much more interesting conversation. I wrote this many moons ago that basically stated that each channel is suitable for 1-N solutions possible, but only one that matters: what the customer wants it to do and the company can do. In other words, if the customer wants an answer via twitter – you better be prepared to deliver it (even if that answer is a link to an online post or email box with the answer). If the customer wants an answer via a forum – and the organization does not support forums for well stated reasons then they are not ready to do it and setting expectations from customers at the right level is the way to go.

    Despite the novelty behind it Twitter remains a simple channel you add to your lineup of channels to serve customers. If you understand the basic rules of engagement for the channel, and how to deliver value best (e.g. tweeting the answer in 14-consecutive-tweets versus posting a link to somewhere) to your customers, then you should be able to deliver against those expectations – after you set them at the right level.

    Anyways, I am babbling for no reason now… nice post, but let’s try to keep the hype and novelty away from the realities of adding just another channel to your lineup.

    Thanks for the platform

    • Paul Buchtmann October 30, 2009, 11:47 PM

      This really is a great topic and thank Mitch for posting it. Like Esteban I am late on the thread but find this is really helping for those who do not understand where Twitter and other forms will fit into their world. Esteban makes some very valid points and it is up to the organisation to be specific in the expectations they are setting for their customers. If they are posting to their website 14 different ways to communicate with them then the organisation better be ready for all of these, not just check these accounts on a weekly or fortnightly basis.

      What I think is becoming more difficult for organisations to come to grips with is how given their resources do they now manage all of these communication in boxes without responding with the wrong or inaccurate answers. And what happens if it becoms policy on the run does that open a floodgate of customer claims.

    • nethawkdotnet October 31, 2009, 4:32 PM

      Estaban, you imply that the company has a rather simple task, and that the community doesn’t have the options I can see. I think a lot of companies attempt to adapt new technologies for mostly self serving reasons, but what we are seeing today is that they don’t always get what they bargained for with the technology being adapted. The blog is an example of this and some major players decided they would capitulate but on their terms. The phrase I love most was that of the “approved” blogger and I am surprised the title hasn’t gained notoriety on Saturday Night Live yet. Companies want the good parts, fear the “open-sourcing” approach and deny responsibility. Unlike email, it’s really hard to turn twitter off when you don’t like what it’s saying. cheers,rm

      • Esteban Kolsky November 1, 2009, 8:53 AM

        I don’t think I am saying that, but actually the opposite. The customer has the simple choice of deciding what they want to do, and the company has the rather complex task of figuring out if it makes sense or not to tackle that channel – and explain in clear terms whether it makes sense or not (airlines don’t want to handle changes to itineraries via email due to latency and queues, for example, and they say so. Same for brokerage houses). This “figuring out” thing is not a simple task – and supporting any channels is even less simple.

        As for turning off twitter – I disagree somewhat (but that is another blog). What I do say and will stand behind is that there is no turning off necessary if you never turned it on. Listening for the sake of listening is stupid and wastes money and resources — not to mention that it may put you in the situation that you mention: having to turn it off if it does not work for any organization.

        How many clients will you lose for not supporting twitter? probably the ones you don’t want to have to support in the first place. The ones that count will not drop you as a vendor just because you are not rushing to use the latest and greatest shiny object out there. They probably will applaud you for taking the time to do it right.

        Anyways, these are many different conversations in one, but I endorse creating a strategy for twitter, implementing it and improving it as you go along. I don’t favor to listen just to pretend you care and you listen to your customers – waste of resources and time. Both for the organization and the customer.

  • Mitch Lieberman October 29, 2009, 10:09 PM

    Thanks Esteban – I can almost hear the journey of 6 airports and 17 hours making its way into your post :-)

    As I said early on, you do need to meet the channel preference of your customers, maybe not in so many words. But there are social dynamics in play with Twitter which are not the case with other channels. Would the United video have been as big, without Twitter, maybe, maybe not. It is simply too easy to RT, and rant on Twitter.

    Expectations or not, just because you listening, does not mean that the Tweet gets priority – “I’m sorry, all agents are busy now, your tweet will be handled by the next available agent” That would go over well in the Twitterverse. You can set that expectation, but it may or may not be listened to by customers…anyway, now I am babbling – Cheers. The channel is a bit different, how much, that is the question – get in unprepared and you will certainly find out!

  • Russ October 30, 2009, 3:19 AM

    Hi Mitch,

    I agree with just about all said here, as well. I think that if we’re talking strictly about support vs marketing(though the lines between the two are blurry at times) that even well-intentioned companies are often setting themselves and their customers up for failure in the long-term. There are exceptions(certain incident types, market niches, customer segments, etc.) for which Twitter might be relatively effective for service delivery…though I can’t think of any off the top of my head ;) As Esteban said, it’s always a matter of understanding and executing on any particular channel. So, sure, it can be done.

    Earlier tonight I was actually thinking about how a company might use Twitter to market(make public, to promote) their customer support success stories in real-time. That is, if I know that I can delight my customers then why leave that success private(in a two-way phone call or email, for example). I’m going to take this out in the open, get on that world stage with the spotlight right on me and say: “Hello Customer. What can I do for you?” then I’m gonna let it all play out in front of everybody. And so on.

    It’s a nice thought and if it works it works. And there are obviously success stories regarding this application(eg Zappos) but I doubt that 1. most companies are “doing Twitter” in this context or that 2. they have any real idea how difficult it is to sustain. Hint: one such success story will not make up for 1,000 #fails. If you’re gonna open that door you better be ready.

    This “public” aspect also contributes to the squeky wheel gets the service(or not) syndrome you talk about. It reminds me of my time on a Helpdesk when the “walk-ups” with the broken laptops would always expect and, usually, get served immediately. It’s not sustainable.

    I, as a Customer Experience Manager and as a customer, would rather have fewer great channels than more poor ones. I agree, mostly, with the thought that since customers are on Twitter we need to engage them there somehow. But I can’t help but think that if we delivered awesome service via phone or even email that they’d be very, very OK that we didn’t have a “Follow Us on Twitter” badge on our Customer Support portal.

    Thanks!
    Russ
    Seattle, WA
    http://www.twitter.com/russhatfield

    • Mitch Lieberman October 30, 2009, 9:14 PM

      Russ – I appreciate the comments.

      You are correct, lots of good uses. A friend shared a story this morning regarding JetBlue and how they helped on Twitter. I said “yeah another yeller gets helped”. But, she shared that she did not actually yell, simply @ replied to JetBlue, as she was stuck in an airport – quick, convenient etc.,… Since JetBlue had apprpriate processes in place, this an example similar to what Esteban suggested – just another channel.

      I will repeat my montra for the umteenth time – It depends on the industry, culture, company size etc.,…, this is not a one size fits all problem or issue.

  • smoothspan October 30, 2009, 2:58 PM

    Great post and comments. I did a blog post on why customers may choose Twitter for service some time ago:

    http://tinyurl.com/cg8p4x

    Most of the reasons point to shortcomings with your service of one kind or another. Anyone who has spent much time delivering customers service understands how painful Twitter would be as the channel. Neither the customer nor the vendor can convey much meaningful with only 140 characters, and what is conveyed is all too easily lost through lack of conversation threading.

    Twitter absolutely has to be monitored, because it is where conversations often initiate. But, like so many other Social Media, there is a bricks and mortar analogy. Twitter is the tragically hip, crowded, noisy club where all the “cool” people are. We go their to overhear, gawk, and meet new people. We are not there to form deep relationships. Rather, we invite people elsewhere to get to know one another.

    That’s the preferred mode of engagement for Twitter: let it initiate, and then invite to a more effective venue.

    Cheers,

    BW

    • Mitch Lieberman October 30, 2009, 9:10 PM

      Bob,

      I appreciate you stopping by – maybe I need to listen and read more myself. I really do enjoy the great information on your blog! I suppose by association by being on Twitter, you think I am hip and cool – thanks :-)

      Mitch

  • John Moore October 30, 2009, 8:36 PM

    Yes, Twitter is simply the doorway. While very few topics will ever be resolved on Twitter the issues can be raised in Twitter (or on several other channels). The topics are brought into your Social Support Community (SSC), blog, e-mail, or other more robust messaging solution where the customers are made happy.

    Great topic Mitch.

    John

    • Esteban Kolsky November 1, 2009, 8:58 AM

      John,

      Only thing I want to point out – escalation always is from a poor-communication channel (for whatever reason is poor) to a very strong channel. Only escalations possible from twitter would be phone or chat due to real-time acccess. Customers that use twitter are not going to try a blog, forum, or email and see if they get an answer sometime. We saw that before with so many other channels.

      The main reason people use twitter is not for the potential answer, but for the real-time access to resources – escalation has to be done in real time or the customer will feel that the answer is bad.

      just 2 cents.

  • Haim Toeg October 31, 2009, 1:37 AM

    Adding to the excellent post and comments, I think the way to look at the Twitter ranting, beside it being a customer complaint, is as an additional source for feedback. The key, I believe, is in converting the individual tweets to actionable insights at an organizational, process or technology level to address root cause problems.

  • nethawkdotnet October 31, 2009, 4:23 PM

    The Comcast story did it for me. I had a problem with my connection and in a fit of frustration I tweeted on it and withing minutes had Comcast managers zipping around making sure it got fixed. Not sure if they enjoyed the encounter but they should have capitalized on it. I don’t know if all businesses want to risk the instant viral approach, but it can get you exposure. We work with b2b tech only and I don’t see those guys jumping into twitter for their customers sake. I expect it will be a bottom up force and I do think companies will find it impossible to neglect it. I guess you can either use it to turn people on, or you can use it turn people off. That may be the driving force if enough serious companies use it to its maximum potential.

  • rotkapchen October 31, 2009, 8:37 PM

    As always context is critical. Let’s start with the title “people”: which people, the company or the customers?

    Example after example the ‘power’ of 2.0-anything is the ability to bypass the existing. Twitter accounts work really well for companies that can’t readily undo/redesign their existing biz models (or have groups, both with budgets, who have differing opinions about how to interact with customers).

    The examples of the people running around solving 1-off issues (that are likely symptoms of much larger issues that would take BIG$ to solve), are more examples of my favorite mantra: There is No Enterprise.

    • Esteban Kolsky November 1, 2009, 8:55 AM

      Paula,

      You are one smart cookie. Only comment: what she said, but not as eloquent, is what I mean.

      Thanks
      Esteban

  • nethawkdotnet November 1, 2009, 3:28 PM

    Has anyone seen how aggregated data and new tools, from CRM type vendors, can change the dynamics? Seems like there must be a point where, when you are getting large amounts of data, for example a weekly “Mention” report on a particular brand, where it becomes more disruptive and usable to help a strategy. I still think Twitter would be taken more seriously if they called themselves something like “Funnel” or some “Sales Funnel” or something marketers fancied. Then again, I thought the same thing about Google.