Twitter: Killer App or Brand Killer? You Choose.


Is twitter really the customer care killer app?

Three years ago the brands that pioneered its use as a way to listen to customers  were feted in a Bloomberg Business Week article that first noticed the then two year-old microblogging service as an emerging customer service tool.

The pioneers – brands like Zappos, Comcast, Southwest Airlines, JetBlue, H&R Block, Whole Foods and Dell – had figured out that twitter was much more valuable as a support channel than as a push marketing pipe. At that time most of these brands had between 1,000 and 3,500 followers, with Zappos being the standout at almost 11,000. Today Comcast has 57,ooo followers, JetBlue went from 3,700 to 1.6 million, and Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s twitterfeed alone is closing in on 2 million followers.

In the last 3 years, numerous industry blogs, magazine articles and research papers have churned out a mixture of case studies, best practices and breathless approbation of twitter as the customer service killer app. Its realtime status makes it a natural for handling complaints as they occur. The practice has definitely gone mainstream, with most service brands of any scale managing one or more feeds, depending on the complexity of their product/service portfolios.

But recent research by Maritz/Evolve 24 challenges twitter’s killer status. Surveying 1,300 twitter complainants across the US, it found that 51% said they expected to get a response about their complaint, but only 29% got one. Which means that 71% of companies are either not listening hard enough or not willing to engage.

In his Convince and Convert blog, posted immediately after the study results were released in October 2011, SM sage Jay Baer speculated that the reasons for this gap are twofold: fear and lack of resources. Fear of what people are going to say (I can concur with hearing this in more than one board room myself) and a lack of resources to manage the 24/7 flow of complaints.

With almost 500 million active twitter accounts, and new ones being opened at the rate of a million per day, it’s sheer folly to ignore the growing presence of this tool in people’s lives. It’s also folly to ignore its power as a source of customer and operational data, not to mention its broadcast potential. That twitter complainant has followers of her own.

As Baer put it in his post, if you’re not answering the ‘social telephone’, your silence is deafening. Pick it up for Pete’s sake. wn

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