Talking about social media and customer service is probably more Shashi‘s realm than mine (he’s a real customer service mustang, having come up through the frontline ranks), but I’ll poach on his turf, anyway.
When it comes to ways companies can use Twitter, the premier example right now is how Comcast uses its @comcastcares account as a customer service channel. It’s gotten tons of play in the social media o’sphere, and is even credited for helping turn around Comcast’s spotty reputation on service issues.
What they do is conceptually pretty simple: They monitor Twitter posts for “Comcast” (as well as some less-flattering nicknames), and when someone posts with a problem or complaint, they’ll respond to the complainer and try to fix it. And since Twitter updates and replies are public, everyone else is able to see how helpful and responsive the company is being.
Now, the question that everyone asks is, “That’s great, but how does it scale?” Frank addresses some of the issues in a blog post (“The big question for @comcastcares is: How will they scale?“), though I think there are plenty of things left to talk about.
Clearly, you can’t just open up a Twitter account and expect your customer service problems to magically disappear. You have to look at Twitter as part of a company’s overall customer service/customer communication chain, which will probably also include phone, e-mail, and text chat, and you’ll need to look at how to integrate it and look at things like load distribution, ticketing, and issue tracking. Though those are largely technical issues, with technical and tool solutions.
The pure scaling issue, likewise, doesn’t seem insurmountable. Twitter service requests might still be small compared to those coming from phone and e-mail, but at least in Comcast’s example, Frank suggests that even if all of their e-mail and phone traffic turned into Twitter traffic, their staffing levels would be comparable, and that, in fact, Twitter would be preferable to phone support. (That part I can believe with no hesitation — companies hate hate hate phone support, since it’s expensive, you’re basically limited to one call per person at a time, and a lot of that time is simply wasted, like when you’re waiting for your router or computer to reboot.)
However, the harder issue is training, motivation, and resourcing. At this point, it still seems like the Comcast team responding to Twitter issues is the customer service version of a SWAT team, where everyone is educated and empowered to solve problems. Ask anyone who’s ever had to get past a company’s first- or second-tier customer support before their problem got solved, and you’ll see this isn’t always the case. There’s a reason that “executive escalation” teams exist, and there’s also a reason why companies invariably have to change the direct line phone number when it gets out (as happens consumer community forums from time to time).
Good customer service is (or should be) independent of platform, though maybe Twitter does have advantages over other channels for customer service… not least of which is that your conversation on Twitter is public by default (thus, keeping you honest).
Anyway, I’m glad to see that companies like Comcast (and Network Solutions, of course) are looking at ways to use Twitter and other forms of social media to improve customer service.
If you’ve got your own thoughts about social media, scalability, and the customer experience, I’d love to hear them in the comments below.Google+