Could Twitter change customer service?

October 5, 2009
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200910030721.jpg Alright, if you have caught me ranting lately about how Twitter isn’t a new customer service tool, but only an enabler (or I guess a channel if you must) then this post may surprise you because I guess I’ve been proven wrong (now I know that part won’t surprise most of you). So I will continue to contend that as previously applied to customer service, Twitter doesn’t really prove a scaleable solution. Let’s take a couple of the most popular cases, Comcast and JetBlue.

In both cases, the companies use of Twitter originated as a single customer service agent’s attempts to use Twitter to help customers when, where and how the customer wanted aid. Over time the companies accepted this grass roots effort and started to add agents to create “scale.” Now certainly Comcast’s Frank Eliason and his efforts to change a very soiled Comcast image through his use of Twitter @ComcastCares is a very well known story, and I would never say that his team’s efforts haven’t made a difference.

The problem though, for me, with this type of heroics is that the only way to scale is to add more agents. Each agent can only handle a reasonable range of customers at any one time and the interaction happens



200910030721.jpg Alright, if you have caught me ranting lately about how Twitter isn’t a new customer service tool, but only an enabler (or I guess a channel if you must) then this post may surprise you because I guess I’ve been proven wrong (now I know that part won’t surprise most of you). So I will continue to contend that as previously applied to customer service, Twitter doesn’t really prove a scaleable solution. Let’s take a couple of the most popular cases, Comcast and JetBlue.

In both cases, the companies use of Twitter originated as a single customer service agent’s attempts to use Twitter to help customers when, where and how the customer wanted aid. Over time the companies accepted this grass roots effort and started to add agents to create “scale.” Now certainly Comcast’s Frank Eliason and his efforts to change a very soiled Comcast image through his use of Twitter @ComcastCares is a very well known story, and I would never say that his team’s efforts haven’t made a difference.

The problem though, for me, with this type of heroics is that the only way to scale is to add more agents. Each agent can only handle a reasonable range of customers at any one time and the interaction happens outside of the companies customer service system. There’s no issue tracking to resolution, no easy way to get answers from Twitter into the company knowledge base, no connection to the customer record to access customer information, history and record issues / resolutions, no issue cueing and routing… well, you get the point.

The workflow isn’t manageable and the only way to scale is by adding agents, not really a reasonable enterprise solution. Interfacing a customer service system to Twitter (and other networks like Facebook) could offer a better enterprise solution (like salesforce.com’s service cloud solution, for example). The combination of the real-time conversation of Twitter with the more traditional customer service solution, allowing the customer service agent to move the conversation into an environment that is comfortable to the customer (that when, where and how concept again) while managing the interaction in the enterprise system is a powerful and reasonable enterprise approach.

That’s what I believed before this week, then I read about Best Buys’ new approach to Twitter and I had one of my “ah ha” moments. Best Buy — which has branded itself in the past as the discount electronics store that offers more knowledgeable employees in its retail stores over other discount electronics retailers and even offered speciality help with its GeekSquad — has launched a service that uses Twitter to answer questions. The program, which is called Twelpforce, is a pretty simple idea, employees sign up on a website with their Twitter ID, and when they Tweet using the hash-tag #tweplforce the Tweet is moved to the @twelpforce handle with attribution back to the employee (via @employee handle). The Tweet also shows up on the web site www.bbyconnect.appspot.com (Best Buy Connect), where all Best Buy Twelpforce Tweets are aggregated for search and review.

All the employee instructions are also posted in a most transparent way right on the public web site (bravo!). This approach is about as web 2.0ish as you can get, transparent, spreading input across a wide / broad base, shared control and allowing employees to self select what and when they answer questions while using wisdom of crowds to provide a set of answers and comments for customers to review. The concept could work because it’s not replacing traditional customer service but instead augmenting it in a new way, it brings the experience of asking the expert in the store to an online searchable real-time conversation.

I suppose this process only works for certain types of businesses where there is a broad set of very knowledgeable employees outside of customer service that could address customer questions. It will be interesting to watch as this service, which is only a week or so old, catches on with customers and employees.