Customer Service Meets “Lord of the Twitters”

Is Twitter putting companies and brands to yet another torture test of credibility and accountability?


Is there an obvious roadmap for companies to participate on this platform?

No, but we now have a wee bit of early learning.

For the uninformed, Twitter, writes ever-trusty Wikipedia, is a free service that “allows users to send ‘updates’ (or ‘tweets’; text-based posts, up to 140 characters long) to the Twitter Web site, via SMS (e.g. on a cell phone), instant messaging, or a third-party application such as Twitterrific or Facebook.” Updates are shown on a customized Web page reflecting who you “follow.”

Content ranges from the mundane (e.g. “I just woke up”) to the revealing (e.g. “Steve Jobs just started talking”) to the almost “Lord of the Flies” tribal (e.g. “Let’s stone this lame speaker right now — who’s with me?”)

Honestly, I’m still trying to catch up with the Twitter madness. As with blogs, I jumped into the fray a couple hours late. The A-listers are Twittering away with abandon. The social media party crowd shifted venues just when I thought I was keeping par on Facebook while basking in the glory of my burgeoning, ostensibly influential friends list.

A New Bar of Accountability

Here’s the bigger rub. In the age of Twitter-like instant feedback, we now must add yet another source to our growing “Watch Your Back, Jack” list. This is, one could argue, CGM in its most reflexive, impulsive, or even emotional form.

As with all forms of social media, Twitter resets the accountability scorecard. The most recent conversation humming across the meme-flow is the impact of Twitter on customer service. So-called “feedback moments” have suddenly been accelerated to, well, the exact by-the-second “feedback moment.”

Tools like Twitter remove virtually all barriers to saying a product, call-center rep, or whatever trips you up sucks. If you feel it, release it!

Your mobile device is just as good, if not more cathartic, than your computer. Just say it! Write before you think! Don’t wait, not even for a second. Oh, and don’t waste time with fluff. You have 140 characters to work with, period!

If you’re on the receiving end of such feedback, it’s hard to dismiss or ignore. I got a feeling for this last month while moderating a panel on customer service. During my opening remarks, here’s what Twitter-maven and friend Steve Rubel released to his viral cult of readers: “Pete Blackshaw from Nielsen is up now with three client-side marketers: Unilever, Sony, and Zappos. I like when the clients get to speak.”

Harsh, or just honest? Who knows, but you can bet my Twitter account that when I moderate this morning’s keynote panel at Ad:Tech on The Art of Conversation — featuring MTV, Nestle, Levi’s, Sony, and — I’ll be keeping my opening remarks short, sweet, punchy, and true to the adage “brevity is the soul of wit.”

I’ll also have one finger on an “eject” button if I see any members of the audience punching what appears to be modern day Morse code into their mobile phones.

Twitter Influenced Additions to the 2008 Web 2.0 Buzzword List

  • Hair Twitter: Extreme localization of feedback — e.g. “His bad service is a “Hair Twitter” away from viral disgrace.”

  • Twiteration: The process of float a rough concept on Twitter only to have it refined, corrected, or outright blasted by others.
  • TwitSlit: This is the type of comment that puts you at professional risk. One of my colleagues once noted he was scratching his nose and word spread across the company.
  • “Ripple Reduction”: Further localizing “the ripple that creates the buzz wave.” In age of “Hair Twitters,” the ripple starts much earlier.

So Do You Respond?

How does one respond to all this? In my case, the most appropriate response is to heed or internalize the feedback. In other cases, as with a Twitter explosion about customer service, it may warrant a proactive intervention.

One of my clients, Comcast, the object of no shortage of — how shall I put this diplomatically — “tough love” on customer service, actually jumped into the fray when negative feedback started to hit the Twitter airwaves. No shortage of A-list bloggers noticed, as documented in the Bivings Report blog.

Surprisingly, much of the feedback on the brand’s intervention was positive; after all, who would have guessed Comcast would do this? Then again, stepping into this instant-message-on-steroids play raises a host of vexing questions, among them:

  • How do you truly operationalize or scale such interventions?

  • How do you ensure you’re not giving preferential treatment to the squeaky wheel?
  • Can a brand possibly dig themselves out of a Twitter hole?
  • What if employees take a page from this playbook and start Twittering every management move?

Twittering the Final Word

At end of the day, we have new and powerful dynamics of feedback emerging. This will probably get more complicated and indicting before it gets easier and rewarding. This is why I title my upcoming book, “Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3000.” Anger and viral innovation go hand in hand, and much of what we’re seeing that’s “new and innovative” on Twitter finds its roots in anger, impatience, and frustration. If it’s easy and friction-free to release, trust me, it’ll be released.

Before companies jump into the Twitter fray, they need to take stock of their entire feedback operations, and view them as much more central to marketing. If anything, you want to develop business operations that listen to and absorb “feedback moments” as efficiently and gratifyingly as Twitter. Translation: roll out the welcome mat, stop hiding the 800 number, make feedback forms bigger and easier, and adapt beyond text to new forms of consumer expression.

Now, you can’t outwit a twit, but if you understand the critical connection between product experience and CGM, you might just win a chit — rather than get slit — by a twit.

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