While social media may be all the craze these days, it is important to link your approach to using it back to your business objectives. Just because something can be done doesn’t mean it should be.
There was an article in USA Today on how Social Media Like Twitter Change Customer Service. It covered how more than half of the Fortune 100 companies use Twitter to provide customer service. Now, while I am a fan of social media and embrace its use in business, I believe companies must be careful in how they do it. In order to meet the expectations of the Twitter-sphere, to provide customer service on Twitter means having lots of people on the watch for a mention of something said that should be addressed immediately.
Comcast has 11 people and Microsoft, just for their Windows 7 product, has 7 people responding to customer service related posts. Companies are spending millions to do this. While it is only a fraction of the multi-billions of dollars spent on customer service, it seems to be moving the trend in a direction that is not so good for business.
Social media can, and often does when applied appropriately, drive down the cost of doing business, and in particular customer support costs. Support communities with both the company and, more importantly, other customers and product experts can provide answers through forums seems more efficient for everyone. Everyone learns and has their needs met faster when common questions are shared, suggested answers are proposed, near real time fee can be shared, and solutions are verified. Better yet, the next person with the same issue can benefit instantly from early exchanges.
The use of Twitter to provide customer support has the potential to do just the opposite of what is good for business and their customers. Instead of the cost going down, using Twitter can drive more one-on-one requests for support and therefore higher costs. It can make it difficult for other user of the company’s products to provide their experience (there is a low probability of someone having a group of people they follow on Twitter just because they use the same cable TV company.) Additionally, as the tweet stream vanishes over time, so does the knowledge with it.
In contrast, support communities allows others, including non-paid employees, to handle questions that arise, retains the knowledge, and makes the knowledge search-able by others with the same issues.
It might be interesting to learn a little more about how Dell is using Twitter. In the article, although they have multiple Twitter accounts, they weren’t the ones to respond to the tweet. Someone told them how to get in touch with a Dell expert. Was that expert a Dell customer service rep or perhaps someone active in Dell’s support community? In this instance, it appears as though Twitter was used as intended, to pose a problem and have someone, not necessary the company, help point them in the direction of a solution.
Sending people to the support community with your 140 characters might train people to go to the most helpful and cost effective place first instead of starting with Twitter.