Customer Support Through Twitter – Take Two

About 10 months ago, I wrote a post regarding the use of Twitter for customer service “Why do people think Twitter is a good Customer Service Platform“. We have matured since then, ok just a little, but I do not think we completely get it, yet. When compared with the rate of change in Social Media, 10 months is a long time, but not quite long enough. Then today, BusinessWeek published an article: “Delta Monitors Twitter to Remedy Customer Complaints“. The article highlights the bright spots – Delta received a positive mention in a respected magazine. However, it seems fair to address this issue once again, maybe with the lens of, well, 10 more months of thinking about it.

I said it then, and I believe it is still true, but I might need to temper it, just a little: “Twitter is not Social CRM. Twitter is immediate gratification meets CRM” I also stated “If your customers are trying to get your attention on Twitter to solve a specific ‘me only’ problem, your processes are broken, horribly inefficient or you have product issues”. While I do believe I need to modify that statement a little bit (in a moment), I am bothered by the very first part of the BusinessWeek article:

Mike Brice skipped the queue at the Delta Air Lines Inc. (DAL) ticket counter and dashed off a post on Twitter Inc. when he missed his Atlanta connection en route home to Utah from South Carolina.

Within minutes, the 40-year-old communications consultant had been rebooked for the following morning by an agent on the Delta team that uses Twitter to remedy passengers’ real-time complaints—changing flights, finding lost luggage, or sharing details on weather delays.

Specifically, the bolded section above. This is the key point of of my previous post, skipping the queue, cutting in line, screaming to get atention. But, I am willing to learn, as we all are in this fast moving space. A comment on my previous post by Parature, helps to shed some light on the topic.

Regardless of whether or not it is a good customer service platform, customers are taking their issues social and they can’t be ignored, so have your support teams send them a link to a knowledgebase article or self-service portal where they can do their own search, submit a ticket or chat with a service rep. It doesn’t have to be an “all or none” channel, just an extra channel. If I tweet and someone replies with a brief answer, or a link to get an answer to my question that transaction can begin the customer service experience.

Is it a good idea, is Delta a good example?

This is a bit of trickier issue than some technology company posting links to support forums, FAQs or just saying “hey, I hear ya”. This is actually brings in a real, time sensitive issue and Twitter may not be so bad. Sure, the PR is not so bad either. To bring some real parity, however, what if Delta had a registration program where the Delta Elite members could register their Twitter handle and then be given the same level of high(er) priority service on social channels as they enjoy on the phone? Thanks to Prem Kumar for the chat on thinking through this one (disclaimer, we both have status on Delta, thus this is a bit self-serving).

I used my own support community to solicit some comments from the crowd. Where? Twitter of course, with a couple of quick Skype chats as well. Some valid points, like “It is good at PR, not sure it is right for customer support”. Or another, “Is it scalable?” That is the real question, isn’t it? If you go to the grocery store and you are 5th in line, you are late to pick up your daughter from Gymnastics practice (yeah, this is the real me) and the store sees the lines, does the smart thing (it happens every so often, really) and opens up a new register, what do you do? Do you let the 4 people ahead of you into the new lane, or scout the progress and get ready to leap? Come on, tell the truth which is it? OK, not quite the same as Delta, but close. Revisiting my earlier quote, of myself, as Esteban Kolsky, of ThinkJar has reminded us all many times; If your customers are there, then you need to be there too (paraphrasing of course).

What are your other thoughts on this topic? Can Twitter be leveraged properly to do Customer Service?

Thank you to Muchiri Nyaggah for forwarding the link on Twitter.

15 thoughts on “Customer Support Through Twitter – Take Two

  1. Hi Mitch!

    Thanks for continuing this discussion via a post.

    I agree that Twitter is NOT sCRM, it’s simply a communications channel. And, it must be managed so that people using that channel don’t “skip the queue” in comparison to other channels.

    I’d be really curious to find out how Delta manages their Twitter support. Let’s assume that since their customer service reps are answering queries via Twitter, they’re using the same ticketing system (CRM?) as they do when they answer calls, emails or web requests.

    But the interesting question is “are they prioritising certain channels over others?”

    These are the same issues/questions that we had when we added email requests and then web chat for customer service. And, it’s all about either being equitable (same priority no matter the channel) or trying to drive your customers to your preferred channel (by giving it a higher priority)

    Most companies are driving their customers back to the web or the phones (the examples of SouthWest and JetBlue in the article) but that may be a losing battle. Social media is still in it’s infancy and different SM channels have different penetration.

    Personally, I applaud Delta. They are trying it and experimenting and their use of it may become a brand differentiator.

    Only time will tell…

    BTW, didn’t we also discuss “not being scaleable” when email started becoming mainstream?


  2. If your customers need to jump the queue, doesn’t that tell you that your queue management capability is falling behind the times? Everything gets smaller and faster over time. Customers are right to continue to push for service models that are more responsive, more current, and more about their needs – not the needs of those managing queues.

  3. Hi Mitch,

    You’re welcome 🙂
    On the face of it, Delta seems to be finding a practical use case for Twitter in their efforts to relate to their customers better. What I think would be a tragedy is if this is all there is. A couple of Twitter profiles. If there are no underlying policies and a clear strategy, things will unravel pretty fast.

    The policies would ensure everyone’s on the same page on what can and cannot be said on Twitter, how to treat queue jumpers and what to do when Delta staff manning the Twitter profiles make a bad situation worse.

    I hope they have invested in the 5Ms as Jeremiah Owyang and the folks at Altimeter Group exposit in their report ‘Social CRM: The New Rules of Relationship Management’. Like Frank mentions, are these Twitter profiles and their ‘listening’ platform linked to their existing CRM? If they are able to tell that the client yelling on Twitter can get away with or deserves some preferential treatment this one time because of their history (30 flights this year) for instance, then that would be great. Being Delta of course I assume they have 🙂


  4. Hi Mitch,

    Nice example to use as a baseline for the discussion. Decisions that are made “in public” will be handled differently than those handled in private. Imagine that you had the Delta CMO and The Irate Mom of 4 Young Children live on air debating why it was actually within Policy for Delta to leave them all night at the airport? In private you might do all you could within policy to help her out, sure. But when you are doing this in the public glare it becomes a different thing. In my own conversations with people in the call center environment I say to them “Imagine that all your inbound phone calls are being played live over the internet and that at any moment, they can buzz their friends in on it. How would that change the way you do things?”.

    The que jumping is not a real issue here. Everyone is confusing it with judgements about “fair”. It’s not about ‘fair” its about the worlds of online and offline blending in real space. Standing in the que and wondering who else is twittering about this delay, or who @whoever is? Hold up your smart phone and open up a Layar that shows twitters around you using GPS, Facial Recognition, etc (see ) . This trend is often termed on/off. Oh and by the way, if they could pick up the phone and speak to someone immediately they wouldn’t go onto Twitter first.

    I also can’t help recognising (sic) that in these examples nobody mentions that the employees of Delta (any company) can also use twitter and associated social platforms to get get things done, include connect with those in the que. What if employees responded to tweets with a link to call back request? Want to talk to “Marie” about your connecting flight, click here and we will call you right now.

    To be truly insightful, the airline has to begin to think about its position within the customers extended journey. You flew delta and had an awful time at the airport? guess what. Delta is going to catch some of that flack. Think about the extended customer experience and how you might use that to curate a better overall experience. From what I hear, KLM did a great job of this during the Ashcloud debacle in Europe.

  5. Mitch,
    Very interesting question (thanks for the mention, btw, appreciated).

    My take on this: smart businesses will see the damage done to their reputation over time if they embrace the Delta model (even Delta – eventually) and will actually figure a segmented model. Prem and You should be safe, you have status, and should be rewarded with better service for that. Alas, those who are ahead of you two should be rewarded with faster / better service.

    Agree, partly, with Parature – you have to use the tool as another channel — but that does not mean throw away all other rules you setup for your service processes. If you have a private number for platinum level clients, setup a dedicated twitter account for them, advertise it to them, ask them for their twitter id, follow them, and do DM service for them ONLY. Do the same for gold, silver, and other levels. Non status will have access to the standard account and similar service, through another channel, than they get otherwise. Delta continues to do the same they always did (or whoever the company implementing this model), and can actually offer SLA and other metrics knowing who the customer is — pretty much same as they do today over the phone, web site, etc.

    That would be a better model — if only someone were to write a framework to understand this better (yeah, self-serving and shameless plug — but no link, look for it in my web site).

    Cool stuff, like the challenge of thinking through this… thanks.

  6. Mitch – great ideas as always.

    A nice continuation of the conversations around what is (thankfully) becoming a common theme – social is just an offshoot or new “channel” of CRM. It is NOT a new beast to tame in and of itself.

    I think the smarter social channel marketers and support organizations will take this from a “jumping the queue” scenario into a value-add or some other way to engage and build loyalty – not simply as deflection or a last-ditch effort at churn prevention.

    Once companies get acclimated to the channel – we will see some creative use cases arise IMO.


  7. This all comes back to the question of customer preference, who gets preference or priority over whom? Some organizations prioritize based on reach or influence, other orgs try to treat everyone the same way. The issue is that customers that use social always have an advantage because they are aware of both the traditional and the social ways of getting in touch with a brand. Most customers are only familiar with the traditional phone call/stand in line approach.

    I think Esteban’s approach is interesting but I’m wondering about making it scale/work. Some organizations have far more than 4 or 5 types of programs so is it reasonable that they would create a separate twitter account for every type of program/product they are offering? The challenge is that social is a disconnected entity that doesn’t integrate with anything else within a corp. So if two customers with the same complaint approach Delta – one via social and one via phone/in person – what happens? Is it just one customer support queue? Or is there a separate queue for each channel (which is what it feels like most orgs are doing now)? Do you think that the guys running social at Delta are talking to the call center or gate agents that are handling complaints via traditional means? Probably not.
    Most airlines are doing exactly what Delta is doing.

    Some hotels chains in Vegas are already asking users to enter their twitter username/info when registering for loyalty programs/cards.

  8. Jacob,

    I am quite confident, having seen my “approach” implemented across many channels and organizations far larger than Delta, that we can make it scale. Would love to hear cases where this model does not work from your experience.

    My position is that Twitter is no more than another channel, and we should treat it the same we did with all other channels. What I propose is the same we did when email, chat, sms, web self-service and some other models of customer service came across, and it works very well for organizations of all caliber and size.

    Not only it is scalable, but it is also in line with the way Delta and others do business. If you get status in an airline, you get a separate phone number and service desk to work with you — I am saying do the same with Twitter.

    I know that the people handling twitter are not talking to the gate agents, or phone people– but if they are entering everything they do into the system of record — they don’t have to. That is the beauty of having CRM as the backbone of your operations, and treating all channels as simple channels.

  9. Nice post Mitch:

    You made some great points that were clearly grounded in the realities of running a profitable and sustainable business. So many of the online discussions these days seem to focus on what an organization needs to do to satisfy their customers and prospects and are void of any fundamental business analysis.

    Twitter has many flaws as a technology for providing support and its 140 byte limitation alone makes it totally inadequate to provide quality and efficient support for all but the simplest issues.

    If an organization’s consumers truly believe that Twitter provides them with a better experience than what’s available from their other support options, the organization has some serious issues and opening more roads into an inadequate underlying support infrastructure is pure lunacy.

    The decision to provide expedited service to premium customers would be like any other business decision and I am not sure why the existence of Twitter has anything to do with driving that decision. Besides, sans the public exposure to make a company accountable to “do the right thing,” I can think of several better approaches to provide the service without being encumbered by Twitter’s inherent limitations.

    Chuck Van Court

  10. Mitch –

    Thanks for the post. There are emerging technologies (example: Zendesk’s ability to create “Twickets” from favorited Tweets on watched handles) that allow the support desk to incorporate these new inbound channels into the existing support queue.

    At the point when the ticket enters the support process and is triaged, the organization makes the decision to prioritize, ignore, or deal with the request normally. We try to respond to all of our customers equally — and understand that the line jumper today may be the tireless promoter of our product tomorrow if we turn the situation positively — and so the way that people contact us doesn’t really matter.

    The core value is that we want to talk to customers. Whether they talk to us on twitter, walk into our office, call or email, we want to say hello and to learn more about them.

    Greg Meyer
    Customer Experience Manager, Gist

  11. Hi Mitch,

    Frankly, i don’t think people mature much in 10 months, but i’m not sure who’s the “we” you’re referring to. Is it about CRM experts, vendors, analysts, etc, or customer service people, decision makers from companies, end users and customers?

    I’m not trying to be picky, but to make a point: what we talk and analyze does not matter much until others are using it in a constructive way. The article about Delta reminds me of those case studies that software vendors use to promote their products – always happy customers, everything went well, the client saved a lot of money, etc, etc.

    What you are saying is true: Twitter is not social media. Also, social media or SCRM is not a magic solution for customer relationship or customer service. For some reason, many people and companies still fail to see that CRM (social or not) is just a tool than can help you achieve what you’re trying to do. So are Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Gist, SalesForce, etc.

    So i guess my question is: are we failing to get the message through or some more time is needed for companies to mature and learn that customer relationship is a strategy, not a set of tools?

    I’m sorry if i turned aside from the main subject.

  12. Esteban,
    I haven’t seen any specific examples specifically for twitter as a channel that have implemented that. If you know of any let me know, I’d be interested to hear how they segmented and made it work, I’m sure tools such as Co-tweet can make that process relatively simple, I just don’t know of any. I know co’s have some multiple twitter accounts based on the content that they put out, but not sure they segment based on customers and agree that CRM is def important for backbone.

    I agree that all channels are channels but social is still something many orgs trying to figure out and understand and for them treating twitter like a telephone needs to be understood first, so they start small.

  13. Thanks to all for the really great discussion! I am trying to figure out the best way to summarize all the comments, and individually thank and comment back. This the technical settings here makes it a bit of a challenge for me to interact the way I would like (we will work on that).

    I do want to add an important footnote. I reached out to the Delta about this post, via Twitter (@DeltaAssist) and made it clear that I was not a traveler with an issue. Delta responded to me within 2 hours, to my email address. I asked a few questions back and they answered many of them. They are still in a learning stage, but open and transparent about that as well. I just wanted to highlight that point, the request for information and the response back, impressive. – Mitch

  14. “If your customers are trying to get your attention on Twitter to solve a specific ‘me only’ problem, your processes are broken, horribly inefficient or you have product issues”.

    I totally agree! It’s what I am experiencing right now. Being a Belgian customer of KLM you are left with little ways to communicate! I use my blog and Twitter to try to fix to problem of cancelling my return flight because they rebooked my flight!

    The whole story you can read on:

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