Brands on Twitter---Are They There For You or For Themselves?

First there was Comcastcares. (Ok, they were not actually first but it was the first example that came to my mind. Zappos is another notable example, but for whatever reason I thought of Comcast first. Sorry Zappos.) Frank Eliason, Comcast’s “director of digital care”-- who Business Week dubbed as “the most famous customer service manager in the U.S., possibly in the world”-- came up with the idea of using Twitter to interact with Comcast customers. Then others, probably awed and jealous of all the positive press Frank Eliason and Comcast were getting, followed suit by setting up shop on Twitter too: Dell, Whole Foods, JetBlue, Southwest...you get the idea.(Again, my timing might be wrong as far as when each of these companies set up shop on Twitter; I'm including this caveat instead of taking the time to research actual dates.)

The upside of having all these companies on Twitter is that you sometimes get rocket-fast, personalized customer service. When I tweeted about my frustrations with Sprint, within a few minutes I had a one of Sprint's social media customer service people contact me offering help. He ended up hooking me up with my own "Executive Services VIP Analyst" who not only resolved my problem but left me with her personal contact information should I encounter future problems.

If those two paragraphs were too wordy for you, this awesome slide show basically sums up what I just wrote:



The thing is this: social media--Twitter in this case--has set the bar so high that the only place to go is down. Take my recent experience with Pepco power company. A few weekends ago, we woke up to find the power was out. Having recently seen somewhere that Pepco was now on Twitter, I thought--great, no need to call and sit on hold; I'll probably get an immediate response on Twitter. But not only did I not get an immediate response; I never got a response at all. A few weeks later, when I tweeted about their non-response in another context on Twitter, I immediately received a response from Pepco's Twitter customer service person apologizing for the delay and telling me that they tweet during business hours.

“Business hours”? Business hours in the context of Twitter is like saying bankers hours in the context of a 24-hour supermarket. As in, are you kidding me? Isn't the whole point of setting up a customer service outpost on Twitter being able to offer service that goes above and beyond what traditional customer service channels can provide? Or is a company that offers customer service on Twitter...

Ah, but wait--there's the rub: are any of these companies really offering customer service on Twitter or they merely there so they can be held up as examples of cutting-edge companies who engage with customers in new ways? I mean, yes, they are engaging with customers in new ways--but isn't it kind of on their own terms? There's no accountability. Take the legendary Comcastcares, for example. If you check Comcast's website, you'll see that they offer "six ways to get help" on their customer help and support page. Twitter isn't mentioned at all.

Anyway, I'm going off on a tangent here so I better stop. I guess my question is this: should companies who establish a customer service presence on Twitter be expected to provide real-time support 24/7 or is just being on Twitter enough to earn them bragging rights?