Home > Call Center, Customer Service, Social Business, Social CRM > Is Twitter a Customer Service Platform, Protocol or Channel?

Is Twitter a Customer Service Platform, Protocol or Channel?

Twitter is an interesting beast, that is for sure. I am sure a few (or more) will suggest that it is none of the above. Or, better, that it is a monumental waste of time.

The nature of Twitter is that everything is open for the world to see, that does beg the question of how best does Twitter fit into your Customer Service processes? Some of the challenges are actually a bit technical in nature; Twitter is actually a Service Platform*, which acts like a Protocol, and should be treated like a Channel. In order to get there, maybe a little bit of review is in order. My review is timed for an event, close to home, where JetBlue and Comcast are planning to present to a small group here in Burlington, VT. The interest lies in the fact that by one measure, JetBlue is considered tops in Loyalty, yet are almost 3 times as likely (as the baseline) to see a negative experience show up on Twitter.

Looking Back

The question I began to think about a long time ago is whether by making a channel such as Twitter readily available, companies were ‘creating a monster’ or ‘letting the genie out of the bottle’ and wishing that they had not. This is very Inside Out thinking, and non-customer centric. I first published a post in October 2009 titled “Why do people think Twitter is a good Customer Service platform?” (link). Some parts of the article were a bit tongue in cheek, as Twitter in the support arena was quite new. In that article I suggested the following statement to be a truth:

The need to broadcast a problem to the world would not be necessary if the customer had confidence that their issue would  be solved timely and to their satisfaction.

Almost a year and a half later, I am revisiting the same issue, to see if things have changed, or not. I also suggested that using Twitter for support masks a larger issue. Customer do not have confidence that their issues will be addressed when they contact a company or register a complaint. There was some good discussions regarding the post. No, not everyone was in full agreement either. There have been a lot really smart people (smarter than me) thinking about this issue, now 18 months further along. That said, while people have been thinking about it, data to support or to counter the arguments is hard to find. I am not convinced anyway. Looking at this problem from the more important customer perspective, if your customers are there, then you need to be there to, right? the comment from Parature hits the mark:

Regardless of whether or not it is a good customer service platform, customers are taking their issues social and they can’t be ignored.

Core to this discussion is trying to figure out exactly; what is Twitter? During the recent history that is modern customer service, the channels of communication have been controlled by the organization (for the most part, of course there are exceptions); In-Person, Phone, Letter, Fax, IVR, Email, Website, Chat. These are protocols/channels, which a company decided to offer, or not. Unless something went really wrong, and it made the news, or trade press of some sort, the results of communication were ‘contained’.  With that in mind, Esteban Kolsky had the following to say on the previous post:

Any channel a customer chooses to contact an organization is a channel the organization should be listening on – or have a clearly stated and well-known reason not to (example: you cannot contact your broker about a trade via email due to latencies)…. Despite the novelty behind it Twitter remains a simple channel you add to your lineup of channels to serve customers. If you understand the basic rules of engagement for the channel, and how to deliver value best (e.g. tweeting the answer in 14-consecutive-tweets versus posting a link to somewhere) to your customers, then you should be able to deliver against those expectations – after you set them at the right level.

We have not Answered the Question

As noted above, Twitter is not a Customer Service Platform – it is only part of a Customer Service Platform, maybe. That does not mean people do not use it as such. Coca-Cola is not billed as a rust removal system either, just saying. Some believe that Twitter should be an open protocol, but that is not likely to happen either.  Therefore, a channel of communications is what is left, that is what Twitter is, and how it should be treated. This does not take anything away from it, just calling it like I see it. Your customers are there, and therefore you need to be there as well. Some old rules are broken though, unless I am missing something important. For example, if JetBlue has that many negative issues, then their loyalty number could not be that high if it takes “12 good things for every bad”.

The follow-up question is how well is this (or any) channel is integrated into the rest of your customer service processes? According to some recent research (Brent Leary analysis), 35% of companies surveyed said “Yes” when asked “Is your social media/social networking fully integrated into traditional customer service problem-resolution processes?” I need to be direct and question that particular statistic, as I have yet to run into many (any?) companies at all where the processes are truly integrated from end to end. The simple point is about a technical challenge or limitation, your customers will know if they systems are integrated, or not.  Even so, 65% of companies recognize that social is not integrated, therefore each is an island of process and of information. Your customers deserve better than this, no? I spend a lot of time thinking rhough these types of issues for Sword Ciboodle and our customers.

(*For the technical minded in the group, Twitter seems to be tending towards a service, offered by a private company, as a 3rd parties can typically build on top of a platform, but those rules seemed to be changing as well (who can and will make changes)).

  1. March 14, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    Not sure what your point is (your meta point). Your question re “If Jetblue has high Loyalty, yet 3 Times More Likely To Get Bad Sentiment” is the core of this post, and should be explored in more depth IMHO. It’s very interesting: i.e. (1) Do high loyalty companies have a cadre of customers that are trained to behave badly when things don’t go right first time? (2) Do High Loyalty comapnies suffer from the bad sentiment expressed, or benefit from it by using it to improve; (3) Will “high loyalty” companies of the past, be the first to adopt the new information available to them, and thus they are just in the early stages of the industry evolution and are pathblazing for the others? Your Kindly, A loyal reader.

  2. Mitch Lieberman
    March 14, 2011 at 6:34 pm


    Thank you and you are quite correct, as I reread my own words. There are two messages/points buried in here, neither one quite shining as I would have hoped. The first is the platform, channel, protocol message. The second is the Loyalty v Sentiment cross channel issue, whereby high profile company becomes subject to “a cadre of customers that are trained to behave badly when things don’t go right first time” you stated. If these companies have benefited and are improving, those stories would be great to understand (and I will ask next week).

    Focusing on the point you raised, ‘meta point number one’ – I would agree that companies who reward customers by allowing them to ‘skip the queue’ by responding to their Tweets or Mentions on Social sites are creating bad behaviors. I also believe, as is the case with airlines, tweeting when in distress is a necessary reaction that can calm customers who have missed flights and have no where else to turn. This does beg the question however, why cannot an email of phone call have the same process? As I said in the post, according to recent research, 35% or more have social processes fully integrated. I find that hard to believe.

    Trying to tie the second ‘Meta Point’ to the first. To the external world, Twitter and Facebook are platforms, a stage if you will, for customers to voice their opinions, concerns and personal issues. To the customer the benefit is clear, it is raised in a public setting, thus there is more pressure to answer. To the company it is a channel of communications which needs to consider all the same prioritization mechanisms used by the other channels.

    Thanks again!

  3. andrewboyceschultz
    March 15, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    Hi Mitch,

    I have a hard time pigeon-holing Twitter into being a Service Platform – or maybe that wasn’t your point. I think it can be used as such, but that’s not what it “is” – I like your suggestions of protocol and channel better.

    Along those lines, in my opinion, the best thing about Twitter is also the worst – everything is public, as you mention. That’s a communications dynamic that’s never existed in the world before, not with the speed and reach of Twitter. I think that’s what makes it a location for customer service. Because it has the capability to push a message out to a large group of people in the fastest time of any communication channel, people like to go there to complain. But they’re also startled when someone from the offending company comes back out of the public space and says “I heard what you said, can I help?” So maybe I would say, as far as customer service is concerned, it’s fundamentally a complaining platform first and a service platform second.

    From an SCRM perspective, Twitter is unique because of the lack of structure around the communication, such as “Likes” or recommendations, etc. So for a company to go engage with a customer there is fundamentally different than going to Facebook to engage with them – it’s unstructured, it’s available to fans and detractors, and it’s purely textual. As you mentioned, it takes the interactions outside of the company’s control (I also blogged about that in the past: http://wp.me/pZlIK-pd , where I explored how interactions are now recorded outside of a company’s firewall rather than inside it).

  4. Mitch Lieberman
    March 15, 2011 at 9:16 pm


    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I agree that Twitter lacks structure in the form of likes and recommendations, however the character limitation is a structure in and of itself. The reason I believe that Twitter is a service is because it is provided by a company and can be changed without asking anyone (thus it is not a protocol). From a customer service perspective, it needs to be treated like a channel – my opinion of course.



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