No longer is Twitter a bird chirping or girls chattering; like widget, it's evolved to become one of the latest social media tools—and a growing customer communication channel. Comcast, JetBlue, Dell, Whole Foods, Southwest Airlines, and Sun Microsystems are just some of the companies that have profiles on Twitter to post updates about new products and programs, or reach out to dissatisfied customers.
Twitter is a microblogging site, like a mini-diary that allows users to share with others what they're doing at any moment of the day. When a person (or company) sets up a "feed" on Twitter.com, others can choose to "follow" them and receive any updates that person posts. Through the search function, companies can also find any post others have written about them, and respond to the writer to correct a problem, ask for feedback, or say thanks for a compliment.
Responding directly to individuals (tweeting) works like instant messaging in public, but Twitter limits public messages to 140 characters so conversations are often taken "DM" (direct message), which is more private, especially if solving the problem requires personal information. That's exactly what happened when I contacted "comcastcares" and "JetBlue" through the site. Those are the Twitter usernames for Frank Eliason, digital care manager for Comcast, and Morgan Johnston, corporate communications manager for JetBlue. Both companies reach out to customers who post about service (good or bad) on Twitter, usually with a simple "can I help?" followed by a more detailed conversation.
"For years Comcast was watching blogs, online forums, and other websites and on occasion we could reach out to customers," Eliason says. "We started looking at Twitter in February, and by April we were familiar enough with it that we started tweeting to interact with them."
Eliason spends part of the day monitoring Twitter for customers mentioning Comcast, in addition to managing feedback the company collects through email and other social media sites. Comcastcares has sent more than 6,500 messages since April, and has 2,300 Twitter users following the updates Eliason posts about service and support. The most common issue he encounters on Twitter is troubleshooting routers and Internet connections.
"Twitter is a great place to engage in a dialogue to improve the customer experience," he says. "Many of the customers we've assisted have gone on to post blogs about how we're turning them into raving fans of Comcast."
While Comcast only recently began using Twitter, JetBlue's first posting on the site was in July 2005, which followed months of researching and getting familiar with how to tweet.
"Over the years our voice on Twitter has evolved several times as we meet the wishes of our community," Johnston says. "Our followers are quick to let us know when they feel we're getting too 'spammy' on Twitter with our postings."
JetBlue views Twitter as more of an information booth than a customer service tool. Johnston says specific concerns often require escalating the customer to a service representative who has more information to help them. On any given day, JetBlue reaches as many as a dozen customers through Twitter by scanning what others are saying about the company. Because travel can be very personal, the company prefers direct messaging people to open a dialogue. Often they even interact with customers as they're traveling.
"It's amazing with the advent of mobile microblogging tools like Twitter that we have this opportunity to guide, inform, and address concerns as they're happening," Johnston says. "It's an exciting time to live in."