Although more blog entries about Twitter have been written than the site's popularity warrants (visit Mashable.com for hundreds of posts over the past year), occasionally the service deserves some of the good press it receives. Recently Business Week ran an interview with Frank Eliason, the Comcast employee responsible for handling customer issues via Twitter. But the interesting part wasn't that he uses the service for CRM, but what came at the end of the story.Eliason mentioned on Twitter that he wouldn't be available the next day to help customers. When he returned the following day, he expected to catch up on all the customer complaints he'd missed out on. To his surprise, he found that some of the Comcast customers following him on Twitter had taken it upon themselves to reach out to other customers and ask if they could help. They even used Eliason's trademark "Can I help?" as the first outreach to customers who required assistance.
Eliason says in the article, "That day I understood the effectiveness of what we do." Every company should learn that same lesson. Customers who feel connected to a brand will become advocates, even when the brand is a hated cable company. In this case, customers weren't out promoting the brand to their friends, but they were spreading goodwill by clearing up problems that otherwise would have created animosity toward Comcast.
This isn't to say that Twitter (or any other social media tool) is the cure-all for customer service problems. There's certainly a legitimate question about whether the customers in this case helped because they were loyal to Comcast, or because they were loyal to Eliason. The hope is that they associate him with the brand and become loyal to both.
This is just another example of the unexpected positive consequences of embracing social media. The channel may not have the ROI metrics that other initiatives offer, but going out on a limb can really pay off. What do you think about these Comcast customers taking Frank Eliason's place for the day? Would you ever help a fellow consumer through Twitter or any other website? Would you be shocked if a stranger offered to help you?