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Twitter Customer Service – Three Use Cases for More Social CRM

There's more than one way to use Twitter as a vehicle for social CRM and customer service. Columnist Allen Bonde outlines three use cases.

Despite the hype, I’ve become a big fan of Twitter. I didn’t want to be at first. And in fact I had a false start with the service a year or so ago. But since I’ve been focusing on what the channel is vs. what it is not (not for everyone, not a collaboration channel, not a full-service channel) and exploring how organizations can leverage Twitter as part of their overall online marketing, support or Social CRM efforts, the value has become a lot clearer. So what have I learned?

First, Twitter is just a channel. It may act like a community, and it certainly has elements that are great for word-of-mouth marketing, but from a CRM perspective, it’s a lot like email or chat or self-service. And, in a way, it actually combines aspects of each, while exhibiting certain unique characteristics, as we explored in a prior column. Twitter has also been in the news as a way to express consumer frustrations and reach customers who may be frustrated before they do something drastic like cancelling their subscription or -- even worse -- telling the world that they plan to!

This last example has been made famous by Comcast, Starbucks and even GM, which have invested in legions of Twitter-enabled reps to reach out to online customers who have problems or even praise to offer. But there is more to Twitter customer service than these examples. In fact, a number of emerging models offer to make Twitter a key channel for companies looking to go down the path to full-blown Social CRM. Here are three of them.

Twitter to inform

At one level, Twitter works as well (or as poorly) as a good opt-in customer email list. It also has a viral marketing “twist” that can boost performance way beyond email marketing if you have something to say – or an offer – which your followers will want to re-tweet to their followers and so on. That is why using Twitter as an alert channel for reaching, educating and informing customers can be incredibly effective and efficient.

This assumes, of course, that you have a critical mass of followers. If you do, broadcasting product news, alerts on new support articles or offers, or even hot topics in your support forum makes a lot of sense. That’s what HP’s Enterprise Business group does, as well as the widely followed Canon Camera feed, which features a good mix of enthusiast information, product updates, and even the availability of firmware updates -- all with links to the relevant article or download page.

Twitter to listen and engage

This second use case is the one we are familiar with thanks to Comcast et al. Using Twitter as a conversation channel with influencers and as a listening channel to spot and engage with detractors is a soon-to-be “classic” when it comes to Twitter best practices. While a few top brands (even Apple) have been slow to embrace Twitter as a primary corporate marketing or service channel, look for many of these to jump on the social bandwagon as their customers – and competitors – set the bar for being “social.”

Even so, while some issues or questions can be resolved 140 characters at a time, many others will want to steer the conversation to other resources or content (inform case) or recruit the customer to participate in a more interactive channel like a chat session or online community (see our case below). But these discussions need to start somewhere, and Twitter is increasingly a powerful discussion starter, even if it isn’t always a great discussion finisher.

Twitter to link and up-sell

Our third use case may originate in one of the scenarios outlined above, but it adds one or more of the following aspects: specialization, active multi-channel integration, and a goal of deeper engagement on other social channels. In a way, our first two cases are still about using Twitter as a “broadcast” medium (yes, I know it’s two-way), with a little targeted engagement and viral marketing mixed in. In this third use case, we think of Twitter more as a linking channel to reach more specialized audiences (think of Autodesk, with its amazing range of product-specific blogs and communities) and draw users into the most relevant community where they can view a richer set of content, interact with experts and perhaps even play the role of super-user themselves.

There may also be an active selling opportunity when we get more targeted and aim to use Twitter not as the endpoint but rather the beginning of an extended, multi-channel discussion of why the user might want to try out a premium service offering or your latest product features. Actuate’s “Birtyguy” does just this by promoting demos and workshops, what is happening in the company’s BIRT Exchange, along with tips and news on open source BI.

There are many other use cases for leveraging the potential of Twitter for Social CRM (Brian Solis has an excellent list as well). However, starting with the three above should enable you to see what works with your target customers, listen for feedback, and create new offers and links that provide the greatest value. When you do so, your followers may not only be your customers, they may even become your best salespeople!

About Allen Bonde

Allen Bonde was recently CMO of eVergance and is a well-known analyst, entrepreneur and management consultant. He has 20 years of experience at McKinsey, Extraprise, the Yankee Group, and GTE (now Verizon); he has written for and; and he has appeared on CNBC and Fox News. Bonde is the founder and managing director of Evoke CRM Partners (, a consultancy focused on multi-channel customer strategies and the convergence of social media, self-service and CRM. He encourages readers to connect with him on LinkedIn, read his new blog and follow him on Twitter.

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