The Trouble with Twitter: Where’s the Business Use Case?

One of the challenges of being a technology analyst is most people assume you are ripe to jump on every technology bandwagon that comes along. And I admit, I’m often ready to jump on board and go for a ride. So at the risk of being labeled a Luddite, I’m going to ‘come out of the closet’ with an unpopular opinion:

I am not a fan of Twitter, and have yet to find any viable business case for a Twitter integration for customer service and support beyond brand monitoring.

I was suspicious about Twitter from the beginning, when the main people I knew adopting Twitter were ego maniacs who assumed everyone was dying to know what they had for breakfast, how long they waited in line at Starbucks, the price of gas from their latest fill up, and how hard they laughed at Dilbert that morning. (The same people whose Facebook status shows what song is currently playing on their Internet radio station.) Sure, maybe there was an insightful message now and then, but:

  1. Tweets are 1-way. Yes, you can reply, but I don’t think anyone wants to argue that Twitter is an excellent 2-way communicator. It is primarily outbound.
  2. Tweets are out of context for the reader. Sure, they are in context for the sender, but the stream of consciousness blather doesn’t come at convenient times for the reader, and they are unlikely to remember important information when they do need it days or weeks later.
  3. Fads don’t last. First everyone battled to see who had the most MySpace friends. Then MySpace became déclassé, so the same group started trying to win the most friends battle on Facebook. And now that even your parents are on Facebook, the contest turns to who has the most followers on Twitter. By next Spring, some new channel will have emerged and Twitter’s impact will fade as well.

Bottom line: With the amount of information I have to consume to do my job growing exponentially, this is not a thread of content on my priority list.

Then, multiple service and support vendors starting talking about Twitter integration. “How curious,” I thought. “I must have missed some valid business cases!” I saw some demos from multi-channel CRM and eService vendors, including a recent ‘bake off’  in which 4 vendors had 15 minutes each to show why their combination of knowledge and interaction tracking tools were the best. 2 of the vendors spent their entire time showing their Twitter integration.  About what you would expect: you can open an incident for a Tweet, you can send incident updates via a Tweet, you can capture Tweets in customer history.  Here is my takeaway from looking at these integrations:

  • Can vs. should. Just because Twitter is easy to integrate with doesn’t necessarily mean you should use it as a major talking point.  Clearly some vendors are using a Twitter integration as a proofpoint of Web 2.0 enablement.  A Jive integration would be a better use of resources.
  • Channel agnosticism. Just because someone is active on Twitter doesn’t mean that is the only channel in which they communicate.  In fact, I think it is a pretty narrow view of Twitter participants to assume they want all their information in that channel as opposed to SMS Text, Email, etc.
  • Look at the big picture. I think the primary business value for Twitter would be analyzing what people are saying about you via Twitter to understand customer attitudes about your brand and products (just as you should be doing for public forums and blogs).  But this is a challenge for Clarabridge or Attensity (a text analysis engine), not an incident tracking tool.

So go ahead.  Call me a Luddite. I’ve been called worse.  But show me the business value before saying I’m wrong.  I’ll certainly change my opinion if armed with some good facts.

Thanks for reading!

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21 Comments on “The Trouble with Twitter: Where’s the Business Use Case?”

  1. Fon Kwok Says:

    John,

    I absolutely agree with you on this. It’s not so much what Twitter does or doesn’t provide, it’s the fact that there is no obvious additional value from using that vs email, dedicated chat, SMS. At this point it’s really just another channel, which is great, but definitely not a must-have.

    Fon

  2. jragsdale Says:

    Thank you Fon! I’m so glad to hear I’m not alone! I agree completely, it is another channel you should consider depending on customer demand.

    • Michael Israel Says:

      @JohnRagsdale – John, I dunno. I’m an on-again, off-again Twitter advocate. My problem with it is that I just don’t have the time or the patience to monitor everything that comes across – I’m sure I’m missing out on some way of being notified or aware of important stuff I’m really interested in. And there obviously is a way to do that as Shawn Santos pointed out in his post to your blog.

      TIME has Twitter as it’s cover story this week, and it’s interesting if you haven’t read it yet – http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1902604-4,00.html. This cover article talks some about the expanded search capabilities that have now been built into Twitter. It occurs to me that search capabilities might possibly be very useful in customer support. Another TIME article talks directly about how Twitter will change American business – http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1901188_1901207_1901196,00.html. One example sited in this article is “Twitpayments”, I immediately thought of payments being submitted via Twitter for “pay per case” or “per service call” incidents. A stretch maybe, but not out of the realm of possibility.

      Bottom line, I haven’t quite figured it out either, as I suspect most businesses providing customer support haven’t. But I don’t think it’s going to go away either. It will likely evolve as the TIME article suggests, but it’s here to stay in some fashion.

      #MichaelIsrael

  3. Shawn Santos Says:

    Hi John,

    I hesitate at calling you a luddite, but I will say that much of the skepticism around Twitter simply comes from folks who haven’t gotten their feet wet. Like most “tweeps” (not a fan of the lingo btw), I didn’t “get it” until I forced myself to get involved and see what the fuss is all about. Much to my surprise, it wasn’t all “ego maniacs” and the inclination that folks are simply regurgitating “what they had for breakfast or how hard they laughed at Dilbert that morning” gets a chuckle, but simply isn’t true to form.

    The most innovative companies are thinking about where their customers are and how to best interact with them. If our customers are at a conference expo, we should be there. If they’re on Twitter, we should be there too.

    True story example: recently, my PDA was on the fritz. I tweeted about it and happened to include the name of my cell provider, Verizon, in my tweet. Within five minutes–and keeping in mind I didn’t contact Verizon directly–Verizon replied to me via Twitter (their support team obviously has alerts set up)and provided me with a couple of good options. After looking up my account, they were able to quickly determine that I was in fact ready for a PDA upgrade and told me where to go to make that happen. They even set me up so that everything was ready for me when I arrived at their store. That’s what I call customer service. And guess what–I let all my friends know about it, and all my Tweeps and all of my other networks (Ping.fm is cool like that).

    Leading edge companies like Comcast, Verizon, Dell, Southwest, Jetblue, Ford and many others see a business use case in Twitter. Why? Mostly because it’s a fresh new way to engage customers. However, forward-thinking companies like these are also considering the potential for reducing costs, improving brand image and even expanding their market reach.

    Clearly, there is a lot more figuring out to do, and specific to Twitter, there’s a lot of garbage in the system.

    I wrote a bit more about this in a recent forum posting asking for feedback and examples: http://techservicesforum.com/forum/topics/twitter-for-customer-service

    Thanks for bringing the Twitter & support conversation up… it needs to be discussed!

    Shawn
    @ShawnSantos

    • jragsdale Says:

      Wow Shawn,
      That is a great story! Your ‘real-world’ story is so much better than the demos!

      What is remarkable to me in this story is:
      A) They automatically monitored your tweets without having you having to somehow register for such a service, and
      B) They were able to identify specifically that you needed help, amid all the tweets out there with ‘Verizon’ in the message, and they took the appropriate action to help.

      The ‘magic’ part is the alerting system that identified your distress call amid all the noise. From a business process standpoint, it similar to proactive chat: see a customer struggling and reach out to help.

      As usual, the communications industry is in the lead with leveraging a new channel to improve service. I would love to learn more about the rule systems they use to manage this.

      What our B2B members will be want to know is: is there a rule system bulletproof enough to attach an SLA to the channel?

      Thanks!

      –John

  4. Shawn Santos Says:

    And now I am going to Tweet your blog post to generate even more interest and feedback on this topic.

    Thanks again John!

    http://twitter.com/tweetsspa

  5. Charlie Born Says:

    Hey John,

    With Twitter – I’ve always felt I’m missing something…I felt so out of step. But, increasingly I’m seeing the revolt….your post made me laugh. I think maybe we should leave the tweets to the birds – and not people.


  6. Ok. Luddite. There I said it.

    Interesting article. I wouldn’t have even known it was published unless I had been following SSPA on guess what…oh wait, here it comes….yes….TWITTER.

    Your whole article was just dispersed to the 579 followers using it. I just clicked on the link which is trackable and reportable, unlike the myriad of email newsletters I receive, filter and delete. Guess what? I didn’t get an email from the SSPA about your article.

    Business value can be interpreted many ways.
    I’ve been thinking about this from a support perspective. Why isn’t our support staff twittering on the hundreds of products we make? Why aren’t support staff responding to our customers like previous story posted?
    Business value is all about helping customers that keep your business open. Value is in the quality not the quantity. Same goes for effective communication.

    You may have nieces and nephews, sons or daughters and do you want to know something? They can get answers to questions and problems by TWITTERing hundreds and thousands of people simultaneously without ever needing to log a single transaction online, nor pick up the phone. It very well could put some support organizations out of business. How’s that for cost savings and business value? Imagine when support is entirely provided by the users.

    Ok Luddite (there I said it again), change is PITA. I get that. Didn’t someone, somewhere, at sometime write an article about email effectiveness in the business place? How much time is consumed reading useless emails each day?
    How much spam is still circulating? Sure email may have made communication effective, but the quality of the communication has not improved.

    I find the three points about Twitter (one-way, out of context and fad’ish) a little weak.
    Bottom line. If we’re suffering from information overload……try using the technologies out there to provide WHAT you want, WHEN you want it, from WHO you want it from (sic).

    Join Twitter John. I dare you. Jump on your soapbox. And you’ll really find out who’s watching, listening, reading and finding value.

    Chris Warticki
    blogs.oracle.com/support
    @cwarticki

    • jragsdale Says:

      As our data shows, every channel has adopters and non adopters. I don’t happen to be a fan of stream of consciousness communication, whether it is Facebook status or Twitter. If I have a problem, I prefer to call the expert, not ask thousands of people I barely know if they have input to my problem. This, I realize, is totally a generational thing.

      When your AR department starts using Twitter as a primary means of communicating product information to analysts, I’ll join.

      At the moment sons and daughters, nieces and nephews are not the target market for the majority of our members, who are largely B2B. I think we still have plenty of time to figure out how (or if) to leverage this channel effectively in support. As I said previously, until you can attach an SLA to it, Twitter is serving a similar business problem as proactive support.


      • Agreed.

        The hurdle for our own generation and those before us is adoption. “Information without transformation is just information.”

        We see what goes on all around us and still do things the same way we were showed 15 years ago. One question I ask all my customers when it comes to support is the following, “Where else do you go for support after you’ve checked the vendor portal?” The answer 99% of the time is Google. That website with a little query window in it. And, if it doesn’t exist on the 1st page of the first 10 results, it must not exist anywhere in the known universe, right?
        What did we use 15 years ago before Google? Remember AltaVista WebCrawler? Yes…that little website with the little query window in it. See, our behavior hasn’t changed in 15 years. Definitely the technology has improved.

        Yes indeed, everyone wants the ‘expert’ who can solve their problem immediately if not yesterday. We know that model doesn’t scale. What does scale are relationships. Relationship-building, -networking, -marketing and even relational-support. It’s a who-ya-know world out there. It’s about knowing those experts and building relationships with them.

        We’ve got too many ‘old-timers’, who refuse to change, evolve, adopt and work with the technology. I admit, I’m not bleeding edge. But I will be a fast follower.

        It’s ok, TWITTER’s not for everyone. 😉

  7. Kate McNeel Says:

    John,

    There’s nothing wrong with being a Luddite. I’m a fan of Twitter these days, and business value really doesn’t have much to do with it.

    I’ve interacted with Comcast via Twitter, and while it was an easy method of interaction (much better than phone), it really didn’t change my relationship with Comcast, and I still mostly think that Comcast sucks, and their service department is horrible except for about 5 people that know what is going on (the dispatcher in Jackson, MS office is one of them – she rocks the house and can get anything done).

    To me, the value of Twitter is that it is currently a big cocktail party where I can wander from conversation to conversation, follow the interesting ones, and avoid the bores. It’s kind of a primordial soup of ideas right now, with a lot of good stuff swimming around in the muck. I find it fascinating to just watch – without having any real expectations of breakthroughs.

    The beauty of it is in fact the 140 character limit. Brevity is the soul of wit, and you find out quickly who the witty are.

    It’s been a wonderful tool for me – as a remote employee, working from my house in Jackson, MS – to connect with the larger tech community. I think I would not enjoy it nearly as much if I were in an office with actual peers to talk to face to face.

    Yes, Twitter may go the way of MySpace soon. But then the party will morph into the next venue, and it will be alot of fun to see what it looks like then.

    Happy Friday to all!

    Kate

    • jragsdale Says:

      Hi Kate;
      Thanks for chiming in! I love your virtual cocktail party image–now that’s a spin I can appreciate!

      I have to admit I’ve wondered if people are pushing me to Twitter to limit my longwindedness to 140 characters.😉

      Enjoy your weekend!
      –John

  8. Esteban Kolsky Says:

    John,

    To focus exclusively on Twitter is to focus on the tree and completely miss the Amazon Forest behind it. Of course Twitter is a fad, it already has “jumped the shark” at that (Thanks Oprah and Ashton).

    It it not about twitter, a simple channel that (as you well said) is mostly used for 1-way communications. It is about what Twitter brings to the table – a link to an entire social world of customers dying to participate in the process.

    You know me, always talking about Feedback and Experience. This is how it gets done better. I have said almost from the beginning that EFM is good, but it needs to focus more on the unstructured feedback, the non-survey feedback. The stuff that resides on blogs, communities and, yes, Twitter. The problem until now is that we did not have the right tools, and customers did not know much about that world. We were able to collect some feedback, but not lots.

    Enter Twitter. By making the average consumer aware of that entire network, even if just a small percentage, and the value of the feedback they can provide. Now, that is the value of Twitter.

    Yes, it will dissapear soon except for a few die-hard fans that use it all the time (90% of tweets are made by 10% of the people in it), and for companies that will continue to monitor it — just in case.

    Alas, what we will gain from having had it will be an invaluable new way to do CRM (please don’t call it Social CRM — that is whole other story that is covered in more detail in my blog), the way we intended back in the 1990s.

    Watch, you’ll see…

  9. Gary Sherman Says:

    I think when you focus on the business value, it becomes very clear why Twitter is so powerful – it allows you to connect with, interact with, dialog with, and have an opportunity to dazzle and wow your customers (and even potential customers).

    It doesn’t matter whether its B2B or B2C.

    If you’re stuck trying to see how Twitter fits into a traditional support structure – then it will be hard. Square peg, round hole.

    Forget about the systems and technology for a moment. Think about connecting and dazzling your customers. And Twitter is another opportunity to do this.

    So what does that mean for our systems and processes? It means they have to adapt. Twitter is still fairly new, but already the tools are expanding to help organizations keep up. Tools like Radian6 and BuzzLogic are helping organizations monitor activity about their products, services, and brands. It’s not a far step to see how tools like these can be used to help companies connect with customers in customer service & support scenarios.

    Forcing customers to participate how and where we want them to is past. We can’t expect them to come to our forum, our selfservice site, call our service line. We can now go to them – participating where they want to. The fulcrum has shifted, and customers have the power.

    I agree with @ShawnSantos – especially “much of the skepticism around Twitter simply comes from folks who haven’t gotten their feet wet.”

    Good topic.

    @gsherman


  10. From my post to Shawn Santos
    http://techservicesforum.com/forum/topics/twitter-for-customer-service

    Here’s why people “don’t get” social networking….they are stuck in their own boxes and perceptions of the way things ought to work, not to mention they realize their own communication is congested conjecture. We are all creatures of habit and afraid to admit it. Everyone wants to be a change agent, but not an instrument of change itself. YOU change, but not ME.
    Traditional support models won’t facilitate solutions like Twitter. And for those companies who want to remain traditional, they can raise up their antenna, stay with analog tv and play their walkman cassette player.

    I’ve been using Twitter for my job at Oracle Support as another way to reach our customers. You remember customers, the ones that pay our bills?. It’s a great way to meet customers, partners and colleagues. My ‘tweets’ even get picked up and re-Tweeted by others. It’s a valuable resource. I’ve got a small but growing following and I’ve received a lot of positive feedback on my posts.

    Support staff should post their own proactive hints, tips, tricks and solutions. They should be ‘listening’ to tweets by customers and responding just like the previous customer example.

    Meet your customers where they are. Heck, just meet your customers and stop hiding behind a ticket number, phone number and web portal.

    The best support is no support!
    ~CW @cwarticki

  11. Chuck Dennis Says:

    You said: “But show me the business value before saying I’m wrong. I’ll certainly change my opinion if armed with some good facts.”

    I submit Exhibit A: http://features.csmonitor.com/innovation/2009/06/12/dell-tweets-to-the-tune-of-3-million/

    To quote Confucious, or Ben Franklin, or somebody smarter than me: “Money talks, BS walks.”

  12. Esteban Kolsky Says:

    Chuck,

    The Dell scenario is interesting, but if you dig deeper into it you realize that Dell could’ve done exactly the same (actually better) with email. While I agree the leveraged the novelty of Twitter (same as Comcast and many others), I don’t see something there that could not have been done with other medium.

    That is the business case that John, I interpret, was asking about. And that is what I have not yet seen anywhere in the world.

    Esteban
    (oh yeah, @ekolsky in Twitter :))


  13. Hi John:

    I have been busy hunkered down with our upcoming Fuze Social release and just saw this post.

    Given that Fuze is one of the 4 vendors you spoke of demoing software over at CustomerThink.com (and the only one not hyping a new Twitter integration), I am glad to see that we’re not alone in failing to embrace Twitter as a priority for inclusion as a customer support channel.

    We fully see the importance of including Twitter among the many channels that must be analyzed in brand monitoring, but brand monitoring is a far different discipline than customer care, and Fuze will instead partner as appropriate with companies where brand monitoring is their core competency.

    What’s most interesting to Fuze about Twitter is its vast and ever-growing ecosystem of 3rd-party add-on applications that provide sophisticated desktop and mobile device capabilities to centrally manage SMS messaging. As such, we will be extending Twitter as an option for receiving notifications and the like.

    It’s amazing how many vendors, analysts and companies are so quick to jump on the hype bandwagon with minimal to no value proposition articulated and with complete disregard for what seems to be much more pressing technology deficiencies. Here’s one for you: how about providing community-generated content that perpetually includes broad insights, is accurate, succinct, thorough, well-written and that the consumer knows the brand stands behind to support self-service, assisted-service and internal operations? But why would we want to do that when instead we could support a channel limited to 140 bytes and set expectations with consumers that we can somehow consistently filter through their millions of non-DM tweets relating to support?

    Chuck Van Court
    Founder and CEO, Fuze Digital Solutions
    http://www.fuze.com http://www.kb2dot0.com


  14. […] Some feel that way, but I don’t think so.  I have personally gotten real value from Twitter despite that friction.  Twitter is an incredible newswire and real time search.  Remember the old teletypes constantly churning out news?  Remember the old paper ticker tapes for the stock market?  Twitter is all that and a lot more.  It is the fastest way to know a little bit (140 characters, remember!) about anything, and especially brand new things.  Any service that lets you find news you can’t get anywhere else is fundamentally valuable. […]

  15. Larry Says:

    Very interesting. It reminds me of discussions we have had regarding communication with our kids, each of them have a different style of communication. One prefers verbal, the other prefers SMS. You can try to force them to accept both methods, but the value of the information will be impacted.

    The same holds true with customers. Some customers will provide valuable info on event driven surveys, others will ignore them. Some prefer on-line knowledge base search engines so they can find the answer for themselves, others prefer to pick up the phone.

    There is no on-size fits all method which fits every individual or issue. And don’t beleive everything the demo data tells you about preferred comm. styles of each generation.

    Look for feedback from multiple venues. It may take more time, but you might find out what the customer really thinks (careful, you might not like what you hear).
    Offer multiple methods for them to contact you for support, or they will get frustrated and stop using your products.


  16. […] Ragsdale’s Eye on Service | The Trouble with Twitter: Where’s the Business Use Case? […]


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