OK, so many of us have heard about what Frank Elaison (@comcastcares) of Comcast’s Customer Outreach has done with twitter. If you haven’t, I’ll give you the abbreviated version:

In April of this year, Michael Arrington had some issues with Comcast. He was pretty upset and made his frustrations known via his Twitter account (@TechCrunch). Within 20 minutes he was contacted by a Comcast Executive. The first thought was something with the flavor of “So, of course they fix his stuff… Michael is a rock star of the blogging world!”.

You can read other places where Comcast has reached out to the blogging community to smooth over some bad spots here and here and others here.

Basically, since then, Frank Elaison has used twitter to respond to customer issues that pop up on the micro-blog. Initially, he would use tweetscan or summize or something comparable to find the issues, but now, this is a free-flowing customer service channel. Users now either address issues directly with @comcastcares or they complain about Comcast on their twitter feed and wait for @comcastcares for respond. Since twitter isn’t a threaded conversation, following the discussions can sometimes be difficult. You can follow some of the conversations here.

So, should everyone be doing this? I mean, it has to be better than a phone tree.

Well, there are some considerations to take.

  1. Mind what you say, the world is reading it… at least the very small but growing sliver of the world that is on twitter.
  2. If you are going to do it right, you need to staff accordingly. Twitter doesn’t close at night or weekends. Your customers are online during those times too. Don’t follow a bad customer experience with a bad customer service experience. They will have little patience, you and/or your team better be ready.
  3. Remember, this is customer service, so do whatever you can within reason, but there are going to be users that you can’t help. There will be plenty of them. They will be unreasonable and likely intelligible… this IS the internet.
  4. Also, keep in mind that very few of your customers are likely using twitter. If your product involves the web, your twitter user base is likely greater than a carpenter though. This should be just another form of customer service, you can’t expect anyone to sign up for twitter just to talk to you about something they aren’t happy about.

Down the road, twitter will probably have some stiff competition. Already, Plurk is gaining some users as micro-bloggers try to determine if it is just a pretty toy or something actually useful. I use them both and like them both. As something to use for a customer service channel, I’d say that plurk might be a better choice if for no other reason than it has threaded discussions. Twitters simplicity is great but it hinders following a conversation. In the end, if you use one of these tools, you have to go where the users are… twitter was early on the scene and has the users.

While Comcast has garnered a great deal of good press with their use of twitter, Customer service has to be more than an effective use of a novel tool. It has to be built from the core of the company. I doubt that if you were to call and on the off chance you were able to navigate the phone tree to something with a pulse, that you would get the same level of customer service that you get from @comcastcares.

Comcast has done something good here, I can only hope they let this grow at least a little bit into the rest of what they do.

For a quick read on a company (Southwest) that does get it, read this. And yes, they also use twitter rather effectively.

Oh, and here is another good example, albiet not specifically customer service. NASA has personified their Phoenix Mars Lander on twitter. You can ask it questions @MarsPhoenix. This is pretty exciting since this was the first place (even before the news outlets) they announced the confirmation of frozen water!