Hacking the customer service game

Using social media to get technical support and better service

In my post "Persistence in an art," Econobiker posted a comment that I thought begged for further coverage. "Comcast is famous for crappy customer service," he says by way of example. "Get a phone droid and you are usually up the creek. Yet they have dedicated people who monitor Consumerist.com, ComcastMustDie.com, and Twitter for complaints. These people can apparently cut through the B/S in order to keep good public relations and avoid bad-news reporting."

That's a good point. From the tales I have heard recently, social media may very well be emerging as one of the best hacks in the customer service and tech support game.

But I know a lot of people are still trying to decide how they feel about Twitter and other microblogging and social media tools. So this comment inspired me to explore just how thoroughly tech support departments have embraced the social Web as a means of reaching around traditional means of helping to customers. I use Twitter frequently to get quick answers to questions for this blog -- and lots of other projects. And I know a lot of you do, too. But do customer service and tech support departments use it to reach past long hold times, time-consuming phone conversation, and e-mail quagmires to shoot quick responses to customers who are savvy enough to use it?

I reached out to my peeps on the social Web and asked.

The response I got was so overwhelming, so informed, and so enlightening that I have decided to do more than a blog post on this. I'm going to do a series. Over the next few weeks -- mixed in with the usual gripes -- I will occasionally take an in-depth look at what companies are doing on this front. I will also showcase some examples of how service in the realm of social media is working -- or not working.

This is not really a digression from the gripes. (So you can stop penning that nasty note about how this column is "FOR GRIPES ONLY.") The biggest gripe I hear from all of you is "Customer service sucks hard these days." But when I sent my social media question out via social media, I heard back quickly, instantly even -- from customers and companies -- stories of outstanding service found without long hold times or huge hassles. It gave me hope. Maybe the landscape is changing?

So you can look forward to stories from the biggest companies you deal with -- as well as some small ones -- in the next few weeks. But because Michael Dolan, a spokesperson for Iridesco gave me such a lucid list of reasons why social media works for his company, I'm launching this discussion with a small-business Web tools company in New York City. (You can see Dolan's examples in action by following @Harvest on Twitter.com.)

"At Iridesco," says Dolan. "We've been using Twitter for customer support for the last three months. It has been working well for us. We're the creators of Harvest -- a Web-based time-tracking and invoicing application -- and Co-op, a Twitter-like communications tool for businesses."

According to Dolan, there are several reasons Twitter is a great customer support tool:

  1. Because Twitter is public, our clients can all see how we answer common support questions. This cuts down the number of inquiries because clients may see the answer to their questions in our Twitter stream.
  2. Many times a support inquiry can be solved quickly by sending a link to a FAQ or a section of our help site. Twitter is a simple, efficient way to share links.
  3. Many clients are comfortable with Twitter so they are more likely to reach out to us for help in a medium that is familiar. This is great for us because answering support questions helps clients get the most out of our software. Happy users are our end goal.
  4. The 140 character limit on Twitter helps the conversations run efficiently. Clients ask short, to-the-point questions and we provide short, to-the-point answers. It saves time on both ends.
  5. Many of our clients aren't located in the US. The time difference -- especially with Asian and European clients -- can be a big hurdle for support. Twitter users can send us a query and we can get back to them when we see it -- without worrying about the time difference.

Good points all. Thanks Michael! Twitter is just one of the social media tools companies are using to provide support, but it is very popular because it's quick, easy to monitor, and public. Look for more examples coming up. This is going to be a lot of fun. (Those of you who object to fun can stop penning that nasty "FUN ISN'T ALLOWED ON THE GRIPE LINE" letter. We got that memo.)

Got a gripe or Twitter tale? Send it to christina_tynan-wood@infoworld.com.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.