CUSTOMER SERVICE – Working the Crowd


Twitter helps turn around negative attitudes to products in almost real time—as the attitudes are actually forming amongst your audience. There are some superb examples of this effect. I—ve been really impressed with the way that companies use Twitter to connect with their customers. A friend of mine, Andrew, told me about his own personal experience of excellent and speedy service results through an initial conversation over Twitter.

Andrew and I both have a really slow broadband connection. We each get about 0.5 Mbps. So any calls that we make using Voice over IP (VOIP) can sometimes be a bit tortuous with the latency that we have to endure. The quality reminds me of my days in the Merchant Navy, using the VHF radio and speaking simplex commands like ‘roger‘, ‘over‘ and ‘over and out‘. The latency, especially using shared bandwidth after school hours, is sometimes very bad. Andrew complained about the speed of his broadband service to one of his contacts on Twitter:

BT obviously monitors mentions of its name on Twitter using the search feature in its Twitter client and it responded within an hour of Andrew’s original tweet.

BT and Andrew had a few private conversations which were not visible on the main Twitter feed, so after a few tweets on Friday morning and a BT visit on Tuesday evening, Andrew was happy to report:

Which brought a response from BT:

Andrew told me that BT even came down to his house a few days after this tweet to check the connections in the road in his village. BT demonstrated an excellent response to its customer issues, and all of this was initiated over Twitter.

Companies could certainly learn from this type of positive customer service and response using Twitter. This is just one example of how Twitter can be put to good use to change perception and improve satisfaction of a service, product or company amongst its customers. Credit should go to BT for being so responsive and getting great customer satisfaction from just one Tweet. Just think what this could do for your customers’ perception of you.

Other companies use Twitter as a way of effectively engaging with their audience to track sentiment after an event. Selfridges in the UK is an example of this, responding to one of my own Twitter comments within 2 hours of my initial broadcast about an event I’d attended, see Figure 10.1.

Figure 10.1 Example of a brand monitoring customer comments

Customer service isn’t all about customer complaints and giving the customer actual service. It’s the customer connection, customer communication and customer engagement that make for good customer experience and ultimately a good perception of customer service.

The phenomenal popularity of a service like Twitter does bring its own challenges. People with a cause or a grievance will want to air it on the widest possible platform, and with sites like Twitter being watched and searched by millions, naturally these sites are a prime target.

Creating a plan if things go wrong

In the early days of Twitter, users used to complain about the ‘fail whale‘. This is the image that appears on Twitter‘s website whenever Twitter is over capacity and struggling to keep up with demand. In August 2009 there were several incidents where both Facebook and Twitter seemed to suffer from denial of service attacks which slowed the site down considerably and prevented users logging in. This caused an outcry as users struggled to access their favourite sites. Similar attacks occurred on Live-Journal, Blogger and YouTube which appeared to be co-ordinated attacks to prevent a prominent blogger from the Republic of Georgia from having any of his messages read by the media. Complaints from outraged users about Twitter and Facebook access became news. In December of the same year, a denial of service attack redirected the Twitter home page to a new screen alleging that the site had been ‘hacked by Iranian Cyber Army‘ [sic]. Unfortunately these attacks pose a challenge for business. With increasing corporate and private user dependence on these types of sites, the potential for business disruption also increases if the sites are unavailable. These sites, which are out of your control, could be down for planned maintenance or they could become unavailable due to network issues or even subject to cyber attack from hackers.

When you are planning your influencer strategy using freely available tools, you need to consider the impact if an attack like this happened. What would it mean for your business and for your customer satisfaction? You will need to devise an alternative plan to allow for situations of this kind.

With our plans in place we’ll now start to really work the crowd. Let’s use the platforms to market our products and generate some fans and let the information flow on in. (Oh, we’d better learn how to manage it too!)


  • Plan your collaboration strategy to avoid information islands and data silos.

  • Find your noisy few to tell the story on your behalf.

  • Teenage interaction on social networking sites is completely different than that of adults.

  • Consider video sharing, podcasting and photo sharing in your channel planning.

  • Use collaboration software for the exchange of intellectual capital inside the company.

  • Enterprise search keeps data alive.

  • Use tools like Twitter to enhance your customer service experience.

  • Create a contingency plan in case the tools fail.