July 7th, 2011
10:36 PM GMT
Hong Kong (CNN) – I was walking down the street the other day when one half of my $350 Bose headphones quit working. Frustrated, I sent a quick tweet to my friends.
Within an hour, I got a reply – but not from my followers. From Bose.
Bose Service responded:
Despite not addressing my tweet to Bose – I did not @mention or even hashtag the name - Bose Service proceeded to send me a direct message with the contact information necessary to repair my headphones. This occurred within one working day.
Twitter - the social media site that allows users to publicly air their innermost thoughts, tweet at other so-called tweeps, and trend any topic they see fit - has long been used by marketing-savvy companies to advertise special deals and create buzz around new releases.
In recent years, its power to promulgate negative publicity has also been a source of serious embarrassment for companies.
Hollywood director Kevin Smith’s complaints went viral last year when he tweeted at Southwest Airlines after he was asked to leave his seat on an airplane because his portly size made him an alleged safety risk. Smith tweeted a series of vitriolic rants against Southwest to the 1.6 million followers he had at the time, embroiling the airline in a messy online feud.
Nowadays, businesses are turning Twitter to their advantage, using it as a platform to provide customer service.
Perhaps after embarrassing incidents like the Smith episode, many airlines are going proactive with Twitter. When the ash cloud brought air travel to a standstill last year, KLM sent frequent Twitter updates to its passengers, saving stranded travelers time, money and irritation. Jet Blue’s Twitter account is among the most prolific at reacting to travel complaints. Boasting over 1.6 million followers, Jet Blue’s Twitter feed replies to questions about delays, responds to lost luggage inquiries, and sends direct messages with updated flight details.
“Sorry for the delay. If you'd like to DM us your confirmation code or flight number we can check on the status for you.”
Some firms actively follow what tweeps are writing through social media monitoring tools such as Radian6 or Sysomos. These computer programs track conversations about the company, allowing an employee to search through Twitter to check what users have been saying before contacting disgruntled customers regarding their complaints.
Sue Chan, the associate director and head of digital practice of Edelman Public Relations Hong Kong, said an increasing number of companies are turning to Twitter to see what customers are saying about their products.
“This allows companies to have a pulse on conversation before small problems balloon to become potentially larger issues,” Chan said.
The presence of tweets in the public domain also gives companies the opportunity to show the efficiency of their customer service. According to Chan, the majority of brand-related tweets are negative in nature, making it a key arena in which to solve customer issues.
So how much does social media cost businesses? According to Chan, it varies from company to company: “The investment we see from our clients can be small or large but effective nonetheless.” In some cases, Twitter seems to be a cheaper form of customer service, cutting out long-distance telephone calls and reducing labor, whilst other brands choose to spend heavily.
Social media’s importance also crosses national boundaries, with brands such as the NBA and Starbucks now making their presence felt on Weibo, China’s microblogging site. Considering that Twitter is blocked in China, many companies are turning to Weibo to tap into the massive Chinese market. For now, company Weibo accounts function more as a way to interact with fans and less as a customer service tool, but it is only a matter of time before Weibo catches up.
In the meantime, Twitter’s recent announcement that tweeps now post 200 million tweets a day suggests that its use as a marketing tool is here to stay.
“I think it has proven to be a very effective medium to address customer concerns at a rapid pace and also gives the customer the invaluable feeling that they’re being listened to by an actual human being,” said Chan. "My guess is that the service will continue to grow.”
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