July 7th, 2011
10:36 PM GMT
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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:

@natrobe Hi. We saw your tweet. Please follow @BoseService and reply to this message. We'll do all we can to help. Thanks.”

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.

When one user tweeted about flight delay, Jet Blue promptly replied:

“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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Filed under: BusinessTechnology

soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Ross

    My company ignored message boards and social media for years despite the obvious damage that was being done by customer service horror stories going unanswered. I blame the luddite leadership of the time that didn't understand the Internet even though their business was increasingly dependent on it. Now we have full time staff monitoring twitter and the like to respond to it. If someone posts something bad about the company it is automatically displayed on the Intranet's frontpage where every employee sees it.

    July 8, 2011 at 8:13 am |
  2. Dan onanda

    Thats a good idea companies wud give guality services

    July 8, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  3. vipekode moses

    This has been an avnue to review what ever happen to every body in so call social life and give an opportunity to every body to express he or her opinion thanks

    July 8, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  4. a Truster

    "I have poured out my complaint before Him".

    July 8, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
  5. Name*frances

    This pretty cool lol.

    July 8, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  6. Greg

    What is twitter? So bored with social media; are people really tweeting about broken headsets?
    Twitter, facebook etc. is that not all kid's stuff that adults are using because they imagine it makes them young again?

    July 8, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
  7. Greg

    I would never bother to inform others about this or that about me via twitter. Reading other people's replies about my posting could be much more interesting, though. (should I remember to come back later)

    July 8, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  8. Troy

    In my opinion the general public are ill-mannered idiots. If you break your headset and it was your fault then it's your responsibility to have it repaired. If you show up late for your flight, it's your fault and you have to pay the difference for a new ticket. While Twitter and other social media can be a tool for grieving customers, it can be dangerously biased.

    July 8, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  9. T

    The interesting thing about promoting Twitter as an effective customer service channel is that it encourages people to steer away from the established channels that are set up specifically for that purpose. Shouldn't the consumer expect the same level of service no matter how they contact the company?

    July 8, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
  10. Ingrid

    I'm an avid user of twitter and follow several of the companies whose services or products I use. i find that the majority of them take the service quite seriously and have responded to my complaints or praises. I know I certainly appreciate a response from these huge companies. Makes me feel like less of a number and as someone that counts to them.

    July 8, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
  11. 40deuce

    The beautiful thing about social media is that so many things can be done using it. We have some clients who use social media to push deals, some that do customer service through it, and some that just research their markets by listening to what people are saying. It's such a versatile tool where companies and consumers can talk and interact as one and we're just going to keep seeing more ways for this to happen.

    Also, as a side note, I had a very similar experience with Bose as well. They did a fantastic job of listening for when their consumers have a problem. In my experience it was also the middle of the day on a Sunday, so I was super impressed when they tweeted back mere minutes after my tweet about my broken headphones. I was upset at first, but after great customer service on their end I was happy again and I made sure I told all my Twitter followers about how good they were.

    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

    July 8, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
  12. Opunim

    Coys w ould key into that tech strategy to up their rating just b/cos they meet the real needs of the customers. Some persons may hav to leav their jobs b/cus tweets have taken up their roles and doin it better.

    July 9, 2011 at 5:05 am |
  13. Who Cares

    I think its nice... they should be on Facebook not Twitter, twitter is boring

    July 9, 2011 at 9:52 am |
  14. lolface

    awsome so you followed the directions and it just happened to not be a fake, there are tons of scammers who do the same exact thing and you are the easy pickings they want, just wait soon you will click on something and lose all the money in your bank account and wonder why. ALWAYS go to the main website yourself without following links and use their customer support numbers not a number someone gave you on twitter. Whoever wrote this article is an idiot for following it and lucky he didn't get digitaly robbed.

    July 9, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
  15. Carl

    Sure, it's kinda cool that Bose is stalking you and helped you out. But really? 1. You're so self centered that you thought your friends couldn't go without knowing your headphones broke while walking down the street? 2. Your friends don't tell you that you're ridiculous for tweeting about your stupid broken headphones? Seriously? When did we become so self obsessed that we need to catalog every stupid second of our lives? Most people would be ashamed for being too fat to fit on an airplane, but Kevin Smith tweets and obesity is cool! Hey, Kev, I don't feel for you. Now I can tell the exact second when someone told you that you're too fat to ride on an airplane. Try walking to your destination, then you can fly home.

    July 9, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
  16. Delia

    This is wishful thinking! I have done this with Sprint and they have NOT responded. I have phones that are SO terrible and nothing changes even though I spend hours with them in the PHONE wasting my time. There have been a few of us who wrote via Twitter and blog about bad service.... NOTHING – not even messages sent directly to them!! Guess they don't care

    July 10, 2011 at 1:42 am |
  17. Neeil Bhatia

    It's true. Twitter is an excellent way to reach the end consumer and seek "true opinion" instead of an Estimated Consumer Response from an appointed Media Agency. I enjoy Twitter if compared to Facebook.

    July 10, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
  18. Pat

    Using Twitter makes you a "twit", not a "tweep".

    July 12, 2011 at 9:46 am |
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