Microblogging service Twitter is not only useful for online marketers, or to link to interesting blog posts; it can also be an effective customer service tool.

Rebecca on SEOmoz has provided an interesting case study describing how Comcast used Twitter to solve an issue for her; something other companies can potentially learn from.

Having failed to solve her problem (cancelling an NBA basketball subscription with Comcast) through traditional customer service channels, Rebecca expressed her dissatisfaction on Twitter.

Comcast should really have dealt with the problem on the phone before she had to resort to complaining on the microblogging site, but at least someone was monitoring Twitter and was able to resolve her issue.

A number of other companies in the US are using Twitter in this way, with shoe retailer Zappos being a good example.

Zappos has 448 employees using the service, including CEO Tony Hsieh; helping to put a more human face on the company, engage with customers, solve issues, and monitor what is being said about them.

A quick search on Twitter reveals that most of what is being said about Zappos is positive:

Twitter - Zappos

This not just a result of Zappos using Twitter; the company clearly has a culture which values customer service, and this is reflected in what is being said online, which is a great marketing tool for the retailer. 

Comcast and Zappos are not alone in making good use of the site; plenty of other US firms are monitoring it and using it for customer service. A number of Dell reps are on Twitter, while JetBlue Airlines uses the service to inform customers about delays and other news.

UK companies would do well to follow these examples. I’ve looked for examples of UK firms that use the service in this way, but haven’t managed to find any yet. (Anyone know of any? Let me know…)

However, there are plenty of examples of firms being talked about on Twitter, and not all of it positive. Search for Virgin Media and you’ll find plenty of complaints. The same applies to other companies like Vodafone and Npower, especially the latter.

All three companies employee plenty of customer service staff, so getting one or two to monitor the brand on Twitter and solve a few issues there needn’t be a huge drain on resources, and would benefit the company’s reputation.

Monitoring Twitter is easy enough to do; a quick search for your brand name and products will bring up any mentions, allowing you to see what your customers are saying.

Another service I reviewed last week, GetSatisfaction, provides an ‘overheard’ tool when you sign up that monitors what people are saying on Twitter.

Of course, use of the blogging service shouldn’t be considered a substitute for providing excellent customer service; some customers will be venting their spleens on Twitter after they have failed to get anywhere through normal channels.

Still, as with blogs and other social media, companies should be monitoring what is being said about them on Twitter and stepping in to resolve issues where they find them. As with the Comcast example, this can be a big PR win for firms.

Related articles: 
10 tips on improving online customer service
Q&A: Royal Mail’s Stephen Mitchell on online customer service

Related research:

Online Customer Service Briefing – June 2008