Response to Fortune article on customer service via Twitter

Fortune ran an interesting article on their website last week titled, "Can I help you? On Twitter, the answer is No." I really liked how the author, Anne VanderMey, and her colleagues put a variety of companies' customer service to the test via Twitter. The result was an interesting article, but I also think there are some points that were left uncovered.

First the positives
I love the idea of doing a real experiment rather than simply reporting on the abstract. Ok, maybe I'm biased because I ran my own social media experiment with customer service last year. (Check out the results.) VanderMey also examined a range of companies and wrote from an objective point of view. She let the results do most of the talking.

A few missing points
There were a few points I think VanderMey missed in her article.

Wait times aren't apples to apples. VanderMey compared the time required to get an answer via Twitter versus getting an answer via other channels, such as a toll-free number. It's a good idea, but with a Tweet (or email), you send it and then presumably go on with your life until you get a response. Calling a number generally requires a bit more of your attention unless you are stuck on hold. Even then, you might catch yourself singing along to the soothing soft rock hits of the '80s.

Twitter is good for info, bad for real problems. The article didn't make a distinction between the types of problems Twitter is good for and the types of issues that are best directed elsewhere. Twitter is a great tool for information. Need step-by-step directions or a list of the nearest stores? A company's Twitter team may be able to help you. Need to change your customer profile or check the status of an order? Better call or email.

Public versus private. The last big one for me was the article didn't squarely address the distinction between Twitter being a public forum while a phone call, email, or chat session is expected to remain between the customer and the company. As a customer, I'd definitely think twice about sharing the details of too many of my service problems in a public forum. (Unless, of course, I wrote a blog. That's waaaaay different.)

My conclusion is it was a good article that could have been even better. What do you think about getting customer service via Twitter? Are companies doing a good job? What expectations should consumers have when they Tweet for service?