Many companies have embraced social media marketing as a way to get their messages to customers. So why do they still make their customers send email?
As The New York Times reported recently, email use is in decline as people -- especially younger people -- turn increasingly to social media and text messages to communicate. And people are more apt to express frustration with their customer experiences in social media like Twitter.
"Twitter is where people go to vent," says Chris Korhonen, the user experience lead at Animoto, a software-as-a-service company that provides cloud-based video production software. "So we get a lot of customers who may have bad experience with us, and tweet about it, and hopefully we can right that wrong. For instance, if a customer has a billing problem, or a serious problem with the Website, that's one of the channels that's more sensitive to that."
Animoto can tap into that social media spleen -- and in some cases, diffuse it -- because the company uses help-desk software that integrates with Twitter. The company moved to Zendesk in May to help manage its explosion of help-desk requests as its user base grew, and adopted Zendesk's Twitter module from the start.
Zendesk is just one of several companies that have connected the dots between social media conversations and customer service and support. Salesforce.com offers Service Cloud 2, which integrates into both Twitter and Facebook. Parature offers a Facebook integration module and Twitter support.
By connecting into where customers are having conversations about their experiences with a product or service, these applications can help customer service reps solve those problems without the customer having to go to email or the company Website to post a complaint. As a result, the company gets a marketing bonus out of the customer interaction, because others can see how quickly the company responded to the complaint -- and the customer's frustration level can be quickly lowered.
Zendesk for Twitter allows the help desk to monitor Twitter's global timeline for tweets about the company and the product, and to identify user experience complaints and pull them into the customer support workflow. It also allows Animoto to associate Twitter accounts with customer accounts, so the trouble ticket history can be correlated between the two.
"What Zendesk for Twitter does is it fills a gap where if someone has a customer support inquiry and they tweeted it to us, it lets us capture that and bring it into the customer service workflow to make sure it's being answered," Korhonen says. "With the latest upgrades, it's also helping marketing, because now we can create searches that we can assign to, say, an intern or a marketing person or customer support to keep an eye on, and we can respond to tweets a lot faster."
Other areas of the customer relationship are starting to leverage social media connections as well. Nimble, a software-as-a-service "social CRM" company founded by Jon Ferrara -- also the founder of the mother of all contact management software companies, GoldMine -- is connecting contact management and customer relationship management to social networks. Pulling together all of the information on a contact from both external and internal social networks, it gives salespeople and customer service representatives deeper information about the person they're dealing with -- as well as things the customer may have tweeted about that are relevant to the customer relationship.
For some people, that level of awareness can be a little creepy. I remember the vague unease I felt when a Comcast representative quickly responded to a tweet I posted about issues with my Internet service.
But that sort of connection is inevitable as we increasingly use social networks as part of how we do our daily business. And businesses need to recognize that, in a conversation with customers, listening is just as important as talking.
— Sean Gallagher is an award-winning IT journalist and the former head of InformationWeek Labs. Gallagher is now an independent journalist and technology consultant based in Baltimore. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.