I was reading a couple of posts recently about how Twitter is looking to expand its customer care positioning as ‘a better replacement for 1-800 numbers and online contact forms’.

Twitter to let Brands link up Users’ Twitter Handles with their Customer Accounts for Customer Care

With Customer Care, Twitter Wants to Sharpen its Profile as a Platform to do Business

The planned enhancements of the Twitter platform come on the back of work it is doing with companies such as SproutSocial and Oracle, as well as leveraging Gnip. As part of this positioning perhaps, Twitter published a somewhat lengthy playbook – Customer Service on Twitter – in August 2014, to add to the already burgeoning plethora of definitive guides to social customer care.

Some of the planned functionality includes:

  • linking a customer’s phone number or Twitter credentials to that customer’s account with that business
  • tracking a user’s interactions with a brand over Twitter, indicating whether the customer is having a persistent problem or whether they simply dislike that brand
  • ‘single-tweet resolutions’ that enable an agent to get a fuller picture of a customer’s interactions with the brand, thereby allowing the agent to provide a more direct, specific and relevant response
  • creating a way to better prioritise requests for help that come through via Twitter
  • structuring conversations with customers in a way that keeps the conversation on Twitter, whilst ensuring privacy is maintained (the ability to now write longer DMs is a part of this)

There will undoubtedly be further functionality added (and integrations to existing contact centre platforms made) over the coming weeks and months.

I would imagine that this larger play around customer service has been made to help create a more diversified portfolio of business tools that potentially make Twitter more ‘sticky’ and relevant.

As I read through these posts, however, I can’t help thinking that this is a lost opportunity (perhaps the opportunity never existed in the first place?).

Don’t get me wrong. I acknowledge the key role that Twitter has played as a catalyst to democratise and decentralise customer service; I was part of that early journey. Twitter never set out with the intention to destabilise and shift. Twitter never set out to shake customer service up and highlight that the model we have become accustomed to is no longer fit for purpose. To question the assumptions that we take for granted without realising it. To question and challenge the assumptions that we no longer even understand or know why they are there or what purpose they serve. These were the unintended consequences of serendipity.

Twitter has provided us with a glimpse of something different. Not necessarily better, just more relevant to today’s needs. Something built using today’s technology, reflecting today’s thinking, today’s society.

But I feel that what these announcements highlight is that Twitter is inevitably succumbing to the weight of that traditional model. Instead of proactively and intentionally continuing to innovate and shake up the model, instead of forging a more relevant one, creating an updated set of assumptions, it is without realising it, without meaning to… inadvertently perhaps … nullifying, turning its back on its own efforts and succumbing to the model of service delivery that evolved out of the assembly line. We have not seen the last of Erlang’s Formula!

Where once I thought we might be able to find a way ahead that could deliver ‘scalable intimacy’, I’m not so sure. Where once I thought we might understand what the emerging model of service delivery might look like for the next generation of consumers, I’m not so sure.

A model built on the assumption that Twitter is a ‘better replacement for 1-800 numbers and online contact forms’ seems myopic. Customer service via Twitter should not be about replacement because that still ties it to a creaking model that is increasingly less relevant.

Not everyone will agree with my view. Perhaps, no one. Not everyone will understand it. I’m intentionally critical, intentionally questioning, intentionally provocative and cajoling, not for the sake of it, but because I genuinely live in the belief, that by doing so, we have the opportunity to do things differently. We mustn’t blindly accept. We have, all of us, glimpsed something that is more relevant to our needs. We mustn’t assume beauty just because a different shade of lipstick has been daubed on the proverbial pig.

The reality perhaps is that Twitter, as an agent of innovation, within the customer service space was never going to be possible, once it began to outgrow its start-up jeans and t-shirt in favour of the grey suit and tie of shareholder value.

My recommendation: Start turning your attention to messaging apps and online video. Think about a type of customer service that is pre-emptive, proactive, predictive and cognitive. As Kate Leggett writes in her report on customer service trends of 2015 adopt a ‘mobile-first mentality’.  The key word being ‘mentality’. Twitter was the catalyst. It has served its purpose. Perhaps that is enough. But the future lies somewhere else now.

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