You don’t need to go too deep into the social media marketing world nowadays before someone will bring up @comcastcares. While certainly not the only example now of a company that’s doing customer service via Twitter, Comcast was one of the first to put a representative out there who was empowered to actually make things happen. There are many, many case studies out there alredy about how people have sent direct messages or replies to that user and gotten immediate or at least drastically speedier resolution to their Comcast problems than they would have had they gone through the usual phone call or email routes.
It certainly is a revolutionary way to do things. This is an authorized company representative that’s out in the community responding to questions, following up on issues and otherwise interacting with customers. To do something like this in the offline world Comcast – or any of other companies like Zappos or Dell or a handful of others using this tactic – would have to put a similarly-empowered representative in local neighborhoods at approximately (based on the number of followers @comcastcares has) one for every 5,000 customers. So in my hometown of Elmhurst, IL there would have to be about eight Comcast employees living amongst the populace, any of whom could knock on their door and expect results at all hours of the day.
And it’s that sort of scalability issue that make this model of customer service almost impossible to bring to the masses. But that’s very much not the point.
Many of the followers of comcastcares and the other companies on Twitter are social media marketing practitioners who are following them for the case study potential. They’re watching how those companies are managing their interactions and other communications for best practice adherence and such. So while they might also be customers of Comcast, that’s a secondary notion to making sure that the company is doing Twitter “well.”
While some hold up examples like these as the future of customer service that’s not really reasonable. I don’t know how many customers Comcast has for its myriad of services, but at about 5,000 per representative you can see it would take a lot more man-power than is truly feasible to expand this model into the non-online-influencer world.
But that’s not the point. Comcastcares and other Twitter-based customer service models are very much about managing the online reputation of the company. If they can make sure these influencers are happy with the product along with other first-adopters and get some good case studies and word-of-mouth generated through this effort then that will influence their search results when the non-influencer hits Google to see what people are saying about the company.
That’s not a bad thing. In fact any step forward in the realm of customer service is a good thing. But I think that some people need to settle down with prognosticating about how this model is going to change things need to see it for what it is and acknowledge the shortcomings before putting all their eggs in this basket.