Just how productive can tweeting be? As the Wall Street Journal tells it, Twitter has become an effective platform for customer service at Citibank (Citi Won’t Sleep on Customer Tweets, Oct 4).
Frustrated by the 40 minutes she spent on hold with Citibank customer service, Stacy Small tweeted her displeasure. To her surprise, a Citibank agent tweeted right back. “Send us your phone number and we’ll call you right now,” read the message.
Within minutes Ms. Small, who owns a luxury-travel company in Los Angeles, was on the phone with an agent, one of about 30 customer-service personnel based in Jacksonville, Fla., and San Antonio who have received special training in social media. The agent took such good care of her that, now, whenever Ms. Small has a problem she bypasses the call center and instead tweets her concerns to the Twitter address @askCiti. …
Ms. Small was the beneficiary of a two-year effort by the Citigroup Inc. unit to overhaul the way it interacts with customers using social-networking sites run by Twitter Inc., Facebook Inc. and others.
The article goes on to explain that tweeters are a small part of Citibanks’ customer base (or, more accurately, a small part of the flow of customer service requests). However, there are things about them that make them attractive to the bank.
That is one reason why banks are courting customers in the small, but fast-growing space of social media. These customers tend to be more affluent and faster adopters of new, expense-cutting technology such as online and mobile banking, which makes them particularly valuable to banks at a time when revenue is barely rising.
What’s more, winning them over pays almost instant dividends, since they are just as likely to rave about good experiences—such as the customer who recently thanked Citibank on Twitter for helping him with his mother’s retirement account—as they are to complain about bad ones.
This by no means is the first article touting social media as a platform for customer service (see, for example, this post). And there is certainly something to be said for the ability of Twitter or Facebook to provide rapid insights into the customer experience. If the firm wants to have a proverbial finger on the pulse of its customer-facing processes, there is probably nothing that matches social media’s ability to signal that something is going wrong.
Still, I cannot imagine that two level’s of service is sustainable or desirable. Note that the article’s protagonist tweeted after 40 minutes on hold. That suggests that other people waited 40 minutes or longer too, but no one offered them a quick fix. Having a Twitter account might suggest that you are more tech savvy, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are the customer most deserving of effectively jumping the queue at the call center.
Providing two levels of service should also induce changes in customer behavior. It really isn’t that hard to open a Twitter or Facebook account. It simply isn’t sustainable to provide great service over social media (where great means having a real person respond to you). If it is known that a tweet gets you better service, everyone has an incentive to tweet and the firm will be hard pressed to keep up. Currently, less than 1% of Citi’s inquiries come over social media but they still have trouble keeping up:
The independent study found that while the majority of customer queries on Twitter still go unanswered by the big banks, Citigroup performed markedly better than peers. Citigroup resolved 36% of queries, compared with 11% for Wells Fargo & Co. and 3% for Bank of America. While the latter two banks tended to respond with scripted answers that directed customers to a branch or call center, Citigroup was better at resolving the queries without sending customers offline, the study found.
So this really doesn’t seem like a process that can scale well while still offering above service.