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Ignore Your Customers on Twitter and They Will Ignore You

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When people will listen, I never fail to tell them just how much I believe that social media will revolutionise the process of customer service in 2012. I've talked about it in the past from various angles - not least that the graduates of today don't remember a life before the internet - but I think that this year we will reach a tipping point.

Why am I so sure? Well I have been working on a book about Twitter over the past couple of months - in fact, I still have room for a few more interviews if you know any really interesting Twitter users.

This process of research has allowed me to talk in detail with several corporate leaders using Twitter in a way that reduces their bottom line, speeds time to market, increases their offering to customers, or just helps them stay ahead of the competition. All those phrases will sound familiar to anyone studying corporate strategy, yet they have rarely been attributed to the use of Twitter in the past.

The changing nature of customer service is a great example. It is an area of corporate life that has not really changed for years. Giving customers a freepost address was a step forward, as was offering a freephone number they could use to reach an agent (at ever larger contact centres), and then the customer service email address became a normal sight stamped on the side of any consumer product.

None of these advances ever changed the customer experience in any fundamental way. The customer bought the product. They had a problem. They got in touch with the manufacturer through a prescribed route that allowed the company to funnel complaints and categorise them into important, not so urgent, and loony tunes.

This has now been turned around completely. The Facebook or Twitter user can complain about a product without ever directly addressing the manufacturer - just by writing what they think about the product. That complaint can be seen, and very easily multiplied by, all of their online friends greatly amplifying the effect of the initial complaint and so it may even be true that the consumer can be complaining about something they have never even bought.

What amplifies this situation even further is that if a product complaint is made online and then addressed quickly, the consumer can be transformed into a brand advocate. The initial complaint is likely to be forgotten as the consumer gushes with online praise about how the company handled the situation. Likewise, if ignored, a minor complaint can get bigger - with the fact that the complaint was ignored being likely to carry more weight than the initial problem.

Consumers will complain using their own channels whatever you as a company ask them to do, so social media for customer service can no longer be ignored. It's no longer a cool, trend-setting, inclusive, and awesome area to explore. If you are not answering your consumers within the social web then they will just assume that you are ignoring them.

And if you are ignoring them, they will tell all their followers to ignore your product. And their followers will tell their followers. Until the traditional customer service manager who once joined Twitter to see what all the fuss was about will find that they either have no job because the company is going under, or they have no job because the board realised in time that they need to listen to their consumers. The dinosaurs of customer service are about to be reminded what extinction is all about.

I'm speaking at Edinburgh castle about this customer service revolution on 18 January. It's a free breakfast event and I'd love to say hello if you are in Scotland. Registration details can be found here.