It is tempting to swoop in to a customer's rescue via Twitter: real time complaints answered in near real time by the company - with the entire world watching. When it works, it works spectacularly. As just one example, the Consumerist - not a publication to automatically bow to companies' customer service PR stories - recently spotlighted a happy ending story featuring GE and Twitter.
Briefly, a software developer/blogger/tweeter's parents came home to find the door to their GE Hotpoint gas stove shattered in pieces on the floor after it apparently fell off. Their son tweeted GE customer service and within 24 hours it had reached out to the couple. "I'm thoroughly impressed by GE's Social Media response team on Twitter. To get a response in less than a day, and a free service call scheduled within 48 hours is a huge customer service win on GE's part," was Mike626's concluding tweet. "That a company so large can provide such personal service is a testament to the power of a tool like Twitter."
It doesn't get much better than that for both customer and company. On the other end of the spectrum is the war of words that broke out between actor Kevin Smith and Southwest earlier this year when Smith tweeted about being asked to leave a flight because of his size. Both eventually took to their blogs to fully explain their case because of the limited nature of Twitter.
That could be one rule of thumb for companies: if the customer's complaint is complicated or sensitive, indicate on Twitter that you would like to reach out to him or her directly to resolve the problem. But in many cases it is unclear how a resolution might unfold. Companies might want to consider the example of the Washington Post, which recently decreed that reporters not respond to complaints about news articles via Twitter at all, according to TBD, which republished the email from the Washington Post.
"Perhaps it would be useful to think of the issue this way: when we write a story, our readers are free to respond and we provide them a venue to do so. We sometimes engage them in a private verbal conversation, but once we enter a debate personally through social media, this would be equivalent to allowing a reader to write a letter to the editor - and then publishing a rebuttal by the reporter."