Twitter: A Customer Communication Lifeline

When you’re talking with your best and most trusted friends, there is no need to defend yourself with disclaimers, overly defined examples, or defensible arguments. The conversation just happens. When two friends know each other well, they finish each other’s sentences.

Wouldn’t it be great to communicate like that with your customers? To what extent are they delighted or disgusted with your products or services? What did they think of the last product? Did they care about the new Web site, or was it your personal attention to their e-mails and the fact someone returned their call the same day that mattered? Stepping back, isn’t getting a response to these questions what good marketing is all about?

Line of Communication

I think anything that gets you that close to understanding what customers really think is all that really matters. Twitter is a means to make this happen, and forward-thinking companies including Delta Air Lines, Dell, JetBlue, Southwest Airlines and many others are using Twitter as a means of connecting to customers with greater focus than has been possible before. Check out the Twitter Brand Index from the Fluent Simplicity blog.

Twitter is breaking down the walls that isolated companies from their customers. It’s a quiet but very active revolution. Customers are changing how they want to interact with you, and it’s time to start listening to them.

Andrew McAfee, who defined the term “Enterprise 2.0,” wrote an excellent entry on his blog this week describing Twitter’s growth and its context in enterprises. Incidentally, if you don’t have McAfee’s blog in your RSS (really simple syndication) reader, add it — it continues to be a great source of learning.

With any change, there are contrarians — those who resist it. Yet I argue that anything that breaks down bureaucratic walls and gets around processes meant to serve companies’ internal measures of performance and not customers’ is of lasting value. In fact, the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research study, “Social Media in the Inc. 500: The First Longitudinal Study,” illustrates how growing companies are the most aggressive adopters of social networking and see it as critical to their growth. To be clear, this isn’t about selling more or schmoozing your customers more — it’s about listening more and serving them with greater value, increased responsiveness, and, most of all, understanding that they deserve to be listened to.

Downturn Remedy

Brendan Peat, who writes for the Wikinomics blog, did an interest blog post this week titled, “Could Web 2.0 tools be the saving grace for organizations during a recession?” He argues that the greater the level of listening skills, learning skills and collaboration skills a company develops, the greater its ability to withstand economic uncertainty, because its network of knowledge grows. Any customer-facing strategy — most of all, marketing — needs to be much more concerned with learning how to serve unmet needs and less about pushing products at customers.

One of the foremost industry analysts in this area, Jeremiah Owyang, senior analyst with Forrester Research authored this post, Why brands Are Unsuccessful in Twitter, which is worth checking out as well. His insights and regular contributions on Twitter make the immediacy of it for companies and their customers real.

Customers are in the process of redefining how they want to talk with you. Keep up with the conversation, get a company account on Twitter, and staff it with people who have the authority to make things happen fast — and that is the essence of fulfilling the commitment of being customer-driven.

Louis Columbus is senior manager, enterprise systems at Cincom Systems and a former senior analyst with AMR Research. He has worked with enterprise clients on defining solutions to their channel management, order management and service lifecycle management strategies. He also teaches graduate-level international business and marketing courses at Webster-Loyola Marymount University and University of California, Irvine. He is the author of 15 books on technology and two books on analyst relations. His book, Getting Results from your Analyst Relations Strategies, can be downloaded for free. You can contact Louis on Twitter at @LouisColumbus.

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