Customer Service on Twitter: Company-Customer Expectations and Service Configurations

Customer Service on Twitter: Company-Customer Expectations and Service Configurations

Alexa K. Fox (Ohio University, USA) and Scott Cowley (Arizona State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8408-9.ch006
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Twitter is one of the world's most popular social media websites, and company spending on social media is rapidly increasing. One area of investment for companies in social media is customer service, but many marketers struggle to understand how micro-blogging can be integrated into customer service efforts. The purpose of this chapter is to explore customer service interaction on micro-blogs by understanding company and customer expectations on Twitter. The authors examine (1) whether gaps in service expectations exist between consumers and companies in a customer service scenario and (2) the impact of specific customer service response configurations on these consumer-company expectation gaps. Results of a study of Twitter users and customer service providers suggest that differences exist between customers' expectations of customer service on Twitter and companies' understanding of these expectations. The authors discuss how managers can use their understanding of these differences to make better decisions about service delivery through Twitter and other social media websites.
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Micro-blogging platforms give rise to a seemingly endless stream of information that captures many of the attitudes, behaviors, and experiences of the people who use them. Not surprisingly, many companies view micro-blogging platforms like Twitter and Sina Weibo as troves of real-time market intelligence as well as platforms for promoting products and services. While Twitter is not the largest nor most popular social network overall, it has the distinction of being the largest indexable, accessible, searchable network, thus allowing companies to mine the streams of updates and conversations for relevant topics. When these updates and conversations include mentions of a company, its products, or employees, the company is motivated to respond and participate in the conversation.

One particularly salient aspect of business social media communication on micro-blogging websites is customer service. In 2013, nearly 20% of companies handled more than a quarter of their customer service inquiries via social media (Daugherty 2013). The number of brand responses to customer service tweets continues to increase, and has more than doubled from the first quarter of 2013 to the first quarter of 2014 (SimplyMeasured 2014). Clearly, Twitter has become a very influential micro-blogging site and presents a plentiful ground where companies can address customer service issues.

The open nature of micro-blogging websites such as Twitter is unique in that it not only allows customers to voice complaints or positive feedback directly to companies on the platform, but also allows other consumers the opportunity to observe and respond to these consumer-company conversations publicly. Naturally, companies would like to maximize visibility for Twitter conversations that speak favorably about the company and minimize, or at least mitigate, negative word-of-mouth. However, companies struggle to know (1) how to best allocate resources toward customer service on emerging new media platforms like micro-blogging websites and (2) whether any process or training modifications are needed compared with existing customer service channels (Rust and Huang 2012). Fortunately, the road toward successfully navigating these strategic decisions can be smoothed using two principles. First, the company must understand how unique aspects of the micro-blogging platform contribute to the formation of consumer expectations of service encounters and company awareness of these expectations. These expectations may differ from each other, and may differ from expectations in other service channels. Second, the company must understand the configurations of customer service fulfillment that are available and unique to micro-blogging websites like Twitter, and how these different configurations also shape customer and company expectations of service encounters.

Executives experience difficulties in understanding how consumers’ expectations of service change on a “real-time social network” and how real-time communications can be effectively integrated into marketing communication efforts (Ferrell and Ferrell 2012). An understanding of consumer expectations is a critical part of the Gaps Model of Service Quality (Fisk et al. 1993). The model suggests that in a customer service scenario, consumer evaluations of service quality are influenced by their pre-service expectations, and unless service providers are aware of these expectations, the actual service response may create a Customer Gap. The gap represents the difference between customer expectations and subsequent perceptions of the service experience, which can lead to lower service quality evaluations and result in costly customer behaviors including diminished loyalty, negative word-of-mouth, and ultimately defection. Therefore, companies must strive to close the Customer Gap by understanding and acting on consumers’ service expectations.

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