Tweeting for Service: Twitter as a Communication Channel for Customer Service

Tweeting for Service: Twitter as a Communication Channel for Customer Service

Ilaria Dalla Pozza (IPAG Business School, Paris, France), Natalie T. Wood (Saint Joseph's University, USA & Edith Cowan University, Australia) and Janée N. Burkhalter (Saint Joseph's University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8408-9.ch005


The purpose of this chapter is to examine the use of Twitter as a communication channel for customer service interactions. The authors discuss the topic of multichannel communication outlets and how popular social media platforms such as Twitter influence the channel choice patterns of today's customers. The chapter presents the findings of in-depth interviews with 50 customers of a major European telecommunications provider aimed at understanding their motivation to use Twitter for service interactions and how Twitter impacts their use of traditional communication channels including telephones and in-person customer representative interactions. Findings reveal that Twitter is a complement for traditional channels. Further, the number of different channels a customer engages with during a particular purchase process is a function of the customer's knowledge for both the channel and the product/service in question.
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The rise of the social media has created new ways for companies and their customers to interact and exchange information. Whether it is through social networking sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn, or social publishing sites such as Instagram or Twitter, customers have a plethora of channels from which to choose. B2C and B2B companies large and small have been quick to experiment with these new channels, examining ways in which they can be integrated with, or replace traditional channels (e.g., call centers, bricks and mortar store fronts and old fashioned postal mail). For instance, European multinational software corporation SAP utilizes traditional communication channels (e.g., telephone, postal mail, and email) as well as a wide selection of social media channels including LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Google Plus. SAP also owns and manages an online community – SCN (SAP Community Network). On SCN customers can ask questions and share information with other customers as well as SAP representatives. Similarly, the Coca-Cola Company has adopted Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Google Plus. Companies are adopting social media channels not only as a way to talk to customers (e.g., advertise), but also as a way to talk with their customers (i.e., customer service). Similarly, customers are drawn to social media channels to seek out product information during the purchase decision-making process, and as a way to interact with the company and other customers post purchase. Whereas post purchase interactions can occur on all social media channels, due to design and popularity some channels are more conducive to service interactions than others. Due to their popularity and texting features Facebook and Twitter are arguably more likely to be used by a customer to contact a company than Instagram or YouTube and is not uncommon for companies to encourage customers to contact them through these specific channels. American multinational consumer electronics company Best Buy, Inc. operates a number of Twitter accounts, one of which adopts the handle @twelpforce. Twelpforce is the Best Buy’s Twitter support channel. If a customer has a question about a product (s)he can contact the company any time of day for assistance. JetBlue Airways (@JetBlue), Nike (@NikeSupport) and Vodafone (@VodafoneUKHelp) are examples of other companies that have embraced Twitter as an information and customer service channel.

A channel’s existence does not guarantee its use by customers for all interactions. Instead customers may choose to engage in multichannel behavior (Kumar & Venkatesan, 2005). Customers may seek out product information in one channel, shop in another (Verhoef, Neslin & Vroomen, 2007), and make a complaint or inquiry through yet another, thus giving rise to various channel choice patterns (Dalla Pozza, 2014). Consequently companies are, to a degree, obligated to adopt a multichannel strategy (Kumar & Venkatesan, 2005), offering an assortment of traditional and new channels to satisfy customer needs. Despite the rise in use of social media, research examining customers’ adoption of social media to interact with companies is scant (Dalla Pozza, 2014). Several authors have called for more research aimed better understand why and how customers choose and use the channels available to them (Dholakia et al., 2010; Neslin et al., 2006). Furthermore, previous research has largely investigated customer adoption behavior leading up to and including the actual purchase. However, post-purchase interactions are unexamined. As such, the objective of this chapter is to identify those factors that influence customers’ decision to adopt Twitter as a communication channel to interact with a company post purchase, and to examine how Twitter complements and/or competes with traditional communication channels.

We begin our chapter by exploring the use of Twitter as a corporate communication channel for customer service and its place in customer relationship management (CRM). From here we explore channel management and behavior with an emphasis on how the adoption of Twitter presents both challenge and opportunities. We then present the findings of a qualitative study of European customers who utilized Twitter to engage with a telecommunications provider – Orange S.A. We concluded with managerial implications and directions for future research.

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