Even Wireless Beasts Listen When You Tweet

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Fortunately for all, despite the rhyming title, this post does not announce my entry into a new career in poetry.

About a month ago, a customer complaining about mobile service ended up drawing T-Mobile and AT&T into a public war over his account; even T-Mobile CEO John Legere stepped into the fray. How the world has changed.

Twenty years ago, this was impossible. You could walk into the store and complain, send a fax, or write a strongly-worded letter. If the company really mistreated you, you could try and find an angle to get a newspaper to publish it. The most you would get is a letter back from a Senior Manager or maybe Director of Customer Service, or, in the rare cases, a VP.

Ten years ago, this was very unlikely. Sure, you could track down a senior executive's direct business email address, and email them, but unless you were a very large customer - say, GE, with 20,000+ business wireless accounts - they would at best pass you down the line, more likely ignore you or even add you to their spam filter.

But today, they cannot ignore you, because that tweet is public. Sure, you added their @ account or # tag, but the only one who can delete that tweet is, well, you, and everyone can see it and retweet it.

At the same time, the marketing value of a senior executive or the CEO him/herself jumping in has jumped tenfold. If the CEO actually emailed you back, you had as much a platform as you had for your original email: not very large. On the other hand, because tweets are, by definition, very public, the response is immediately public, in a visible place, and subject to a lot of retweeting.

While the same dynamic could exist in Facebook - you can post on the company's Page a question, comment or complaint - companies have strict control over their Page. They can, and often do, remove posts that show them in a bad light.

It is still very early in the process of change wrought by social media on customer communications and relations. However, the publicity of customer praise and complaints, combined with the public nature of the response for good or ill, will strengthen the hands of companies that focus on delivering good service and rapid response, and weaken those who do not.