To companies' delight no doubt, Twitter has introduced two new tools that its users can use to talk to companies privately. 

To companies' double delight, no doubt, Salesforce plans to support integration of these tools into its Service Cloud.

Before we get into these offerings though, let's let our inner customer service advocate run amok just a bit.

The Platform of Last Resort

For years Twitter has been the consumer’s venue of last resort to get some action from a company regarding a problem. It is easy to see why — few companies want to attract the avalanche of consumer scorn that is so easily triggered on Twitter.

That is part of the reason, no doubt, why more companies are investing more of their customer service budgets to handling complaints on Twitter. 

Last year Simply Measured reported that the number of top brands with dedicated customer service handles increased by 19 percent year-over-year.

The Phone vs. Twitter

I can add some color to this phenomenon with my own experience in the trenches. Very recently I had a question for my health insurance provider, a company that I long ago realized had set up a Byzantium maze specifically for its individual plan policy-holders that wanted information that wasn’t easily available online. Translation: an hour-long hold on the only channel available to ask questions, a 1-800 number, was not unusual.

As I was waiting on the phone it occurred to me to send a Tweet to said company’s general Twitter handle. (Did I mention the only official customer service contact point was a general 800 number?)

As I multi-tasked on the computer, the phone on hold on speaker in the background, I saw my Tweet got a direct answer — 20 minutes after it had been sent. Would I give the rep a number to call? I did and lo and below the rep called almost immediately — coming through the other line as the first was still on hold waiting for a rep to slog through the suckers policy-holders waiting their turn. (No worries fellow consumer advocates, I later posted some friendly advice to other policyholders on the company’s Facebook page about my solution to the wait time).

So it was with some interest I read about Twitter's new tools and Salesforce's embrace of them.

One is called Direct Message. As Ian Cairns, product manager, explains it in a blog post, "Customer service conversations often start in Tweets, but then need to transition to a private channel when personal information is required."

Direct Message is a way for businesses to add a deep link to their Tweets to the customer on which they can send that information.

The other tool, Customer Feedback, is a channel for users to privately share their opinions with a business after a service interaction. It can also serve as a de facto survey tool by companies, as it supports two industry standard question formats: Net Promoter ScoreSM (NPS) and Customer Satisfaction (CSAT).

"Care teams have told us they love the open-ended feedback they get from people via Tweets and Direct Messages, but they also need the ability to survey customers in a structured way to better measure and improve their service experience," Cairns wrote. "Customer Feedback makes it easy for customers to share their feedback with a business after a customer service conversation."

Salesforce Closes the Loop With CRM Integration

This is where Salesforce comes in, closing the loop by adding the information these surveys and direct messages have collected.

Customer Feedback and Direct Message can integrate into its Customer Success Platform, an offering circa 2014 that wrapped up cloud-based mobile and social tools with sales, customer service, marketing, communities, apps, and analytics.  The Twitter offerings also integrate with the Service Cloud, a spokesperson told CMSWire.

Specifically, she said that the interactions themselves will occur on Twitter, but the feedback from the conversation will automatically routed into Salesforce, where teams can analyze and act upon it. "For the [Direct Message] prompts, service agents can send private message prompts from Salesforce so the conversation is private and can be resolved quickly and efficiently."

Salesforce will support Customer Feedback later this quarter and Public to Private Direct Messages is expected to be available in in the third quarter of 2017.

To be sure, there is clearly a case for customers wishing to speak to companies privately, especially if the conversation will involve information about their accounts. Such channels are also part of customers’ expectations as Mike Milburn, SVP and GM of Salesforce Service Cloud, wrote in a blog post announcing the integrations.  Social media, he wrote, "has created a new expectation for businesses to provide instant, always available customer service."

In other words, companies have other, very legitimate reasons to help their customers take their conversations offline besides wanting to, to be blunt, shut them up as fast as possible where others can watch.  

Twitter, itself, provides ample statistical data supporting the benefits to both customer and company when its channel is used for customer service. It has found,  for example, that company responses to customer service issues on Twitter increase customer satisfaction with that brand, especially in the CPG, tech and auto sectors.

Also,  in another study, it found that customers who received replies from airlines on Twitter were more willing to recommend the airline and willing to pay more money for a ticket for that airline in the future, almost $9 on average more.

Still A Public Forum

All of which is good for commerce. For the most part companies want to keep their customers happy and coming back for more. Getting specific messages faster about problems or issues will aid that process. And older channels like the call center still have trouble integrating with newer CRM processes.

But some companies really don’t want to deal with their customers, especially when they are in a semi or informal monopolistic position. Like my health insurance provider with its one general 800 number for customers to use. One time I asked a rep why the company didn’t offer email support or live chat. I forgot what the response was but it was along the lines of the company is evaluating that technology.

But here is some technology it had evaluated and put into place. In my phone calls with the rep who contacted me after my Tweet, the number displayed on caller ID. Out of curiosity I called it back to discover it was a one-time number created just for me.

No matter, I know how to get in touch with them the next time I need a question answered.