I just wrote a brief assessment of a new service from hosted service provider Voxeo which makes it very easy for companies to programmatically handle Twitter-based conversations. Earlier this year the company acquired IMified, a company that specializes in automated handling of instant messaging (aka, creating those lovable IM-bots). Voxeo, which already supports voice and mobile texting (both SMS and USSD) as well as IM, has been quick to add Twitter to the multi-channel mix. The first step was to provide a fast-and-easy way for developers who are already offering information through IM-bots to add a Twitter ID to them. Then comes a certain amount of magic. As the IMified folks explain on their blog:
If you have an existing IM bot, you can now connect a Twitter id to it. You don’t need to write any special code, deal with Twitter API rate limits, or do anything new with Twitter. Things will just work. Simply log into your account, select your application, and activate Twitter.
After you connect Twitter to your app, we’ll start sending you all the direct messages and mentions (aka @ replies) that it gets. Your app responds to those just like any other incoming instant message and we send your response back to the other person. If they sent you a DM, we’ll respond via DM. If the message was a mention, we’ll reply in kind. You can also push messages to Twitter users, sending them an @ reply or a direct message.
So picture this in the customer care or self-service workflow. Companies can passively monitor mentions of their brands, products or services across a broad spectrum of channels. They can immediately forward those comments to customer care agents or "experts" that are logged onto an IM network or monitoring monitoring a specific Twitter ID. Under the right circumstances, either the IM bots or Twitter bots can be put to work to elicit more information from customers before a customer service agent, technical support specialist or remote expert is brought into the equation. As an example, when a disgruntled customer complains about a wireless handset, a 'bot could respond and ask for more detail, such as a model number or date of purchase, before placing the message into a queue.
The move is not without controversy. 'Bots are something that customers either love or hate and there are members of the Twitter community who would definitely vote them off the island, along with spam artists, direct marketing specialists and purveyors of links to malware. Personally, I'd enjoy a return to the days before AplusK and OPrah. But that is not to be.
Embracing so-called "Social Media" is a big step in providing better customer care. One nice thing about this approach is that it enables customers to determine how they want to communicate with their chosen vendors. It is a small step toward "Vendor Relationship Management". Thankfully, I have yet to see a Tweet with the payload “Please let me know how I have provided excellent service to you today”, but it falls well shy of the 140 character limit.