Salesforce.com is implementing a new customer service tool for businesses, but is it a tech savvy move or just plain creepy?
Salesforce.com today announced a beta program for its Service Cloud that incorporates Twitter. The Service Cloud is a program for businesses that takes advantage of online knowledge bases, communities, social networks, and now Twitter to provide customer service and help. Now, the Service Cloud will scour the Tweetosphere for tweets that apply to a particular business. Customer service representatives could then interject themselves into a Twitter conversation to provide immediate help.
For example, a software company using Salesforce.com might come across a Twitter conversation where Steve is complaining to his friend about a particular bug in a computer program he's used for the last year. With Twitter and the Service Cloud, the software company could immediately send Steve a note about how to solve his problem or when to expect a fix.
On its face, Twitter-based assistance sounds like a nice idea. You need a problem solved, and the software company gets to act like the good neighbor passing along assistance. However, when you really think about it, isn't the software company essentially spying on you? Now, I know what some of you are going to say, "But, Ian, it's public conversation, you idiot! The whole point is that anyone can add to the conversation!" Fair enough, but imagine having the same discussion in a café, where a customer service rep on a break happens to overhear you and helps out. If it happened once, you probably wouldn't mind and would be happy to have a fix for your problem. But what if every time you talked about any product in that cafe, a customer service rep or salesmen was sitting next to you and jumped in with some advice.
Not just once, not just twice, but every time. It seems to me that is where we'll end up if companies are scouring Twitter for conversations about their products. It's one thing for a customer to come to a company with a question, or sign up for a fan page on Facebook, or willingly follow a company's posts on Twitter. But it's something else entirely when companies start hunting you down to talk about what you're doing at that exact moment in time. It's true that vendors already interact with you via direct mail, keyword-based advertising, e-mail advertisements and so on. However, in every one of those instances you are contacted only after you have initiated contact.
That is a small but significant difference. It means that when you initiate contact, you are in control and you decide when and how to interact with that company. But when it's left up to the corporation to find us, who's in control and how do we cut off contact when we want to? It seems to me that's a far more difficult question to answer than, "what are you doing?