The first thing I thought when I read about Salesforce.com's plan to integrate Twitter into its Service Cloud customer service platform was simple: Who's got the time? The second thing I thought was: Someone could really turn this against their competitors if they wanted to.
The idea behind the Twitter integration is that companies could find people on Twitter with customer service issues and then respond to help solve their problems. I am not sure how appealing this will be.
Most companies I know of have enough customer service requests to handle without going out looking for more.
But, tweak the idea just a little and see what happens: Don't use Service Cloud and Twitter to find your troubled customers and help them--instead find your competitors' customers and help them. Or help yourself to them, depending upon your perspective.
Specifically, help your competitors' unhappy and trouble plagued customers find that the real solution to their problem is to buy what you offer as a replacement.
There are variations on this theme:
A white hat approach might be to solve the problem with the competitor's product and use the process to develop a relationship with the customer that could be mined later.
A black hat approach that might be to pretend to be something you are not. A black hat might pretend to be a real service rep from the company and then dispense bad information to alienate the customer. Alternatively, they might pretend to be a helpful fellow user and deliver as much propaganda as possible. It's all between you and your conscience.
Service Cloud and Twitter are not alone or new in enabling such dirty tricks. Salesforce could even take steps to prevent them, though if there is a buck to be made, someone will appear and try to make it.
The mining of social networks for competitive information, customer comments, and reputation management would seem to work about as well as the process can be automated. If not by Service Cloud, then by something else.
Even if used only for good purposes, some have commented that a helpful customer service rep popping up into your
Twitter stream about a problem would be creepy. Like someone watching over your shoulder, ready to help whether you wanted it or not.
However, suppose all you received was an automated message offering assistance by clicking a link? No human contact until the user initiated it, but once connected they would find a service rep with access to the entire series of Twitter posts about the problem?
There are all kinds of ways this could be tuned to meet a company's available resources. Helpful Tweets might only be sent when plenty of reps were free to handle the service requests they would generate.
I don't know that companies have large numbers of support reps sitting around with nothing to do, but a Service Cloud/Twitter connection could keep them occupied during any spare time that opened up.
Salesforce.com's interest in Twitter is only the latest manifestation in how businesses are looking to use other people's social networks to their own advantage. It's too early to say what will and won't work, but I am going to bet one thing: A lot of people are going to be creeped out, or merely annoyed, before we find know.
David Coursey promises he won't show up in your Tweets offering to help you. But if you want his help, submit your request using the contact form on his Web site, www.coursey.com/contact.