Dear New Owners of Twitter: Don’t Screw Up This One Thing, Please


Share on LinkedIn

Right now, the only news story you’ll see about Twitter is speculation about who will acquire the $12B company. It’s a sad fate, but Twitter’s user growth hasn’t met investor expectations and, as a public company, its fortunes are at the mercy of those expectations. (Even though those expectations aren’t always reasonable or relevant.)

Regardless, the company hasn’t stopped evolving its product. Lost in the buy-out chatter was an announcement that, I think, is quite significant: The introduction of specialized “customer service accounts”. This is the second time this year that Twitter has shown it recognizes its unique advantages in this area. It is willing to adapt to the needs of customers and companies who use it as a support channel and that could prove more valuable in the long-run, than all of its current schemes to goose ad revenue.

Twitter Adapts to Customer Service, Part 1

In February, Twitter fixed one of the major problems with customer service interactions: The awkwardness of switching from a public to a private conversation. The fact that all conversations default to public is actually the main reason Twitter became such an important channel for support. (Because, if companies didn’t reply, they faced public shaming.) But once a conversation began, the protection of personal information often required switching to private mode (aka “direct messages”).

Before the February fix, that required the user to “follow” the company. That was awkward because it was not aligned with the general purpose behind “following”. (i.e. I don’t want to add all future messages from this company to my timeline – especially not its support messages – just to have this one-off interaction with them.) So Twitter released a clever fix:

Twitter’s “in line” private messaging feature. [Credit: Twitter]

Twitter Adapts to Customer Service, Part 2

Then a few weeks ago, Twitter introduced a feature that solves another long standing problem. Large companies often have multiple Twitter accounts and it isn’t clear, without checking out the timeline, which is the right one for offering customer service. For example, T-Mobile operates @TMobile and @TMobileAtWork but customer service queries should go to @TMobileHelp. Now Twitter is allowing companies to label the right account with a “Provides Support” icon. (Your humble blogger suggested this last year.) Delta, T-Mobile and United have already activated the feature on their accounts @delta, @united and @TMobileHelp.

A “customer service” account, indicating the time range it is “responsive”. [Source: Twitter]

The Battle to be the B2C Support Channel

What’s at stake here is quite valuable: Which messaging platform will become the de facto channel for text-based customer support? Whoever wins that prize also wins a valuable position in the e-commerce landscape; A position that can be used to gain advantage with brand selection and even payment method. (Twitter experiment with a “Buy Now” button last year. I expect it to resurface again.)

Facebook made its big move in this direction last spring, with the opening of Messenger for Business, followed by unveiling a bot platform. They’ve seen some early success.

But the fight is far from over. Rogers Cable was an early adopter of Messenger, but now is spreading its bet by offering Twitter support too.

The burning question is, can any platform (Facebook, Twitter Snapchat, Kik, Line, etc) “win” the B2C crown? The fact that WeChat has seemingly “won” China, and achieved near dominance for online customer service, adds fuel to this fire. (My take on that: Will the WeChat Model Work in the West?)

If one platform doesn’t take the lead, will companies have to do what Rogers is doing and be active on multiple platforms? We don’t seem to be settling on a clear winner, so I think the answer is yes. Furthermore, I think the longer the game is a toss-up, the better it is for Twitter. It plays directly into their strength: Discoverability.

Twitter’s Strength is Discoverability

Imagine a consumer called Bob. He wants to communicate with a company, but doesn’t know on what channels that company is active. Bob knows some companies respond to SMS, some on Messenger, some have chat features on the website and some are on Twitter. But Bob has limited patience for exploring all these options. If the first few don’t work, he’ll give up and just dial the phone number.

Twitter, with its public timeline, has a unique advantage. Bob doesn’t have to send a message and then wait to see if there is a reply. On Twitter, a company’s responsiveness (or lack thereof) is readily apparent. This “de-risks” Bob’s search for the right channel. One of Twitter’s weaknesses – it’s public nature – turns out to be a key strength.

Everyone is looking for the “WeChat of the West” (see, for example, Re/Code, Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch or GigaOm) implying a “winner take all” scenario. But I suspect WeChat’s rise to dominance was a result of unique circumstances in China, and unlikely to repeat again.

The scenario more likely to play out here is fierce competition among messaging platforms. While that battle rages on, my bet is that Twitter continues to cement its role as de facto customer service channel, even if it lags in functionality. This will be a huge asset in the long run. Their current management team gets this. Let’s hope the new owners, whoever they are, do too!

[Whitepaper] The New Customer Service Lexicon

Learn more about how messaging (including social media) is changing the customer service landscape in this whitepaper. It covers many other terms that are either new to the customer service sector, or have a recently changed meaning, such as:

  • Chat vs. Messaging
  • Virtual Agent vs. Intelligent Agent
  • Virtual Queuing vs. Virtual Hold
  • Conversational Commerce

Plus much more. Download now!

Shai Berger
Shai is the co-founder and CEO of Fonolo, a leading provider of cloud-based call-back solutions. His experience and accomplishments within the customer service industry has positioned him as an influencer in the space. Previously, Shai was the co-founder and CEO of Streamcheck. He holds Master's degree in Engineering Physics from the University of Toronto.


  1. I reckon they won’t – out of self interest. But the ‘new owner’ will likely only happen after there is a decent price tag attached to Twitter

    2 ct from Down Under


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here