Over the past few months, many participants in #localgovchat have suggested government agencies are ready or should at least strongly consider having their frontline staff – the ones who answer questions on the phone, at the counters and via email everyday – start tweeting to citizens as a customer service option. Why not? They apparently have the knowledge and experience to answer customers in more traditional settings, right? Any of their emails or even phone calls could easily end up online in seconds. So what’s the difference. The more and more I think about this, the more and more I wonder what the real motives are behind many local governments adoption of social media. It is obviously a great tool for public relations. It is obviously a great tool for crisis communications. And for some customers, it is also a great way to provide great customer service and provide it openly for the world to see.
There was a nice piece by Ginger Conlon here last week about customers using social media to “jump the queue” because it is so public and agencies need to shine or the ‘Groundswell’ will rebel. There are case studies after case studies, book after book about how Twitter especially has at the very least created the perception that good customer service is being provided overall. The customer gets VIP treatment and the agency gets kudos. ‘They must care and they must be good because they’re using Twitter. Cool. Hip.’ But is the agency’s motive to use the tools to provide excellent customer service? Partially. Is the agency’s motive – or at least a big part of it – to make their public face look as good as possible. Definitely. And are they hurting their core customer group which still using phone and email by shifting focus on social media?
And when Twitter – or any of the future tools that will replace it – become mainstream for frontline employees doesn’t it lose shine. If the thousands of answers to inquiries we respond to daily at my dayjob were all on Twitter, would the public want to follow that stream? If customers couldn’t use Twitter to “jump the queue,” would they still use it to receive customer service about serious issues from government? While civic tracking systems like SeeClickFix are making basic requests public and open and allowing government to post results, I would love to see a study of a single type of more complex request submitted through phone, email, Twitter, a popular local blog, and 311-type application. Which is more effective for the customer? Any guesses?
The basic question here is whether government wants or even think it is able to set a Twitter-type pace for overall customer service if the PR return on that investment diminished? For example, I’m no longer surprised when I tweet about a popular brand and they respond. I now expect it. I now want more. Is this what government wants? What does the public want?
Join us tonight at 9 pm EST on #localgovchat for more on this issue. Don’t know what #localgovchat is? See here.
This post first appeared on localgovchat.com.