It is a common realization that technology changes accelerate, while behaviors, and in particular enterprise business practices, often suffer from inertia. I just had, coincidentally, two contradictory examples related to this.
One of my frequent correspondents, a very active user of Twitter, let’s call her Brenda, shared her ordeal in a succession of 140-character messages when the TrulyWorthless Cable company tooks days to fix her cable service, keeping her under virtual house arrest every time they were assuring her that they were going to show up. Yesterday, she tweeted that in the end she got a credit for… $2.72 on her bill for the service interruption. Now, in an ideal but far from impossible world, the Customer Service and/or the Marketing people at the cable company would be on Twitter, and would search for all the tweets that mention their name, so that Brenda’s rants would have alerted them. They would have known that since Brenda has hundreds of followers, many of whom may have “retweeted” her posts, this is not good. And they might have tweeted back to her, assuring her that they were sorry and were going to review what compensation she deserved for her inconvenience. Conveniently, they would have sent Brenda a public reply, so that others than Brenda would know that they really cared. A public fiasco could have been turned into a nice PR opportunity. End of first anecdote.
Today, I received an e-mail from the Hyatt chain’s frequent client program (it’s okay to name people when they do something right — I didn’t say who the other company was, did I?), in which they announced that I could sign up to correspond with their concierge service via Twitter. So say I arrive in a distant city in the morning, bleary-eyed, and I’d like to make sure they get a room ready early so that I can rest and shower: I could tweet them while taxiing to the arrival gate, which is a lot easier than calling over the background noise. Or I could ask for an extension of my checkout time while sitting in a business lunch that ran over. End of second anecdote.
In other words, “TW” does not understand that people communicate differently now (even though they provide the very infrastructure that enables this) and that not only should their clients be able to reach them that way, but they can even be proactive to detect any “rumors” about them that are flying through the ether. Conversely, someone at Hyatt thought along the lines of “clearly we have to make ourselves accessible through this medium, let’s modify the business process in order to take advantage of the technology, and perhaps even gain a competitive advantage that way, reduce the time needed to solve a problem, etc.”
The key difference between the two companies is probably just that one marketing / customer service organization is more technologically savvy than the other. But the message that the clients receive is not “the Hyatt people are more aware of twittermania,” it is “the cable guys don’t care to listen to us.” Companies that deliver services need to adopt the communication technologies that their customers use, otherwise they will start encountering big and bad surprises.