Sturgeons Law, Customer Service and Twitter

Sturgeons Law or revelation states that 90% of everything is crap. Now there is some debate as to whether he was speaking just about Science Fiction (he was a sci fi author) or literally about everything. Regardless of his target this quote first made in 1951 seems incredibly prophetic today when considering social media.

I have dipped my toe in this ‘pond’ and have found the law to be correct; 90% of everything on the net and on social media is in fact crap. I mean really, who cares what you or I for that matter, had for breakfast? The social media ‘pond’ is incredibly wide, but disturbingly shallow. To explore this premise I first looked at Twitter, life in 140 characters.

A review of the Twitter clickstream reveals congratulations to the Jonas brothers Mothers birthday for giving birth, a retweet of a link to Lance Armstrong’s crash at the Tour de France, homage to Harvey Pekar (a cartoonist) and Steve Nash’s goodbye to a former Suns teammate. Perhaps the clickstream is too broad to really mine any great value from this social media channel.

Drilling down to search just customer service on Twitter helps to demonstrate this fact…of more than 200 tweets under the topic of customer service revealed perhaps a surprising result;

more than a third of all tweets in the search were job postings to hire customer service staff, 19% were posts of a promotional nature…read my posts, buy my services etc, 16% were ‘darts’ of tweets saying that company XYZ has terrible customer service (it is interesting to note the only repeated company was AT&T), 12% were ‘How to Guides’ for social media and/or customer service (many of these could also have been categorized as promotional, they just don’t appear to be gratuitous, 10% were Kudos to companies with good or great service tied to a specific event, 6% were mundane observations; on my break watching the customers in line, hoping they will be gone before my break ends etc, and lastly 4%of the tweets were actually focused on customer service via twitter; company XYZ suggests that @colinsataylor calls our call center at 1-877-XXX-XXXX so we can resolve your problem. For all the talk, chatter and blathering about leveraging social media to support your customer service a remarkably small number of companies actually appear to be doing so.

Sturgeons’ Law is really akin to the Pareto principal, better known as the 80/20 rule that says that 80% of you Revenues come from 20% of your customers. We know that the 80/20 split is arbitrary but there is a number for most companies that will reflect something close to this ratio. Sturgeons’’ Law is an arbitrary number also and in some situations the content that is not crap may be more than 10%. In my small study if we remove the Jobs, gratuitous promotion, ‘How to’ guides and the mundane observations we are left with kudos, darts and actual Customer Service activities totalling 30%. If we examine only the actionable opportunities; the darts and true requests for Customer Service the number drops to 20%. In this case it appears that only 80% of everything on twitter is crap.

So, how are we to employ Twitter in our call centers to improve our customer service? I suggest it is by looking at the 20% cited above that is not crap. Too many companies and individuals simply employ Twitter as a ‘broadcast’ media, that is to say they simple write a promotion message and keep tweeting it, over and over. This would be the majority of the Promotional and at least half of the Educational Tweets cited in my mini study above or fully 25% of all tweets reviewed. The constraint of 140 characters regardless of how small your tinyurl is can be little more than “trust me I can help you, tweet call or email me”. If instead of trying to cram a promotional broadcast message into such a small space we are better to try and find out the problems, pains and challenges that need solving. To do this on Twitter as in life we need to listen. For my money the best application for Twitter in a customer service call center is as a listening post. By monitoring the clickstream and identifying the 16% of dissatisfied customers and reaching out to them, you may be able to help them resolve their issues. Please direct those needing assistance to the call center, don’t try to deliver service via Twitter. If we can help a customer or prospect resolve their issue, not only will they stop slinging ‘darts’ they may actually provide positive word of mouth and even kudos via Twitter and other social media channels. At the end of day Sturgeon is right and most of everything is crap. If we ignore the crap and listen to our customers, try to help those throwing darts, retweet those sharing kudos and direct those actively seeking support we will have done our part to assist these customers but also to support our companies and brands.

One thought on “Sturgeons Law, Customer Service and Twitter

  1. Colin Taylor says:

    The orignal quote identified on Wikipedia references ‘crud’ rather than ‘crap’, but I have heard the latter a lot more often, so that is the one I have employed here.

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