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A company’s Twitter account does not need thousands of dedicated followers to make an impact. Unlike celebrities and media personalities, companies and their customers increasingly use Twitter as another channel for customer service questions and answers.

Although some companies inspire devoted followers, firms such as Penske, the moving truck company, is unlikely to get people too excited. Yet it has trained its customer service representatives to monitor the account closely, looking for tweets posted by curious customers.

One potential customer, choosing between Penske and Budget, made up her mind on the basis of the rapidity with which Penske responded to her question about whether the moving trucks featured CD players. Budget took several days to respond—and by then, she’d already signed a contract with Penske.

The appeal of this customer service channel is multifaceted. First, it is easy to find a company on Twitter, perhaps easier than finding the corporate phone number. Second, for many consumers, accessing information through mobile devices, rather than telephones, is their primary approach. Third, no one has to listen to the interminable recording that answers most customer service lines (e.g., “Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line…”).

The problem for smaller companies is finding a way to staff this new channel, and ensuring that the responses fit with the company’s image and mission. But a recent study also showed that the largest 100 companies in the world combined are the subjects of more than 6 million tweets every month. If a hashtag leads to that much free publicity, it may be that firms have no choice but to prepare some 140-character responses.

Source: Alex Schmidt, “Twitter Lets Customers Skip Recordings, And Make Choices,” NPR, August 15, 2012.