Don't know if you've all seen this article from USA Today last week. It had some interesting insights:
Basically the article profiled some very creative ways businesses are tapping into social media to get closer to their customers. The article recounted some well known stories (ie when Tweeters learned about a power outage during a Stanley Cup Playoffs game, or about how Dell, Comcast, and others are using Twitter to respond to customer complaints or advertise special sales).
I think all these creative uses of Twitter are fascinating, and can create real value for customers (who now have a means of communicating directly to each other and to companies via a medium they prefer and are increasingly flocking to).
From my vantage point looking at Twitter as a source for Customer Experience Intelligence, I still remain convinced that it is only one data point, and perhaps not the best data point, for comprehensive, actionable intelligence, for a number of reasons:
1) The average "tweeter" posts one tweet. Ever. See this study from Harvard, reported by the BBC. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/8089508.stm While Twitter growth has been explosive, basically a very few people are tweeting a very lot. And a lot of what they have to say is not particularly insightful to companies.
2) Companies ARE getting real value in monitoring tweets, and in reaching out to customers to find out what problems they are having, or what suggestions they have. Most companies can count the number of tweets that require an action in the 10s to 100s per day - not much more than a customer support rep covers in a day, and companies who monitor, are finding that the tweets from users are not bad ways to provide support, or an ear for feedback. But looked at this way - this is really just another channel for customer support. Good, but not necessarily transformational. To the extent a support rep has a conversation with a tweeter - the rep is most likely to want to archive the conversation in a CRM system so it can be analyzed alongside all the other channels of support and feedback that are being captured.
3) Call Centers are still where all the action is, and will remain for some time. From the article:
"For perspective, consider the size of call-center operations for major brands. Comcast says it is unlikely to uproot its operations, which employ 25,000 — most of them in the U.S. — in favor of Twitter. "A majority of our customers prefer to contact us by phone," Eliason says."
"Twitter is for basic troubleshooting," says Zsolt Katona, a marketing professor at the University of California-Berkeley's Haas School of Business. "Be careful not to ignore those who rely on the phone for customer support."
4) Every member of the twitter generation is also quite likely to go to review sites, fill out point of sale surveys (online, of course), and even get tech support via online forums (or even use the phone if they have to) - and the information in these sources is richer (contains detailed insight about the experiences, problems, troubleshooting, and problem resolution). These sources also tend to allow companies to "link in" information about the transaction, the reviewer or poster, etc) permitting far more correlation of the user, the product, the experience that generated the feedback, than a twitter post will ever do.
So what am I really saying? In conclusion - Twitter is a good tool for short insights from a random and small community of fervent users. I use it myself, and find it very useful for scanning trends, seeing what people are saying about products and events, and even for communicating with people who have questions about my company or product (a few months ago I even provided some tech support via Twitter to a person who had a question about Clarabridge's offerings).
But it's not a great source of actionable intelligence from a representative segment of a customer base, and it's not a great source for "text mining" insight that can be cross referenced against specific customers, specific experiences, and specific products. The better sources for rich, qualitative/unstructured high volume customer experience insights are (and will remain for some time) call center verbatims, survey feedback (structured and unstructured feedback), and web forums, web discussion groups, web review sites, and community web sites.