Best Buy & Radio Shack: Who Failed w/Twitter Support?

TWITTERBIRDEver since companies like Comcast used Twitter (e.g., @ComcastCares, see BusinessWeek article) for timely response to customer inquiries or issues — before those issues blew up and hurt their brand or as ways to build goodwill with the influencers and early adopters — other organizations looked to this effort and undoubtedly saw the benefits.

Best Buy rolled out something called “Twelpforce” as a way to leverage employee assistance with customer inquiries (see Techcrunch article). Unbeknownst to me, Radio Shack has done the same thing with “The_Shack“, a Twitter account clearly monitored for keywords as you ‘ll see in a moment.

I’ve been skeptical from the get-go on these efforts, since it’s extremely difficult to explain anything but the most basic questions when one has only 140 characters with which to ask it. Like instant messaging, frustration grows quickly when several messages have to go back-n-forth in order to clearly communicate the essence of the request, and this is the #1 reason I expect most Twitter “help” efforts (like Twelpforce and The_Shack) to fail unless steps are taken to move an initial query offline, or be able to add audio or video to the clarification.

On Friday I did a podcast recording with the Blue Mikey, a microphone that connects to the bottom of my iPhone and works great, but realized that my shotgun microphone at the office (with its 3.5mm plug) would’ve been 5x better with so many people standing in a circle as part of the podcast. While I completely understand separate microphone use in the headphone connector on the iPhone is not supported, several people have taken apart cables and created their own connector to allow the use of these 3rd party microphones.

So I went to Best Buy in Eden Prairie, MN to explain the need and see if they could help. Complete cluelessness and only one blueshirt had any interest in helping out. So I jumped in my car and started to head for home, but pulled over and did the audioBoo recording on my iPhone below. Lo-and-behold, Radio Shack’s The_Shack sent me an @ reply asking if they could help.

   Direct link to the mp3

So I thought I’d do an experiment: ask the same question to both Twelpforce and The_Shack and see how fast they respond AND to see who “gets” the essence of what I was asking for and exhibits a willingness to help. To say I was disappointed in one of them would be an understatement.

After the jump, you’ll see the chronology of how this went down and see who — Best Buy or Radio Shack — ultimately prevailed by at least giving me an accurate answer, though not a solution (which I’m still working on). It points out how and why Twitter help is fraught with issues and may very well cause more frustration and problems than it alleviates. 



  1. PXLated on August 2, 2009 at 8:41 am

    Funny, just saw this post – we’ve been exchanging emails on this subject – 140 isn’t enough – you thought I was referring to this when we just happened to be thinking the same thing this morning. 🙂

  2. Desarae on August 2, 2009 at 9:26 am

    I agree and disagree with a lot of this post. The way it’s written though is a good way to at least get best buy and radio shacks attentin (if they are paying attention).

    I agree 140 characters just won’t do for most customer service related issues and that clearly in your case it just made things worse. That and bb could probably use some tips on how to properly respond to a query. That being said you didn’t really give much of a solution if these ppl do read your post. Like top things you should say to be concise (although you did a great job of pointing out what you and most of us look for- timely accurate helpful responses with links to the answer and not some bs response saying they gave up).

    Now if 140 just won’t do- whose to say they couldn’t just use tweetlonger? And though these two brands clearly did a poor job of getting in touch with you offline to make you feel like an important customer and follow up..that doesn’t mean every brand is that way. Great examples of this are: wellsfargo, wachovia, Nike, comcast, zappos, the us army and many more. These brands respond, follow up and take your number and call you rather then making you wait on hold for a random opporator who is lost with out a clue when you finally get them. Instead they look up solutions and then respond.

  3. Steve Borsch on August 2, 2009 at 9:44 am

    Hi Desarae,

    Since this was focused on one issue I had — within the context of these two companies entering the Twitter customer service game — that’s how I wrote the post and it was intended to be the result of one, tiny experiement in experiantial Twitter-based customer service. It wasn’t intended to give a blow-by-blow on how they could fix it.

    Twitlonger, Tweetmic/audioBoo, Twitvid, TwitPic (uploading a screenshot or pic, for instance)–all intended to help describe a person’s query or request that would be hard to do in 140 characters–are certainly solutions to the problem but again, their intent is certainly to get-in-the-game and try stuff, but if no one points out the “Fails”, they won’t know what needs to be fixed.

    You do point out other brands having good success but those, too, are outside the scope of the intent of this post.

    Thanks for reading and commenting! Hope all is well with you too.


  4. the agent featured in this article on August 4, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    The inexplicable duplicate reply was just a software glitch that reposted it. I do apologize for that.

    I don’t think most people realize that the employees at Best Buy have so many products and services to offer and so many things to work with, that we have that answers for a good majority of the questions.

    In this case, which similar ones happen from time to time, the customer has the passion and drive to use a particular product in a very specific and unique way. Only an employee that happens to have the same needs from a product would have an answer because they have already dealt with the same issue. I can’t count how many times people will be talking about some random off-the-wall subject of “Could you use X to do Y?” I happened to wonder this same thing and happened find the answer out on my own. As such, I could provide this unique perspective on this and help out this customer. I believe that is what you were trying to dig up. Do the people that work at Best Buy or Radio Shack have the level of knowledge to solve your particular issue about a very specific way to use a product?

    In my case, no. I didn’t have the proper knowledge to see if there was a product that was already in place to do what you wanted. I did, however, know that you could buy the components to do it yourself. Besides the limited space for a reply, I wouldn’t want to have the possible liability that you took the DIY suggestion I made and somehow, however unlikely, that you damage your $600 iPhone.

    To your other point, you are right. This one instance could be considered a failure due to the method of limited communication. I am located on the west coast. I’ve neither used an iPhone nor does my store even sell them. (ATT has no coverage here until Jan. 2010) I would have loved for a local associate to answer your questions. If there was more coorispondance needed, then an invitation to get an email dialog going would have been the next step locally. At least I was willing to give it a shot. There is no dedicated team of people who’s sole job it is to monitor and respond to these questions (at least not yet.) People like me are just dedicated employees of all levels of tenure and hierarchy wanting to help in any way we can.

    We do try to live our value of “Show Respect, Humility and Integrity” This is where we would admit that we didn’t have the answer and would love to have a recipricating relationship with our customers where we can learn from each other. Again, if you do find out the answer to your question, I still would love to hear it. Continue to give us a shot with your questions, we will continue to do our best to answer them. “You will know all what we know” is a promise we make to our customers. This time you knew more than I did, and I would like to know all what you know.

    Thanks again!!


  5. Leah on September 27, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    It was great to read your post since my company had been considering how effective Twitter would serve as a method of customer service. The 140 character limitation is certainly painful. On the other hand, the limitation provides a way for companies to then redirect the communication offline (e.g. phone) and be able to interact with customers more effectively for more complicated issues. As a screening mechanism, Twitter sure beats automated customer service phone lines!

  6. Leah on September 27, 2009 at 11:02 pm

    You might be interested in the Woofer. Apparently, it has been referred to as the anti-Twitter, with 1400 character limit as opposed to 140. As one person pointed out, tweets/woofs larget than 140 then are pretty much blog posts….The Mashable blog has a post on it:

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About Steve Borsch

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.