Apple Embraces Twitter as a Customer Service Platform

For years, Apple has made an effort to avoid establishing a major presence on social media, but on Thursday, the company broke its social silence by launching a Twitter customer support account. The launch comes on the heels of Twitter's rollout of additional customer service tools, as both Apple and Twitter acknowledge the social channel's central role in modern customer service.

Apple is not necessarily a total stranger to providing support via Twitter—its Beats Twitter account, which Apple inherited when it acquired the headphones company, is fairly active and was among the first branded accounts to incorporate video support, including tutorials and troubleshooting tips, into its feed. Yet a centralized Apple Twitter account still doesn't exist, and @AppleSupport is the closest that customers are going to get, for the time being.

Debuted at 8 a.m. ET on Thursday, Apple's opening tweet simply read, "Welcome to…" and shared an image of the iconic bitten apple with the word "Support" written under it. Within 20 minutes, the account began responding to questions and messages about a slew of Apple products, ranging from computers and iPhones to software and applications such as Apple Music.

According to Wired, Apple Support answered roughly 400 tweets by Thursday afternoon, and the average response time was roughly two hours. By the end of the day on Thursday, the account had more than 76,000 followers.

In addition to fielding questions from customers, Apple is also sharing tips and tutorials with users.

The computer giant might be late to the Twitter customer service game, but branching out onto the social network was a key step for a company of Apple's size. "Twitter customer service interactions are cheaper and faster than phone interactions. It is key for enterprises to monitor and manage social sentiment and feedback, as well as interactions," says Holger Mueller, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research.  

One of the reasons Apple might have been reluctant to get into the social support realm is because the company has a paid model for its customer support—Apple Care. Customers receive complimentary Apple Care for a short period of time after purchasing products such as laptops, but the coverage eventually expires and customers have to pay for it. If they're able to receive support through social media, however, that model could be challenged, depending on how social support is approached from a strategy perspective.

Social customer support likely won't replace Apple Care, but it will serve as an important tool in Apple's arsenal, and it will help the company deliver support more efficiently by eliminating the need to call a support center for minor issues.

"When brands connect with their customers, prospects, and the general target market through mentions on Twitter, it's of significant value. [It enables them to] become an overall faster and customer-driven enterprise," Mueller says.

Moving forward, analysts say it'll be interesting to see whether Apple will make use of the newly rolled out Twitter customer support features, such as the customer satisfaction surveys.

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