September 29, 2010, 2:40 PM

Best Buy plans to expand its Twelpforce customer service offering beyond Twitter

The retailer says its Twelpforce staffers will be providing advice on Facebook within a year.

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Best Buy Co. Inc.’s Twelpforce, which allows the retailer’s employees to use Twitter to respond to consumer questions, has been a boon, boosting employee engagement and driving traffic to BestBuy.com, says John Bernier, manager of social and emerging media at Best Buy.

Since Best Buy launched the service 14 months ago, Twelpforce staffers have answered more than 36,000 questions via Twitter. More importantly, more than 36,000 consumers have clicked on the links included in those answers and landed on BestBuy.com, says Bernier, who declined to details on the traffic Twelpforce has driven to the e-commerce site.

“That shows that people are following through on the advice offered by our staff,” he says. “They’re either sharing the link provided by us on their own peer network or they’re following our feed. We’re not just answering one question for one consumer; we’re helping answer numerous consumers’ questions with one answer.”

Even so, Twelpforce represents a small fraction of the retailer’s customer service calls, questions on BestBuy.com and visits to Best Buy stores, he says. In part, that’s due to the limitations of Twitter.

“In some ways, Twitter is not a natural fit for customer service,” he says. “For a consumer asking about the difference between a LED and LCD screen there isn’t room for a whole answer in 140 characters.”

That’s why nearly every answer provided on Twelpforce includes a link to a Best Buy informational site, typically www.bbyfeed.com where consumers pose questions and get answers, or the retailer’s community forum, www.forums.bestbuy.com.

Another limitation on Twitter is that only about 7% of the U.S. population uses the microblogging platform, according to Edison Research. That’s why Best Buy aims to expand Twelpforce—or a variation of Twelpforce—to different platforms, including Facebook, within the next 12 months, says Bernier.

To expand the reach of Twelpforce, Best Buy is in the midst of developing an internal system that will make it possible for employees to answer questions regardless of where the consumer posed the question.

“The vision is for us to enable customers to answer questions that come from anywhere so that the customer doesn’t have to find us, we find them,” he says. “We don’t want someone to have to leave Facebook to ask a question, we want them to ask it there.”

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