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It all started with an empty restaurant.
See, as a family, we celebrate most occasions at a local Maggiano's, a chain of Italian eateries owned by Brinker (NYSE: EAT ) . Service had become progressively worse in the two visits before our last.
Turns out neither of those experiences could compare to our latest. We were ignored for 20 minutes as waitstaff passed us by waiting to order dinner and celebrate our daughter's birthday. After a discussion with the general manager still failed to get us a server, I tweeted my annoyance:
"Hard to believe we've had three consecutive bad experiences [at] Maggiano's."
The response came before the GM showed up a second time. "Hi Tim, can you please [direct message] us your email so we can find out more and make things right?"
Twitter outperformed the on-site staff.
Twitter: replacing the need for call centers?
It isn't the first time, either. In years past I've used Twitter to solve a service problem with DISH Network (Nasdaq: DISH ) and book a meeting with the investor-relations team at Riverbed Technology (Nasdaq: RVBD ) .
Most recently, the team running Comcast's (Nasdaq: CMCSA ) service feed on Twitter helped me get a months-overdue rebate after emails and phone calls to company representatives failed to get results. Public shaming works in ways direct contact sometimes can't.
Companies know it, too. Author Shel Israel covered the rise of Twitter as a service platform in his book, Twitterville. salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM ) now pulls tweets and Facebook posts into its Service Cloud, knowing that both platforms have become hotbeds for service discussions.
There's still value in Twitter
We don't have a perfect beat on whether Facebook or Twitter is superior when it comes to customer service, but Twitter does have one advantage: the reply. Using the "@" sign to direct a tweet to the vendor in question -- @maggianos, in this case -- acts almost like a public email message. Responses tend to come quickly as a result.
Is that worth the $7 billion Twitter is now worth? SharesPost says that's the price private-equity buyers are paying for pre-IPO shares of the dysfunctional microblogger. That may prove to be too high, since we don't know much ad revenue the company generates. Business Insider Research says $2 billion is possible, yet the most recent data (from leaked documents) put expectations for 2010 revenue at just $140 million.
Surely Twitter has grown some since then. But it wasn't long ago that Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) was willing to bid $10 billion for the business. Now investors will pay only $7 billion, which means growth could be decelerating.
Yet today's Twitter price tag is far higher than the $1 billion I predicted back in early 2009. Go public now, Twitter, while you still have a defensible niche. Do you agree? Disagree? Please weigh in using the comments box below.
And if you're in the mood for more tech stock ideas, check out this free report about the surprising ways to cash in on the iPhone, iPad, and Android revolution that is lifting the fortunes of mobile-friendly platforms such as Twitter. Get your copy now -- it's 100% free.