The former are likely to be college graduates with an interest in marketing and social media who have a direct line to the powers that be. DItto the people tweeting them: they are likely to be more educated, more prominent and more savvy than your average consumer.
So is it fair to compare the relative value of the two until they’re more balanced? Right now, Twitter is a toy that marketers get to play with. Complaints that come in through Twitter are infrequent enough that the clever marketer makes a big deal about them, playing up what a great job they’re doing with customer service via Twitter, while ignoring the other 99% of their complainants, who are being sent to a call center in Bangalore.
It’s not a foolish move short-term: the company gets a lot of buzz for their excellent and caring responsiveness, people are impressed with their web-savvy, and points are scored all around.
The problem is when there’s no action taken as a result of the Twitter-based customer service. When what happens on the web turns out to be a Potemkin village, and the average customer is still treated to an inferior experience with no attempt made to improve it. That’s admittedly a cynical view of how many companies are using Twitter, but it’s likely an accurate one: too many companies are too busy listening to the people telling them to use Twitter and other social media to “listen” to their customers, but they are too busy or too distracted to actually take any action about what they're hearing
And that’s the thing: all the well-intentioned listening in the world won’t make a difference unless you fundamentally change the way your company does business and start respecting your customers and giving all of them a voice and a chance at a satisfactory experience. Creating a two-tier system, wherein well-connected social media mavens have their complaints treated by well-trained representatives with the power to take concrete action, while the hoi polloi deal with unempowered overseas phone voices with the power to do nothing more than apologize profusely is not the best way to take advantage of this new medium.