There’s an explosion of consumer interest in using Twitter as a top line method of customer service. Twitter as a communication avenue between companies and clients isn’t new, but in the past three months, the number of customers turning to Twitter has jumped by 25 percent, and as a result, companies are now getting in on the game. Brands have increased their activity by 33 percent.

Thirty percent of the businesses on the Interbrand 100 have dedicated customer service accounts on Twitter, receiving more than 198,000 inbound tweets in the last quarter, and sending out more than 82,000 support responses, according to the analytics firm Simply Measured. Ford and Nike had the highest response rate, at 70 percent, and Microsoft is credited with the fastest response rate, regularly getting back to customer requests within an hour.

While many people still pick up the phone and dial a toll-free number, an increasing number of customers rely on social media to resolve customer service issues. Comcast was a pioneer in the field with its @comcastcares Twitter account, which has produced over 52,000 tweets interacting with its cable, TV and internet subscribers since April 2011.

Social media is the future, as evidenced by the fact that today’s youngest customers rely on the two-way communication of Twitter. Seventy-one percent of 16-24 year olds say they go online when they have a problem with a product, according to a 2012 study by Sitel.

Twitter is an open channel in which the playing field is leveled and barriers are removed. You can tweet to celebrities, CEOs and your best friend equally effectively. There is potential for an immediacy of response and a sense in a business interaction that the customer will get a one on one interaction with someone who gets it. Consider the alternatives. The average toll free number can set off a lengthy, frustrating and inhuman process of pressing buttons before connecting with a representative. Even then, a call center worker may be offshore and offer language barriers. Email is like sending a message in a bottle. No one knows where it will land, and when.

Twitter is also a micro content marketing opportunity. Getting your brand narrative out there, even in 140 character bursts, is a win.

By contrast, the impression is that a human is behind every Twitter account, and one who is tech savvy enough to use it wisely. JD Power and Associates found that customers who use social media to interact with a company come away with a positive impression. Eighty-seven percent reported that social interaction increased the likelihood that they will purchase from that brand.

Here’s the catch: building up a strong and reliable Twitter customer service effort requires constant vigilance. A human being should monitor tweets pretty much all the time, ready to react as fast as possible. Comcast, for example, lists its hours right on its Twitter page: 8 am to 1 am Monday through Friday, and 11 to 7 on the weekends.

Before you begin to field customer service queries, take time to listen. Monitor all tweets related to your brand, your industry and your competition. Samsung, for example, listened for 90 days before jumping into a full time two way interaction.

The second most important part of any social media strategy is that brands must react to both positive and negative comments. Don’t ignore complaints, as they may form the basis for real solutions.

Third, allow the person behind the tweets to have a presence. Customers want to know that there is indeed a real human being behind the 140 character messages. Establish company guidelines but within those rules, allow peoples’ personalities to shine through.

It is ultimately about relationship building. The cost of doing business on Twitter is inconsequential compared to engaging the services of a call center. Overall your business will only look better for being part of a new generation of customer service, and that’s priceless.