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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Customer service and Twitter

I doubt many would disagree that customer service is a dying commodity in this world, especially among the larger organizations that are so quick to explain how important your on-hold call is to them. Mostly, I lay this on the laps of consumers who want it cheaper and cheaper, which is all well and good until something goes wrong, and then you learn the hard way how it got to be so cheap.

These days, a lot of customer service happens online, usually though a web site of some sort, and often that web site is Twitter, though there are others. Let me add here that I've heard far more than one corporate manager wonder aloud about how to use Twitter to make a buck, and if that's also your wonderment, you should leave Twitter alone because you'll only make matter far worse. That comment usually gets me that knowing your-don't-really-understand look in an airport, and I would really like to secretly follow-up with those guys to see how it worked out for them.

Here are four examples, two good and two bad. First the bad.

@CLEAR and @VMUcare: Both are equally useless, and both organizations would be better off not using Twitter, not unless they can learn how to do it. In both instances, any tweet sent is, generally, met with a response after some four to six hours. That is not exactly what one expects from Twitter where world events are broadcast in real time. When a responses does arrive, it's usually a request for some minor bit of information. In time, there will follow another insignificant request. In a few days, most people like me just give up, and often whatever the problem was now no longer exists.

Customer Service by wearing us down, which is exactly what happens when you call CS, except now your blood pressure is spiking. And don't think Clear and Virgin Mobile are special in this case. AT&T, both wireless and broadband, and Time Warner Cable use the same script. I hope they bought said script at a discount.

Now consider two successes, Zappos and Southwest Air. I'll take them individually because each is outstanding in their own way.

First, Zappos, the online shoe company that is known for it's stellar customer service. Zappos tweets at @Zappos_Service, and the staff rotate frequently, almost hourly, each person bringing different flavor to the messaging, and this is no problem. It's exactly what Zappos wants, for the gift that is each person shinning through. We have a Jessica Rabbit who is prone to show off something she just added to her online closet. Another guy is all about online gaming. There are countless others, and when they come online, you can tweet a hello, have a quick chat, and feel that you've connected to someone real, most likely because you have, which was the underlying intent.

Mention that you have a problem, and watch the world stop until the problem is resolved. Success like Zappos is no accident, and this is just one reason why.

Second, Southwest Airlines or @SouthwestAir. I wouldn't fly Southwest until they started offering EarlyBird check-in because I could not tolerate standing in line to get a decent seat. Now, they are my preferred airline. So, why is that? In Nashville, I was having a problem with my iPhone battery. As you surely expect, it was going dead. I couldn't find a working outlet in that area of the airport because of construction. Not being one to suffer long in silence, I tweeted my dismay. Within moments, I had a response AND a live person walking down the hall to show me where I could recharge. I cannot measure how far that one incident went to promote my staying with that airline and being more tolerant of the occasional hiccup because if they go to that much trouble for me and that sorry excuse for a cell phone, just imagine what's happening behind the scenes when a plane is late.

Talk about connecting with the customer.

@CLEAR and @VMUcare apologize for problems, ask for useless details, retweet the occasional happy tweet, and advertise stuff they wish I'd buy. In both cases, I will likely change service providers because of the exceedingly poor customer service that is obviously designed to obfuscate problems, not correct them.

@Zappos_service and @SouthwestAir connect with me personally, and pounce all over any problem. For that, I pay Zappos about 10% more than I would in a store, and I pay Southwest an extra $20 per roundtrip for Row 23, Seat D, yes, in the vary back to facilitate boarding. And both are my first choice when it's time to spend their kind of money.

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