Many readers of my blog will know that I’m a heavy Twitter user. I’m also very un-British when it comes to complaining about poor service and, for those organisations with Twitter accounts, I do have a tendency to copy them in on my frustrations.
One thing I find very interesting is the variety of reactions that I receive. As part of my job involves helping to develop the social media strategy for a major IT systems and services company, I know only too well the challenges of monitoring and measuring social media activity; the resources that are required; and I completely understand that it’s not always possible to respond to every mention of your company’s products and services.
Even so, I’ve heard of organisations that consider whether to respond based on the apparent influence of the user. That sounds dangerous to me – someone may only have a limited online audience (for example, a handful of followers on Twitter) but their influence could be much wider. Perhaps a journalist/analyst has a personal and a professional Twitter account (or a blog), one with just a few followers, the other much more influential? Maybe the aggrieved/frustrated consumer is also a CIO, or a stakeholder in the business services purchasing process?
We’re all consumers, but many of us have responsibility for business purchases too – and it’s unrealistic to expect that poor experiences as a consumer won’t prejudice business decisions, so I’d like to call out some good, and some less good, reactions to online interaction:
- First up, Dell. The company has been used as a case study in just about every social media training course since Jeff Jarvis’ “Dell Hell”. The story goes that they took Jeff’s comments and acted, before implementing a much broader social media strategy – one which now acts as a major revenue stream too. My personal experience was that, after blogging about a difficult purchase, Dell contacted me and gave me the technical pre-sales advice that I needed, and shipped the cables that I required. That was pre-Twitter (for me at least), but it was almost certainly as part of the company’s reaction to Jeff Jarvis’ highly publicised experience.
- Another example, was Biffa – after a near miss with one of their drivers on a zebra crossing earier this year and a cathargic blog post by me, their PR agency picked up my comments and passed it to one of their directors. After I provided more information, the company tracked down the driver and took appropriate action (although the promise to replace my broken iPhone headphones seems to have fallen down a crack…).
- On Twitter, @iPass were very responsive to issues using their service on Virgin Trains until they respectfully advised me to follow their support route (that’s fair enough). On the other hand, @VirginTrainsseem to monitor feedback but on respond selectively. To their credit, I tweeted about a rattling train window and they were straight back to me for details of the service and the carriage (to get it checked out) – I guess that could have been a safety issue. They also responded on my comments re: overcrowding/the need for more standard class seating (longer trains on the way) but apparently ignored many other items of feedback (like the issues with their on-train Wi-Fi).
- @LondonMidland is more responsive. When I had issues following a change of mobile payment provider for their station car parks, they got back to me and even offered to help if I was unable to make payment before catching my train. When a train was cancelled and 150 people (I guess) were left waiting just a few miles from it’s original destination so that the driver could end his shift on time, they explained that there were ongoing issues in their relationship with the railway driver’s union.
- @O2 responded to a tweet/blog post about their poor account management processes and at least managed to retain me as a voice customer, even though my data had since been transferred to Three. @VodafoneUK is pretty responsive on Twitter. Meanwhile @3uk is missing a trick…
- @BTCares responded to a tweet I wrote about their poor service (I don’t recall the details now), but I got the distinct feeling that it was about appearing to be responsive, rather than caring (@BTDoesntCare doesn’t sound quite so good!). My friend Garry Martin’s recent conversations with @BT_UK would seem to back that up – first he couldn’t even get a response on the BT Infinity delays in his city, then @BT_UK replied with what was effectively an online shrug of the shoulders.
I’m sure I can list many more examples (both good and bad) but I think my point is becoming clear. As Jeff Jarvis wrote six years ago (quiting from a book published in 1999!):
“This is a story of customer relations in the new age – an age when, to quote blogger and Cluetrain Manifesto co-author Doc Searls, “‘consumer’ is an industrial-age word, a broadcast-age word. […] Now consumers don’t just consume. We spit back. We have our own printing presses.”
Even so, eConsultancy reported that 25% of retailers are unresponsive on social media. Sure, retail is just one part of the overall B2C market but that sounds pretty low to me in this day and age.
It seems that many companies are creating Twitter or Facebook presences (just as in the late 1990s we were all setting up corporate websites) but there are some fundamental differences with social media:
- Firstly, social media is about communicating – a two way conversation, not just broadcasting a controlled message.
- Secondly, it’s not something to be undertaken lightly – getting social needs dedicated staff to respond to the inevitable complaints and, for the clever organisations, to engage with customers and influencers to build a community. And, if this all sounds too much like hard work – consider what happens when you don’t have a social media presence. After customers started engaging with unofficial accounts and they couldn’t respond effectively, Eurostar got a lesson in both the value and the dangers of social media.