Not-so-helpful social media “help”

This content is 3 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Social media is big business. And almost every major business to consumer (B2C) organisation has at least one account on each of the major social media platforms (at the time of writing, that’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram but I’m sure it will change over time). 

Unfortunately, there’s a concerning trend starting to emerge – one where the “conversation” is moved to control the brand image. Many brands have set up <brandname>Help accounts for their customer service so that the main brand account is “clean” – pure marketing, untarnished by customers expressing concern about the products and services. Meanwhile, the “Help” account may be operated by a communications agency, simply offering a face and redirecting customers to other channels. 

And that’s where the problem lies. If you want to offer omnichannel support, then you need to meet your customers where they contact you. It’s no good offering “help” on Twitter when all you’re really doing is advising customers to phone your contact centre. That does not help. That’s obfuscation. It’s a blatant attempt to preserve the online image of the brand, whilst offering shoddy customer service. 

So, here’s my plea to brand managers across the UK. If you offer a <brandname>Help account, then make sure it provides real assistance and is not just signposting to another channel. 

I’ll provide an example here, from @KwikFitCS (who responded to my tweet for the main KwikFit account… more on that in a moment), but they are not alone…

Then there’s the issue of the information that <brandname>Help accounts ask for to verify you before they will provide help…

In the example above, @BootsHelp replied to a tweet sent to @BootsUK. And the issue I was reporting was a website problem that was not specific to a single account – the web team could investigate without my personal details. Maybe I should be the one looking for the verification here… not them? That may sound a bit extreme but what’s to stop anyone from setting up a spoof <brandname>Help account and harvesting information from disgruntled customers? (In fairness, the @BootsHelp account has been verified by Twitter, but the @KwikFitCS example earlier was not).

And Boots is not alone – here’s another example from @Morrisons, the UK supermarket chain:

The request went on to a second tweet:

So, come on B2C Twitter. You can do better than this. How about providing some real help from your social media channels? Preferably without requiring a long list of personal details.

Featured image by Biljana Jovanovic from Pixabay.

Lenovo found lacking with lost laptop

This content is 11 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Even though I work in the application services business of a rival PC manufacturer, I’ve always had a soft spot for ThinkPads and Lenovo is (was) one of the quality PC brands I would recommend to friends and colleagues.  Until last week…

Our kids increasingly need to use a computer (a real one with a proper screen, so not a netbook – and not my iPad) for school work.  They can’t use my work PC (against policy) and for similar reasons we don’t really like them using my wife’s (again, it’s her business asset). Add to that the fact that some of the IT policies at work make it increasingly difficult for me to use my corporate laptop for anything (work-related or otherwise!) we decided that our Christmas present to ourselves will be a family computer.

Because a mouse will soon be to my kids what a command-line interface is to most of my peers (not including any IT admins or developers reading this blog), I wanted a touch-screen computer and I didn’t want to spend much over £500, which ruled out any ultrabook. Touchscreen requirement and modest budget means no Macs either.  Then I found Lenovo’s “affordable 15.6″ dual-mode notebook” – the Flex 15 – at a penny under £550 with the note that it “ships within 2-3 business days”. And the form factor means that, whilst a touchscreen desktop failed to pass spousal approval, a laptop that doubles up as a picture frame will quite happily sit in our kitchen/dining/family room without being considered unnecessary gadgetry.

I would have liked to customise the specification but that option wasn’t available so I placed an order for the stock version and it was duly processed by Lenovo’s UK reseller, Digital River (or analogue stream as I will now think of them…).

A couple of hours later I got a confirmation, which said:

“Dear Mark Wilson,

Thank you for ordering from the Lenovo Online Store powered by Digital River.

Please note, systems that are built to order can take 1 to 2 weeks to build and ship, plus 3 – 6 days for delivery.

Systems that are not built to order and were purchased with predefined specifications will ship within 2-3 business days.

Accessory options will typically ship within 2-3 business days and therefore may result in multiple deliveries when purchased with a system.

The following is a summary of your order. If you paid by credit card, please look for DRI*Lenovo on your credit card billing statement.”

[The bold text was added for emphasis by me]

A day or so later, I saw that a mouse I’d ordered for my son (he won’t need it but Mrs W insisted) had been shipped but no word on the PC. The shipping notes suggested the full value had been charged to my credit card (as it happens, only the cost of the mouse has been) but I called the number on the order confirmation email, navigated the IVR system and waited on hold before I was greeted, in German, by someone who doesn’t work on the Lenovo account. She suggested I should call back in 30 minutes as her colleague who does work with Lenovo was busy! I asked if they could call me instead and she took my details.  Surprise, surprise – no call.  Since then I’ve called twice more and each time have been told that they can’t provide an estimated shipping date but will escalate for me. Whatever that means, clearly it wasn’t done because the next time I called, I was told that “no ticket had been opened”.

In parallel, I’ve been communicating with the Lenovo UK social media team (@Lenovo_UK) who were helpful at first but then when I asked for progress told me to be patient, following up a few hours later to say they had tried to call (they did – twice, within two minutes, from a blocked number so I can’t call them back) and advising me that another team will send an email (they haven’t). Sorry guys – that’s not “trying”, that’s a pathetic attempt to contact me once before fobbing me off…

The Lenovo website says it ships in 2-3 days but the reseller (Digital River) don't know when it will shipThe thing is, I don’t mind if I’m told it’s on a ship from China (or wherever) and will take 2 weeks but the website still says “ships in 2-3 business days” and so does the order confirmation, yet the reseller doesn’t know when it will ship.  Which means I don’t know if it will ship.

Perhaps I’d be better off writing a letter to Father Christmas…

[Update, 25 November 2013 16:00 – I received a shipping confirmation from Digital River this afternoon.  Still not had the promised contact from Lenovo, or any explanation as to what caused the delay though]

Does Apple consider itself to be above the law?

This content is 12 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Those who were watching my Twitter stream last Friday and Saturday will have followed my saga with Apple and their apparent disregard for customer service or the law when my iPad developed a fault… “Apple?” you say, “but aren’t they renowned for their fantastic customer service?”. Well, they do have a reputation but my experience suggests it’s not deserved, at least not here in the UK…

I waited a few days before writing this post as anyone who criticises Apple is laid open to a barrage of abuse. Even so, I thought it was appropriate to share – and, by “cooling off”, I’m hoping to be objective.

What’s the problem?

A few months ago, I noticed a greenish glow on a small portion of the screen on my iPad, which I purchased in July 2010. It was particularly visible on dark areas, when the brightness is turned up (e.g. when using the iPad in a dark room). So, I booked an appointment at the Genius Bar in the Milton Keynes Apple Store to see what could be done to repair/replace the defective screen. I arrived on time and, whilst it was certainly busy, there were lots of blue t-shirts doing what, to a bystander, appeared to be very little. I’m sure they all had their own jobs but, after waiting 20 minutes past my appointment, I was seen, not by one of the staff who were at the Genius Bar, but by the guy who had been performing some kind of co-ordination role on the shop floor until that point. He took my iPad away, then came back to say that it was over a year old and so out of warranty – repair wasn’t an option and a refurbished replacement would cost £199. I was given the option of speaking to a Manager and I did, but he was equally unhelpful – and apparently unwilling to move an inch, even when I pointed out that the UK’s Sale of Goods Act gives me some rights here…

More support required

I went home and found a statement on the Apple website about Apple Products and EU Statutory Warranty, which directed me to call AppleCare. I opened a support case and, the next morning, I spoke to an Apple representative who listened, logged the call details, but ultimately advised me to contact the point of purchase (the Apple Store in Solihull). Solihull is an hour’s drive away so I called the store, who said I could visit any Apple Retail location and I headed to Milton Keynes, where I had made a Genius Bar appointment in anticipation.

Five minutes before my appointment AppleCare called and said they had spoken to store and could handle a “consumer law” complaint on my behalf, and that I didn’t need to go to store. Ten minutes after that they called again and said they couldn’t after all and 15 minutes later they said EU Consumer Law doesn’t apply in the UK (it doesn’t – but the UK Sale of Goods Act does!) and that I should contact the local Trading Standards department. By then I was at the store again, where I spent the next couple of hours (including almost an hour waiting to be seen as AppleCare’s previous advice meant I’d missed my Genius Bar appointment and I was on standby), eventually being convinced to part with money to replace my iPad (more on that in a moment).

So how is this Apple’s problem?

Those in the US and elsewhere may well be thinking, “so you wanted Apple to repair or replace a product that was out of  warranty – are you for real?” but in Europe, consumer law is on our side.

The UK hasn’t adopted this EU regulation because our own laws provide even better cover – The Sale of Goods Act gives  consumers up to six years to pursue claims. Although UK law does not specify how long a product should last (all products and manufacturers are different), a product is considered faulty if it stops working properly in less time than a reasonable person would expect the product to last. A screen defect within two years does not sound like something that Apple (or any reasonable person) would expect, and so I believe that Apple should have offered me a free repair or replacement with the same or similar product at no cost.

Instead, Apple tried to pass the buck. Initially I was batted back and forth between AppleCare (Apple’s support channel) and Apple Retail (who sold me the iPad). At one point I was advised to contact the actual store where my iPad was purchased (not my local store). Finally, Apple Retail attempted to pass me on to my local Trading Standards department and when I said that the problem was between Apple and myself, not with Milton Keynes Council (the Trading Standards authority in this case), the store manager started talking about me pursuing action in the small claims court, in a “David and Goliath” fashion, playing the part of “the small man” against the big company (and yes, those are quotes!). The arrogance of Apple’s retail management and of the company as a whole, which seems to put itself above the law is, frankly, astounding.

A compromise?

Eventually, one of the Managers in the Apple Store in Milton Keynes offered me a replacement iPad but it cost me £69 – a discount from the £199 originally quoted to the price that I would have paid for AppleCare, if I had taken it at the time of purchase. I didn’t take AppleCare because consumer law covers me against product defects, my home insurance covers me against accidental damage, and the Internet covers me against technical support. In short, I shouldn’t need to buy an extended warranty (AppleCare), and I’m still unhappy at having paid for something that should have been free of charge, if only Apple was prepared to accept the rule of law.

To use the words my friend Alex (@AlexColes):

“Apple set themselves up as the tech company that is way ahead of everyone else in the industry, but their after sales service is worse than mediocre. I used to be a fanboy.”

I think that just about sums it up!

I’m still tempted to contact the Trading Standards department at Milton Keynes Council – and maybe I will sue Apple for costs but, to be honest, my time is worth more than the £69 I paid for the replacement iPad and I’ve already spent several hours speaking to AppleCare, travelling back and forth to my local Apple Store, or hanging around waiting to be seen. Do I really need that hassle? No, I don’t, but there is a principle at stake here – the world’s largest company appears to be ignoring the rule of law – so maybe I should take this further. If I do, I’m sure you’ll read about it here…

Is this how to handle customer complaints on social media? Really?

This content is 12 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

There’s an old adage about how

“a happy customer tells one friend, and unhappy customer tells everybody”

I have a bad habit of telling the world (well, 1500-odd people on Twitter and a few thousand more via my blog) when something doesn’t work out for me and, over the weekend, it was Three UK (3) whose inability to supply me with a password to access my account online resulted in this tweet:

Ineptitude just cost @ a customer. Can't view bill except over 3G on iPad; can't set password for web access without visiting store
Mark Wilson

I’m certainly no celebrity and I don’t expect every company to roll over when I act like a petulant teenager, but they could at least try to address my issue. Couldn’t they?

To be fair to Three, their online team @ThreeUK (which is clear about its online hours: Monday-Friday, 9am to 5.30pm) responded but their response simply bounced me to another Twitter account operated by the company:

@ We have a CS team on Twitter too, @ - it may be worth a tweet.

They also responded to another tweet of mine arising from a discussion about the issue with one of my Twitter contacts:

@ We do care! I hope are CS tweeters can assist you.

Ignoring the grammar, if you care about customer service, what happened to owning the customer’s problem and managing it to resolution?

Clearly Three have (at least) two Twitter accounts operated by two teams: marketing and customer service. That’s OK, but they don’t seem to be able to take a problem inside the organisation to work out the best approach – they simply bounce me from one to the other. Oh dear.

So I got in touch with @ThreeUKSupport

.@ Would be interesting to see your comments on (@ seem to be marketing-focused)
Mark Wilson

and a reply came back soon enough but it merely repeated what I already know – that their process is broken…

@ I'm afraid currently you can either view My3 via your iPad or you need to put your sim in a phone that takes a micro-sim to...

@ able to receive the text message

…absolutely no response to my issues:

“My issues here are: having to pay to speak to a customer service agent and being kept on hold for a while; getting poor advice from the agent (unless Three can tell me how to drag and drop my bill from their portal to my email, on an iPad); and not getting an answer to my problem. Visiting a store is simply not worth the effort (20-odd mile drive, pay for parking, an hour of my time) – but could well lose Three a customer.”

I even threw them a lifeline:

@ Thank you for responding... even if both you and @ have failed on the customer service front...
Mark Wilson

Nothing from @ThreeUK, and a “yeah, whatever” (I paraphrase) from @ThreeUKSupport:

@ You're welcome. I'm sorry you feel we've failed you.

Now, I know that implementing social media for large corporates is bloody hard. I tried – and there is a lot that we can do better where I work too… people in glass houses and all that… but this is me, responding as an individual, not as an employee, so hear me out, please.

  • Firstly, if you want to operate a corporate Twitter account (or any other “social” account), be ready to deal with complaints. For support, be ready to direct people to official channels but for customer service issues, then a little more tact and diplomacy might be required.
  • Secondly, if a customer outlines multiple issues to which they would like a response, it’s OK to ask them to supply some contact details so that you can get in touch and investigate further.
  • Finally, if all you do is provide stock answers then you’ll annoy a customer who is already unhappy with your company’s service.

For whomever is responsible for social media at Three, there’s a really good book I can recommend: it’s called “Empowered” and it’s written by Forrester analysts Josh Bernoff (@jbernoff) and Ted Schadler (@TedSchadler). The book talks about groundswell customer service and provides real-world examples of how innovative leaders and their teams use technology to solve customer problems… it’s definitely worth a read. And Forrester released a report yesterday entitled “Twitter: the public forum for your brand”. If you don’t have access to the report, it’s author, Melissa Parrish (@melissarparrish) has some great blog posts about the use of Twitter too.

Incidentally, Sainsbury’s, another company that recently incurred my wrath on Twitter after failing to follow up on a customer service email about the quality of the groceries they had delivered a few days previously deserves mention for fixing my issue. Their social media team took action to get my enquiry dealt with and compensated me for the problems I had experienced. Arguably, that is how to respond… Three’s example is how not to…

I started this post with a quote, so I’ll finish with another:

“Customers don’t expect you to be perfect. They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong.”

[Donald Porter, British Airways]

[Update 16 January 2012: Three have been in touch and would like to make it clear that they do care about their customers on Twitter. I’m still disappointed about how my calls and social media follow-up were handled, but it is good to know that they are at least attempting to improve the experience that their customers receive via social media.]

The perils of online billing…

This content is 13 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Like most people, the mail I receive from the postman these days breaks into three categories:

As I use Direct Debits to pay my bills, they generally need little more than a cursory glance before being “filed” (i.e. chucked in a big box until I get around to doing it properly) but I also elect for paper-free billing where it makes sense.

I say “where it makes sense” because so many organisations (e.g. First Direct, ING Direct, Marks and Spencer Money) seem to think that providing records in HTML, CSV or Quicken format is enough – and it’s not, in my opinion.  The paper-free billing that has value to me provides a PDF of the paper bill that would have been sent to me by post and organisations that do this include American Express, BT and E-ON.

The wrong way

If you were watching my Twitter stream over the weekend, you might have seen me ranting about BT‘s paper-free billing though, because there is a catch: and it’s one that’s worth knowing about.

I mentioned how haphazard my paper filing is and my digital filing is not much better.  I get the emails notifying me that my bill is ready for download and I generally think “OK, I’ll look at that later”.  After all, I know it will be paid (by Direct Debit) and, if there is a problem, I’ll notice the exceptionally large/small transaction on my bank account and investigate at that time.  Every once in a while, I get around to downloading the statements and storing them in my “digital filing cabinet” (my NAS, at home).

Except that I’m finding more and more of my providers don’t maintain a complete history for download. And BT was the one that really took the biscuit… I logged into BT’s website to retrieve my statements and successfully downloaded around 15 or 16 months’ worth. My problem was that I had a gap between the last time I did this, and the oldest statement available online.  I called BT, who told me I only have access to 6 months history (really? I can see more than that!) and that I could write a letter requesting the missing statements. Smelling a rat, I asked how much that would cost. £4.80 per bill, I was told. I said I wouldn’t be needing the address, thank you very much, and hung up.

Then I hit Twitter:

If you're going to encourage me to go for paper-free billing, the least you can do is keep my complete history online... #BTDoesntCare
Mark Wilson

#BT have advised me to *write them a letter* then they want me to pay £4.80 for each archived bill. So much for paper-free billing #epicfail
Mark Wilson

I got several sympathetic responses (including one follower who says BT promised him unlimited access to statements when he signed up for paper-free billing so he pushed the issue and was sent every single statement since his account was opened…) but one in particular copied in the @BTCare account. I had previously ignored that account, preferring hashtags like #BTDoesntCare because my previous experience of @BTCare had been unhelpful, but this time they responded with a URL for a web form, promising to follow up the issue.

The next day (a Sunday, no less, and which should be applauded), BT called (from a call centre in Northern Ireland, rather than the normal Indian operation) and explained that I only had access to 6 months statements online and words to the effect of “it wasn’t their fault I hadn’t downloaded my statements in time, as they had sent them to me each month by email”. I pointed out that they hadn’t sent me the statements – what they actually sent was an email saying words to the effect of “your statement is ready, when you want to go and take a look” but not “be quick before it’s gone”. I also highlighted that they give me a £1 a month discount for paper-free billing and to charge any more than that was unreasonable – £4.80 for access to old bills was obscene, especially as I don’t want a paper bill – the PDFs will be fine.  At this point BT changed tack, claiming that they had some discretion, and offering to email me the missing bills.  After needing to speak to my wife (because it’s her name on the account and they can’t cope with two people being jointly responsible for a bill…), they sent me the missing statements and I was a happy camper. Almost.

I say almost because this shouldn’t happen. How many people who are less connected online, or less pushy on the phone, would have just paid up the £33.60 BT wanted for seven statements and invested  time/effort/cost into posting a letter? And why is there only 6 months’ history available (and I’m “lucky” because I can see a bit more than that)?  The answer to that is poor IT, or poor decision making – presumably someone made an arbitrary decision to limit online statement availability and reduce the storage cost to BT – ironically, these statements are clearly available to BT’s customer services staff, although they may well be dynamically generated (as they used to be on the customer-facing website which, incidentally, was a painful process and the reason I rarely went in to download them!). Or, to take another view, how much did sorting out this mess cost BT (quite a bit, I would imagine, so surely it’s better to get it right first time)?

Thanks to @ for fixing up my issue with old statements: shame I had to push so hard; If only first contact centre could have helped...
Mark Wilson

The right way

Now let me give you an example of an organisation that has paper-free statements working perfectly: American Express.

I would use AmEx exclusively if only their cards were as widely accepted as Visa or Mastercard but their web portal allows me to download the most recent six months’ statements and, crucially, to request any previous statements for retrieval within 24 hours, at no cost to me.  At the back end, I’m sure the statements are pulled from near-line or off-line storage to on-line, managing American Express’ storage efficiently but almost transparently to me, and delivering an excellent customer experience.

I’ll finish this post (I’m sorry, it is a bit or a rant), with a partial retweet from Simon Bisson that just about sums up the situation for me:

RT @: [re: my missing statements] [...] They're records, they should be available to us for as long as we have accounts ^MW Hear hear
Mark Wilson

Well done American Express. BT and E-ON you need to do better. Bottom of the class: almost everyone else I deal with…

Humanising the customer experience (and why there are not enough Ts in alphabet spaghetti)

This content is 13 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Every now and again, a story comes along that just makes you feel good. And it makes you realise just how important it is for employees to understand their personal impact on a customer experience.

I saw a tweet earlier this week which highlighting a couple of letters, one written to Sainsburys by a three year old (with a tiny bit of help) and the other, a response from their Careline. It would have been so easy for Sainsburys to ignore this, or just to respond in a “standard” letter but instead, they wrote in a style that was clearly aimed at “Lily”, signing off with their age, and enclosing a token gift. Very sweet.

And now there’s even imitation from nearly-31-year-old Managing Directors of PR agencies who don’t think there are enough Ts in cans of alphabet spaghetti for them to write their press releases. Oh how true that seems at times!

This sort of reaction is not new – but it is heart-warming, and great to see in today’s society of bland corporate identities.  (The positive press it’s generated won’t have done them any harm either!)

I’m sure, if I look hard enough, I can find a letter from the Institute of Advanced Motorists, congratulating me, aged 7 and a-quarter, on my entry in their road sign recognition competition at the Northampton Town Show (which was only beaten on the last day) and enclosing a book token. I still remember that today – and it makes me smile when my own son (who is approaching that age) asks about road signs on our journeys…

Can we measure online influence? And should we even try?

This content is 13 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

One of the challenges with managing corporate a social media presence is understanding the impact that you’re making. It’s notoriously difficult because there is no “one true way”. Indeed, if there was a simple way to assess online influence, I’d say that its inventor could clean up.

What we do have though is a number of indices – and two of the most common are:

  • Klout “the standard for influence”.
  • PeerIndex “understand your social capital”.

OK, so we have algorithms to generate a number, but I’m not convinced they are really measuring influence. Klout in particular seems to be swayed by volumes of online activity– I went on holiday for a week and tweeted less often, then my Klout score fell – no surprises there then; but did I really become less influential because I dropped out for a week?

Earlier this week, I wrote a post calling for “brands” to engage and not to simply use social media as a marketing tool to broadcast their own message (or positive customer feedback).  But there is another side to the story – what if you are a brand?  How do you target your limited resources effectively? How do you assess the influence of a social media renegade and decide whether they warrant a response or not?

I’m not sure that we should be trying to. Does it really matter whether a disgruntled customer is influential or not? If they are disgruntled, then they deserve help – even if that help is simply pointing them in the direction of the appropriate channel to get an appropriate resolution.  It’s interesting though to see where influence engines meay head in future (and, indeed, how they might be monetised).

At a recent Digital Surrey event, I was chatting with Simon Cast, Head of Product at PeerIndex. He sees a time when systems such as his will become integrated with customer relationship management (CRM) systems (like For a business, that’s valuable – when I call their customer services team, not only can they see details of my transactions with them, but they can also see if I’m influential in a broader sense (i.e. could I damage them if they don’t fulfil my request?).  And, not only will they see if I’m influential in general terms, but if I’m influential on a specific topic. A car manufacturer might not be too bothered if I’m influential in the world of telecommunications, but what if I could potentially affect people’s car purchase decisions?

I guess an analogy to the social capital-CRM tie up is a credit score. My credit score not only affects the financial services products that are available to me (and how much they cost) but it (along with other metrics) might be used to tell my bank how valuable a customer I am, and may influence the way that they interact with me (e.g. sending my call to a UK-based call centre instead of an offshore one). Online influence is a logical equivalent for customer service organisations, but it sounds like a risky strategy to me.

Just to recap on my earlier statement:

“[…] 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 can we really measure influence? Maybe we’re getting closer, but I don’t think we’re there yet. And should we even be trying to? There might be some benefits, but beware of the risks too…

Social media: don’t forget the social (it’s time to engage)

This content is 13 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

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.”

[Jeff Jarvis, “My Dell Hell”, Guardian 2005]

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: