Updated June 20, 2011
I have this theory that time waiting on hold should not be considered life. If you are like me, you are probably in a bad mood the moment you hear the pre-recorded message telling you all the possible numbers you can press in order to fulfill the purpose of your call. I always used to press zero (o)–it seemed logical to me–I would get a message saying something along the lines of: “In order to transfer your call to the appropriate customer service representative, I need to know the reason for your call.” My response was always to press zero again and persistently. This was my way of saying: “No you don’t need to know, you’ll probably transfer me to the exact same place regardless” and I would always get my way. Let’s face it, the representative would probably ask me to explain all the details again; I was not trying to be difficult, just time efficient for the benefit of everybody involved.
At some point, companies realized the “just-press-zero” trick and it stopped being the magic number. Now, I find myself with a closet full of things that I do not use or care for just because I refuse to go through the complain-so-you-can-return-or-get-a-refund process (which will probably result in a useless store credit anyway).
According to a feature in the July issue of Consumer Report I am not the only one who thinks there is something severely wrong with today’s customer service. Frustration runs high among many consumers these days. In fact, more than sixty percent of those interviewed for the article said that, in the past year, they had either left a store because service was poor or hung up on customer service without having had their problem addressed.
The idea that the customer is always right has become an idea of the past and if you do not think so, try calling an airline representative. A few months ago, I was visiting my family back home and got really sick but doctors could not figure out the cause. I called American Airlines and told them I was having a medical emergency and had a doctor’s order (in writing) instructing me not to fly–not only for my safety but also for the safety of others. The customer representative agent informed me that being ill is no longer a reason to change my ticket without a penalty fee and that my ticket was what they called “use it or lose it” (their exact words) because it would be more expensive to change it than to buy a new one. In what world is that ok?
Thankfully, along with social media fever comes the possibility of a shift in the balance of power from companies to consumers. People are starting to speak up regarding their complaints on very public forums and companies are rapidly discovering the extent of damage one review or complaint can make, as well as, how important it is to handle their customers correctly in order to ensure customer loyalty. Complaints are no longer a nasty letter to the CEO or a five-minute venting session to the manager; an unhappy customer is now only a tweet (and many re-tweets) away from representing some major damage. Bad PR on Twitter could destroy a company, not because of one customer complaint but because of its potential reach. Same principle applies the other way; good PR on Twitter can expand your customer pool.
Those companies that have successfully embraced customer service through Twitter understand that an integral part of efficiently managing their brand is monitoring the web and satisfactorily responding to these customer complaints. A great example of this is Comcast. Although calling Comcast, and all cable companies, can be a pain in the neck, this company monitors the web for customer complaints and responds immediately–picking up customer frustration with the company instantly and providing solutions.
Another great example of customer service through Twitter is Jet Blue. This company uses their Twitter account to communicate to its followers not only about their current promotions and sales but also to inform about flight delays and changes in policy. Jet Blue engages with its customers by reaching out directly to them through Twitter. Even more, for them it is not only about offering solutions to their clients but they also tweet fun facts and even respond to the passengers who tweet positively about them. This is an excellent example of a brand that understands their audience. I have feeling that had I been flying Jet Blue when I got sick, their Twitter customer service representatives would have been much more useful and that will definitely be a consideration the next time I need to buy a plane ticket.
Companies such as Comcast and Jet Blue are being rewarded with a powerful reputation and an incredible brand loyalty. Dell, Southwest Airlines, Ford, and Starbucks, among many more, are more examples of companies that have been successful in promoting a positive brand image through Twitter.
This is not as easy as it sounds though. Companies need to understand the medium and understand their audience in order to ensure communication. The most important thing a company must know is that Twitter is not a one-way PR channel; it is about being engaged in the conversation around your brand and being transparent in this engagement. If successful, this could mean a reduction in customer relations’ costs and an improvement in brand image. Everybody wins.
This trend is truly genius. It’s about time consumers regained some power. Our voices should heard and considered since we are the reason these companies have business at all!
As for me, I am just happy that I no longer have to wait by the phone or spend time writing a letter that will go unanswered. All I need to do is take out my phone and write my complaint in 140 characters or less.
Hopefully, it will not be long before this trend becomes the standard. This just might be beginning of the end of the customer service inferno; a knight in shining armor has come to save the day.