MARIA OGNEVA'S BLOG
Hello, and welcome to my blog and the digital home for my thoughts. Most know me as @themaria, my handle across most social media sites and communities. My actual, given name is Maria Ogneva, and I love writing, traveling, eating, and spending time with my new husband.
I am passionate about how social media is changing the way we communicate, help and relate to each other, share news and make the world a smaller, more hospitable place. I work at Salesforce as Director of Product Marketing on the Communities product, where my job is to help customers (and the world at large) to be successful in building communities. I learn every day, and I share my thoughts and personal growth here.
Please note that the views expressed here are my own, and do not reflect those of my employer or any of our clients.
I got the idea for this post while going through some travel mishaps caused by the Icelandic Volcanic Ash Cloud. Here’s a bit of background: I flew Air France to Moscow via Paris, and Delta was fulfilling my flight back to New York’s JFK’s airport (whose customer was I really? It’s still not clear). Although Air France was very helpful getting me out of Paris and into Moscow amidst the Paris CDG Airport chaos, and even managed to get me to Moscow before CDG closed for several days, they weren’t very helpful getting me back from Moscow to JFK. “Your ticket isn’t our problem, you are Delta’s problem” was exactly what they told me (translated from Russian). And Delta, in turn, told me the same thing. Ouch, way to make someone feel special! I understand that the situation was a bit untraditional to say the least, but if you are a uniform-wearing representative, you should still choose your words carefully, whether it’s online or off.
However, this post is not about bad customer service, it’s about failed social media customer service. When neither calls or website visits or personal visits yielded any further insight as far as the next flight I could take or rebooking on a partner airline, when everything else failed, I located Delta’s twitter account and tweeted them for help. This is what our exchange looked like:
And their response:
To which I say:
I was just looking for a little out-of-the-box thinking…. But instead we were going in circles:
Although I commend Delta on at least answering their @ replies regularly, I can not commend them on proactively listening and engaging, or at least attempting to provide a solution for a customer in need. Usually when I engage with a company customer service rep on Twitter, they provide help outside of what I may find on the website. I’d like to take a second to note that I am NOT by any means knocking Delta: the airline did put me on an flight standby, some time after the above exchange, and that flight got me home to the U.S. The assistance I eventually got at the airport was fantastic. In this post, I am simply using my Twitter exchange with them as a case study for constructive criticism for social support. Most companies are very bad at it, and Delta is by far, nowhere near the worst. However, some companies are light years ahead of their peers. For example, when I had issues with Comcast, @ComcastBonnie not only found me online through active listening, but booked a service appointment for me, without me ever having to call or email, or without me even knowing how the appointment was scheduled. Everything was 100% seamless and with maximum convenience; I was not bogged down with any scheduling minutae, but rather presented with a final solution (and note: Comcast is a BIG company with many customers complaining online).
And herein lies the lesson for companies who wish to use Twitter and other social channels for customer service. It’s not enough to just be on Twitter to direct people to the homepage and 800 number, while sharing one-way company news. It is certainly not enough to point the customer to a fairly obvious online destination. At a very basic level, you should be actively helping customers who seek you out. At an actually useful level, you should be actively listening, triaging and helping, while utilizing the expertise of the whole enterprise and beyond. People who contact you on Twitter either have a much stronger preference for Twitter over other communication methods, or have exhausted other methods. You should take the time to call customer service on their behalf, or somehow help them using your own channels. At the very least, just tell them you heard them and are working on it, even if you can’t guarantee an outcome.
I can hear your objections already in my head… But airlines (or insert industry name) are too big! They have too many customers! It is simply not possible to answer everyone! Although it’s possible that some queries will be unanswered, you should be striving for a 100% response rate. With a semi-automated routing and response system like Attensity360 (disclosure: I work there), for example, you shouldn’t have any problem scaling your response efforts while simultaneously reducing your response time. In addition, how about empowering all customer service personnel to aid customers not just by phone but also by Twitter? Zappos does this, and so does Best Buy with @twelpforce (more on Twelpforce in a forthcoming post). Companies should consider Twitter as a legitimate help channel, in addition to emails, instant web chats and 800 numbers.
And yes, even with airlines it is possible; just check out Virgin America, Jet Blue and Southwest Airlines. They engage effectively and efficiently, and even if an answer points to another web-based resource, you won’t find a generic, one-fits-all answer cut and pasted to different customers. Let me give you an example from my own experience… During the same trip, due to massive delays and uncertainty, I was facing missing my flight from JFK to SFO on Virgin America, if my flight from Russia was going to be delayed. So I DM’d Virgin to explain the situation and let them know that I may be late. The tricky thing was that I wasn’t going to know if I was running late to JFK until I boarded my flight out of Moscow. Without a way to call internationally or get online conveniently, I asked if they could rebook me if I sent them a DM from the Moscow airport. Although the rep couldn’t guarantee that I would be rebooked on the next flight, he did say he will do everything possible if I sent him my frequent flyer number and DM’d from the airport. And when I landed, they sent me this message, which made me feel so warm and fuzzy all over – both, as a customer and as a social media practitioner:
Yep, an airline was actually helpful and gave me an individualized solution for an out-of-the-box problem. I know, shocking! They could’ve easily pointed me to online help or 800 number, which would’ve been OK for a more standard and less complex situation. So how did Virgin succeed where most airlines fail miserably? Because customer service is Virgin’s DNA. Even before Twitter, they have always been helpful and went above and beyond in an industry that squeezes the customer more and more. Twitter is a tool; it is not a silver bullet, but rather a manifestation of your customer service orientation, your DNA, your culture. If the orientation is not there, no tool can help you.