I guess I was showing some travel fatigue the other day in Barnaul. As our interpreter translated for a Russian speaker, I felt a vibration from my iPhone and looked down at a text message from Mimi, sitting about four feet away on the other side of the interpreter.
“U ok?” my phone asked. My stomach was grumbling a bit. “Maybe,” I texted back.
We exchanged a look and I shrugged and resumed listening to the interpreter. Then the phone vibrated again and I looked again: “U ok?” I might have rolled my eyes. Yes, I was fine, just a bit tired. I looked over at her and nodded. She looked back at me quizzically.
The questions just kept coming: “U ok?” “U ok?” “U ok?”
Actually, getting a little annoyed.
By the time the conference took a break, we were both annoyed. Her phone was repeating, “Maybe,” “Maybe,” “Maybe.”
We were trapped in some kind of text-message loop, like a 2-year-old impatient for dinner and oblivious to redundancy. We tried clearing out our conversations, turning off our phones and turning them back on. The messages just kept coming: “U ok?”
I wondered whether 611 would take me to AT&T customer service all the way from Siberia. No. I got a voice in Russian and then in English telling me that the number didn’t work.
Back in our hotel room, lots of messages later, I went to AT&T’s web site, looking for either an international customer service number I could call or some online troubleshooting help. I tried several links and asked some questions, but the automated answers didn’t help.
I gave up in frustration and turned to Twitter:
AT&T’s online customer service is worthless. The international section gives no way to call customer service when traveling internationally.
But I didn’t just want to vent about AT&T and its web site. I wanted help. So I tweeted again:
Since AT&T’s customer service wouldn’t help, does anyone know how to stop a text message from repeating endlessly on the iPhone?
My first response came from @ATTJason:
I’m with AT&T and saw you were having trouble. Can I help? I’m following.
I replied in a direct message:
Same text message keeps repeating. How can I get it to stop? Thanks, Jason
Meanwhile, @ATTTina http://twitter.com/ATTTina/status/6358135307:
I will be happy to assist Jason has left for the day.
But Jason hadn’t stopped helping me. He suggested I turn the phone off for a few minutes. I had already turned the phone off a couple times, but wasn’t sure how long. I tried it again and the messages stopped coming.
After 7 public and direct messages from the two of them and seven direct messages from me, AT&T had a happy customer. My text messages had stopped and @ATTTina had assured me we wouldn’t be charged if the message spree sent us over our plan limit.
So I tweeted my pleasure as readily as I had tweeted my disgust:
Jason and Tina helped not only me but @davidwolfgang, David Wolfgang, a media law student at the University of Missouri. Early on in the exchange, he tweeted:
I’m having the exact same problem, so I’m curious to see what you find out from AT&T.
After I shared Jason’s solution, David tweeted back, “Thanks for the info – it helped.”
I have been watching the growing use of (or failure to use) social media for customer service, aware of Jeff Jarvis’ “Dell Hell” saga, Dave Collins’ “United Breaks Guitars” YouTube sensation (6.3 million views and counting) and the exchange between “Dooce” blogger Heather Armstrong and Maytag.
I asked Toby Bell, Research VP at Gartner and an expert in reputation management, how companies are using social media to improve customer service (and head off angry customers who could harm their reputations using social media).
Twitter is a “customer sentiment analysis goldmine,” Bell said. Smart companies can use Twitter and other social tools to “build a foundation of trust,” he said.
In my case, AT&T certainly did that. Like many iPhone users, I’ve always been annoyed at the exclusive deal Apple struck with AT&T. I hit enough dead spots in the 3G coverage that I’ve always chuckled at Verizon Wireless’ “there’s a map for that” ads (though I had some customer service complaints when I had a Verizon phone a few years ago). I was one frustrated AT&T customer, obviously willing to share my pique broadly, that day in Siberia.
And now? Well, I’m OK. Thanks for asking.
Full email response from Toby Bell:
Yes… most companies with a stake in customer service remember ‘Dell Hell’ and the trouble one blogger – in this case Jeff Jarvis – can cause. And, most now monitor (or work with agencies that have digital media practices to do so) all social media to both understand and leverage influence there as well as react to negative reputation signals quickly and engage in conversations with the people who mention them or their products.
Twitter users jumped in with little appreciation for the potential downside of micro-blogging. Early examples of risky behavior included the woman who, after interviewing for a job at Cisco, tweeted to everyone “Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.” Despite not actually deciding to take the job, Cisco’s people were monitoring and reacted. Much din follows on monitoring, engagement, and reputation.
In another early case, an account executive for Ketchum lands in Memphis and tweets that it ‘sucks’. FedEx, having made substantial effort to promote the town to its people, is dismayed to have its ad agency badmouthing its HQ in public. Changes ensue to policies and practices in both companies.
Twitter has become a customer sentiment analysis goldmine, but detecting and reacting appropriately to influential tweets is still art – not science. But many companies use Twitter to keep track of issues, launch trial balloons, and locate experts. It is an ‘unfocus group’ with enormous potential if related to by interested, enthusiastic, and social media sensitive pros.
Gartner published a report called “Negative Reputation Events and Their Outcomes” in 2008 that describes a number of business problems caused by social media and approaches taken to solve them – whether successful or not. The number of such negative events are growing. The number of technologies to help uncover the culprits and react faster is also growing. But ideally, companies will focus not simply on crisis management but instead on building a foundation for a positive relationship with customers by whatever means possible.
I think that Twitter monitoring can have substantial value in uncovering and remediating problems identified by the early adopters there. It can also build a foundation of trust in the companies who engage positively in social media to support enterprise Internet reputation management.