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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Firms listen to consumers who tweet their gripes

Wal-Mart.com USA, LLC
dryer by fuzzysaurus
dryer, a photo by fuzzysaurus on Flickr.

When his new dryer didn't work, Brian Williams vented his frustration on Twitter:

"Sears and Samsung, you fail. Ordered the major washer dryer. Installer says dryer arrived broken. Fail fail fail."

To his surprise, a Sears customer service agent replied by tweet within a few hours. Two days later, Williams had a working dryer delivered to his Nanuet, N.Y., home and the negative experience turned into praise for Sears.

"@SearsBlueCrewHA, washer and dryer arrived working perfectly. Social media and customer service a great match," Williams tweeted.

Consumers around the world have discovered that popular social networks like Twitter Inc., the San Francisco microblogging service, have created a new, more personal way to bypass traditional customer service phone lines or Web sites.

"In a lot of ways, it's how consumers are flexing their power," said David Berkowitz, senior director of emerging media and innovation for digital marketing firm 360i.

And for corporations like Sears, Southwest Airlines and Comcast, the Twitter stream - fed by more than 60 million users sending bursts of messages of 140 characters or less - is an immediate, real-time monitor of what their customers are saying about them, both good and bad.

"It doesn't matter what industry you're in, every business lives and breathes by word-of-mouth referral," said E.J. Kritz, director of brand development for Cartridge World USA of Emeryville.

"Never has there been a time in human history where word of mouth has been able to travel so fast," Kritz said. "When you have 250 Twitter followers and you have something to say, boom, 250 people hear what you say."

Kritz has experience on both sides of the fence. For Cartridge World, Kritz spends about 10 minutes a day responding to all Twitter mentions of the chain of printer cartridge stores.

But as a consumer, he recently tweeted his frustration after an "awful experience" on a customer service line for the Lowe's home improvement chain. Within 24 hours, he received both a Twitter response and two phone calls from another service representative and the initial problem was quickly resolved.

"They were very apologetic and they made it right," Kritz said. "It re-instilled my confidence and desire to do business again with Lowe's."

Getting the runaround

San Francisco resident Ash Sud, founder of a startup called ZippGo.com, said when he moved last July, a Comcast agent told him cable and Internet service were not available in his new building. An hour later, another agent said it was available, but required paperwork and a minimum two weeks before service could start.

"I was in the process of launching a company, which required Internet access, so two weeks wasn't going to work," Sud said. "I argued with the person on the phone about how this was absolutely ridiculous, but only received robotic answers that sounded like they were coming from a manual."

So Sud sent a tweet, received a response within an hour and an installation manager and engineer were at his door the next morning. "I was amazed at how my tweet on Twitter changed the level of customer service I received from Comcast," Sud said.

The Internet has always provided irate consumers with public venues to vent, such as bulletin boards, blogs and community forums. But Twitter and, to a lesser extent, Facebook bring a "sense of immediacy," Berkowitz said.

Companies are still experimenting with their social-network responses and some customers contacted for this story said their tweets didn't always get attention or bring results.

Still, consumers like social media's personal touch, which can be lacking on a Web site or complaint line, said Larry Weintraub, chief executive of Fanscape, a Los Angeles digital marketing agency.

A service agent on Twitter can reveal their name, title, photo and biography, but "when you're on the phone with someone who may be in a foreign country, you have no idea who it is. It's just a faceless voice," he said.

Christi Day, Southwest's voice on Twitter, said she sees an average of 150 to 200 tweets daily, although only five to 10 people pose questions or problems. Day said she contacts them directly to solve the problem off line.

"Twitter is a great place to have your voice heard, but not always a great place to get your problem solved," Day said. "A lot of times, they just want to talk to a person or hear, 'I'm sorry.' "

Responding to complaints with more tweets can be tricky.

JetBlue passenger David Leite said he had an unpleasant flight from New York to Florida last week and posted his experience on Twitter when he hit the ground. Just 71 minutes later, the airline tweeted an apology to Leite and offered a $15 voucher to use on future flights.

"I didn't expect to be contacted by the company," said Leite, a cookbook author and food Web site publisher. But he said he would have preferred a private message or a call back with an apology and called the voucher "a social Band-Aid" designed to make the company look good.

"To be honest with you, I don't want to fly JetBlue again," Leite said. "I don't want to have to spend $200 to get $15 back."

Listening to customers

Frank Eliason, Comcast's senior director of national customer service, said social media can't be controlled as if it were just another advertising channel or promotional tool.

"Social media is a communications channel that's owned by the customer," said Eliason, who has become renowned for helping customers through Twitter and helping to change Comcast's corporate culture.

"It used to be that marketing was king," he said. "It's now going to be about service, creating the right experience, (which) might be listening to your customers, engaging them or making sure what you're doing is the right thing right off the bat."

Fanscape's Weintraub said that for now, Twitter is a way to "get your problems solved quickest," but that could change if the system gets overloaded by people who tweet before calling.

Still, he said, social media's impact on customer service will continue to press companies to respond even faster, especially through location-based applications like Foursquare. In the future, for example, a restaurant customer could alert fellow patrons that the soup of the day is too salty, forcing the chef in the kitchen to instantly make an adjustment.

"People are talking about your brand anyway, and you can't ignore it," Weintraub said.

E-mail Benny Evangelista at bevangelista@sfchronicle.com.

Benny Evangelista; Chronicle Staff Writer

Source Citation
Evangelista, Benny. "Firms listen to consumers who tweet their gripes." San Francisco Chronicle 17 Jan. 2010: A1. Gale Power Search. Web. 8 Feb. 2012.
Document URL
http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA216905597&v=2.1&u=22054_acld&it=r&p=GPS&sw=w

Gale Document Number: GALE|A216905597

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Appliances at Sears.ca

When his new dryer didn't work, Brian Williams vented his frustration on Twitter:

"Sears and Samsung, you fail. Ordered the major washer dryer. Installer says dryer arrived broken. Fail fail fail."

To his surprise, a Sears customer service agent replied by tweet within a few hours. Two days later, Williams had a working dryer delivered to his Nanuet, N.Y., home and the negative experience turned into praise for Sears.

"@SearsBlueCrewHA, washer and dryer arrived working perfectly. Social media and customer service a great match," Williams tweeted.

Consumers around the world have discovered that popular social networks like Twitter Inc., the San Francisco microblogging service, have created a new, more personal way to bypass traditional customer service phone lines or Web sites.

"In a lot of ways, it's how consumers are flexing their power," said David Berkowitz, senior director of emerging media and innovation for digital marketing firm 360i.

And for corporations like Sears, Southwest Airlines and Comcast, the Twitter stream - fed by more than 60 million users sending bursts of messages of 140 characters or less - is an immediate, real-time monitor of what their customers are saying about them, both good and bad.

"It doesn't matter what industry you're in, every business lives and breathes by word-of-mouth referral," said E.J. Kritz, director of brand development for Cartridge World USA of Emeryville.

"Never has there been a time in human history where word of mouth has been able to travel so fast," Kritz said. "When you have 250 Twitter followers and you have something to say, boom, 250 people hear what you say."

Kritz has experience on both sides of the fence. For Cartridge World, Kritz spends about 10 minutes a day responding to all Twitter mentions of the chain of printer cartridge stores.

But as a consumer, he recently tweeted his frustration after an "awful experience" on a customer service line for the Lowe's home improvement chain. Within 24 hours, he received both a Twitter response and two phone calls from another service representative and the initial problem was quickly resolved.

"They were very apologetic and they made it right," Kritz said. "It re-instilled my confidence and desire to do business again with Lowe's."

Getting the runaround

San Francisco resident Ash Sud, founder of a startup called ZippGo.com, said when he moved last July, a Comcast agent told him cable and Internet service were not available in his new building. An hour later, another agent said it was available, but required paperwork and a minimum two weeks before service could start.

"I was in the process of launching a company, which required Internet access, so two weeks wasn't going to work," Sud said. "I argued with the person on the phone about how this was absolutely ridiculous, but only received robotic answers that sounded like they were coming from a manual."

So Sud sent a tweet, received a response within an hour and an installation manager and engineer were at his door the next morning. "I was amazed at how my tweet on Twitter changed the level of customer service I received from Comcast," Sud said.

The Internet has always provided irate consumers with public venues to vent, such as bulletin boards, blogs and community forums. But Twitter and, to a lesser extent, Facebook bring a "sense of immediacy," Berkowitz said.

Companies are still experimenting with their social-network responses and some customers contacted for this story said their tweets didn't always get attention or bring results.

Still, consumers like social media's personal touch, which can be lacking on a Web site or complaint line, said Larry Weintraub, chief executive of Fanscape, a Los Angeles digital marketing agency.

A service agent on Twitter can reveal their name, title, photo and biography, but "when you're on the phone with someone who may be in a foreign country, you have no idea who it is. It's just a faceless voice," he said.

Christi Day, Southwest's voice on Twitter, said she sees an average of 150 to 200 tweets daily, although only five to 10 people pose questions or problems. Day said she contacts them directly to solve the problem off line.

"Twitter is a great place to have your voice heard, but not always a great place to get your problem solved," Day said. "A lot of times, they just want to talk to a person or hear, 'I'm sorry.' "

Responding to complaints with more tweets can be tricky.

JetBlue passenger David Leite said he had an unpleasant flight from New York to Florida last week and posted his experience on Twitter when he hit the ground. Just 71 minutes later, the airline tweeted an apology to Leite and offered a $15 voucher to use on future flights.

"I didn't expect to be contacted by the company," said Leite, a cookbook author and food Web site publisher. But he said he would have preferred a private message or a call back with an apology and called the voucher "a social Band-Aid" designed to make the company look good.

"To be honest with you, I don't want to fly JetBlue again," Leite said. "I don't want to have to spend $200 to get $15 back."

Listening to customers

Frank Eliason, Comcast's senior director of national customer service, said social media can't be controlled as if it were just another advertising channel or promotional tool.

"Social media is a communications channel that's owned by the customer," said Eliason, who has become renowned for helping customers through Twitter and helping to change Comcast's corporate culture.

"It used to be that marketing was king," he said. "It's now going to be about service, creating the right experience, (which) might be listening to your customers, engaging them or making sure what you're doing is the right thing right off the bat."

Fanscape's Weintraub said that for now, Twitter is a way to "get your problems solved quickest," but that could change if the system gets overloaded by people who tweet before calling.

Still, he said, social media's impact on customer service will continue to press companies to respond even faster, especially through location-based applications like Foursquare. In the future, for example, a restaurant customer could alert fellow patrons that the soup of the day is too salty, forcing the chef in the kitchen to instantly make an adjustment.

"People are talking about your brand anyway, and you can't ignore it," Weintraub said.

E-mail Benny Evangelista at bevangelista@sfchronicle.com.

Benny Evangelista; Chronicle Staff Writer

Source Citation
Evangelista, Benny. "Firms listen to consumers who tweet their gripes." San Francisco Chronicle 17 Jan. 2010: A1. Gale Power Search. Web. 8 Feb. 2012.
Document URL
http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA216905597&v=2.1&u=22054_acld&it=r&p=GPS&sw=w

Gale Document Number: GALE|A216905597

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