- Comcast Customer Service s*cks
- Comcast Offers Great Customer Service on Twitter.
Both are true. Frank Eliason, the Customer Service Director behind @comcastcares is now a Social Media star, being invited to speaking engagement left and right. The buzz surrounding @comcastcares served as eye opener to many other companies who are jumping on Twitter in his footsteps.
But how can he cope with the flood of customer communication? The answer: it’s really not only him anymore. In fact it’s not even just a team working laborously, it’s an entire machinery supported by sophisticated systems. ReadWriteWeb’s Marshall Kirpatrick provides deep insight in the machinery today:
The fact is, subscribing to a search feed for relevant terms in various search engines just isn’t going to scale for larger businesses. When your online customer service team has a substantial number of people in it, you’re probably going to need a system that goes beyond informal familiarity with people and one-off responses to online mentions. Dell’s VP of Communities and Conversation, for example, has at least 45 people working under him. Having a system to listen, analyze, track, and export data from makes sense.
Just how scalable this system can be is an issue @comcasters Frank was pondering recently. One if his new tools was from social media monitoring firm Radian 6, which announced a deal with WebTrends today.
Marshall feels this monitoring / engagement system is becoming impersonal, and increasingly sales-y:
It looks like it’s just you and them, but behind them there’s a curtain covering a whole mess of cogs and pulleys, analyzing you in different ways. How many followers do you have? How did you respond the last time a company rep used your name publicly? Who’s in charge of discussing your concerns with you on Twitter, on your blog, or elsewhere?
Add the fact that many of these positions are, or will someday be filled with sales people, have them view these conversations through a closed system of predetermined criteria, and set it all inside a big CRM database. What do you get? Is it a story of authentic connection in a democratized public conversation – or is it a charade?
I’ve stated before, it’s both actual customer care and a charade. In fact Social Media outreach programs, while actually do help customers were all started for PR reasons: to manage the public damage caused by “noisy” unhappy customers. And that takes us to the root of the issue: why do we take customer service issues to public channels in the first place? Typically because the traditional channels (wait forever on the phone to get a drone repeat pre-written scripts) have failed us, and unlike 5 years ago we can now do something about it.
As long as there are few of us – “few” may very well mean hundreds, or thousands – companies can afford to go out of their way to satisfy us, and score PR credits by being publicly providing excellent service. But there’s a huge discrepancy between the service level they provide through Social Media vs. their own traditional channels.
A special case, a “hybrid” if you like is when companies (typically web startups) move their entire customer service to Get Satisfaction – it’s all under public scrutiny by default, and still centralized, which has undeniable benefits. But that’s the exception. Established large businesses be it Comcast, Dell, P&G…etc will have to deal with the new distributed nature of customer interactions.
It is clearly very expensive – so expensive, that I believe it will force companies -large and small- to improve service in the long run. The economics are simple:
- The PR damage (and potential loss of sales) caused by “noisy” individuals far exceeds the cost of helping them, so companies pull out all stops in order to put out these fires and score PR-credits.
- But fire-fighting is costly, may work with hundreds, thousands of customers, but not all.
- Companies will reach a tipping point, where all the after-the-fact fire-fighting will become so costly, that it will actually be cheaper to train their support personnel to go beyond reading scripts, actually think and provide better service in the first place, thus the Twitter-heroism will decline.
We’ll all be better off after #3.