Why is Customer Service So Much Better on Twitter?




Our Managing Director Craig Tobin knows a thing or two about customer engagement. That is one reason he co-founded one of the industry’s leading contact center consulting firms. Craig’s experience in building and managing contact centers goes back to his career with GE and Oxford Health Plans, along with his time in the private equity marketplace. He has also personally negotiated billions of dollars in outsourcing agreements, both as a buyer and a seller. However, Craig’s knowledge of customer service best practices remains current and state-of-the-art as well.

When he ran into trouble making a change to his rental car reservation during a recent trip, he knew exactly what to do – get on Twitter and challenge social media to fix the problem that he had tried to resolve with the contact center. It worked. Social media ultimately solved his problem in less than 5 minutes after Craig had spent 60+ minutes on the phone. Why did that work? Moreover, why does the social media customer experience far exceed that provided by most contact centers? Upon reviewing Craig’s experience in this case, we can identify some high probability root causes that not only explain what makes the social experience better, but also what contact centers can do to improve their service levels.

First let’s recap what happened. Craig was recently on a business trip when he had to change his plans. Based on an additional meeting that got added to his schedule, he was going to need to keep his rental car another day, and also change his drop off location. So he called his rental car company’s 800 number. For the purpose of this blog post (and to maintain the possibility we may one day sign this company as a client), I’ll only refer to the rental car vendor as Company X.

Changing drop off times and locations is probably a common call type for Company X. However, Company X totally botched Craig’s call. First of all, he had to spend almost an hour on hold. Second, after explaining his situation to the agent, they transferred him to another location, where he had to re-explain his situation not once, not twice, but three different times. Finally, when he asked the fourth agent if he could speak with a supervisor, she hung up on him!

So Craig then did what any millennial or contact center executive with 25 years in the industry would do – he turned to social media, specifically Twitter. You can see the resulting conversation in the attached screen shot. Craig started by asking (actually begging) for someone on Twitter to help him given their contact center was “broken.” He immediately got an apology and request for his car rental agreement information. Whoever was on the other end of that Twitter conversation at Company X was able to change his reservation virtually immediately. Twitter had solved his problem. Craig asked why their call center could not solve the problem and their social team could. He got a response speculating it was because the social team at Company X handles far less volume, and also because the social team gets better training.

At probably 80% of our clients, “social customer support” is handled out of the Marketing department, not the customer support contact center. Marketing departments, which are typically responsible for brand, understand implicitly what kind of damage unhappy customers can do to the image they have spent years building when unhappy customers go public with their problems on social media. Chances are Marketing started a social team with the goal of doing outbound promotion via social media. However, when they saw customers complaining loudly and publicly about their problems and lack of support, they got dragged into handling inbound problems because no one else was doing it.

Fortunately, most of these Marketing organizations have been able to get their customer support teams to partner with them to create a social support function. We have no way of knowing whether Company X organizes social this way, but again, we see this structure very frequently, so let’s assume this is the case here. Assuming this is the case, this is where the customer service team can learn some lessons from its Marketing team on how to better empower and train agents, so customers do not go social with their problems.

Yes, Company X’s social team handles less volume, but they still managed to have sufficient agents available to help in real time. Their contact centers, which surely have far larger operating budgets and thus available resources, made Craig wait on hold for almost an hour. If the social team scheduled agents like the contact center, Craig would have had to wait for a response on Twitter as well. Clearly Company X’s contact centers have some work to do when it comes to workforce management.

The fact the Company X social team could change Craig’s reservation so quickly shows he had a typical scenario and solvable problem, not some difficult edge case that needed to be escalated to some reservations modification specialist. However, while one Company X social team member was able to solve Craig’s problem, four Company X contact center employees were not. Employees need to be empowered to support customers. This is Step 2 in our recent whitepaper, “12 Steps to Customer Engagement Excellence.” Clearly, the Company X social team had sufficient empowerment. However, the Company X contact center agents did not. Why? Perhaps it was not an issue of empowerment, but an issue of training. Apparently, the social team at company X gets more/better training. Again, the question is – why?

Another observation about this whole incident – a single plea on Twitter got Craig a solution to his problem almost immediately, yet four contact centers could not solve Craig’s problem in almost an hour. Clearly there was a significant process breakdown on the contact center side. At one point, Craig was told he would be transferred to “another region.” OK, so Company X might be organized by region, but do Company X customers need to be aware of their regional organizational structure to get service? Apparently the answer is yes – at least when you call the contact center. However, on Twitter, customers experience Company X is a single, national brand – which is exactly what Company X has spent millions of dollars convincing travelers it is (maybe). Can’t the contact center(s) do this too?

The other interesting angle in this whole affair is one more detail I have not mentioned yet. Craig travels. A lot. He has been renting cars from Company X for over two decades. He is a member of their “President’s Circle”, their highest level frequent renter program. If Company X is like other large travel and hospitality companies we work with, the 10% of their members in their President’s Circle probably generated 90% of their revenue. Craig got absolutely no special support as a President’s Circle member.

Clearly Company X does not segment their customer base for support purposes. This is another missed opportunity. Every contact center we have ever encountered has had budget challenges. Virtually all of them have the chance to do some resource reallocation to provide better service for better, more valuable customers.

In fact, Company X does segment their customers for different levels of support. However, they do not do it by dollars spent or frequent renter points earned or any other measure of value or loyalty. Instead, they segment based on Support Channel Used. Social media customers get better support because they are served by more empowered, better-trained agents who were put in place to minimize customer effort to get issues addressed.

To summarize, the people running Company X’s contact centers can learn a few things from their marketing department when it comes to customer service.

First, look at your forecasting and scheduling. Your volumes probably dwarf those of your social team, so it is highly doubtful the specific scheduling software they are using will scale to meet your needs. However, there are good forecasting and scheduling packages now available from many vendors. Consider getting one.

Second, look at how the Social team trains and empowers their team members. Figure out how to do this for your agents.

Third, look at how the social team creates the appearance of a single national organization from a customer experience perspective, and can solve customer problems on a nation-wide basis (even though operations at Company X are managed regionally). If they can do it, you can do it too. Finally, consider segmenting your support offerings so you can provide premium support to your premium customers. They will appreciate you for doing this, and they will reward your company with significant future business if you do so.

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