No Amount of Social Media Overcomes Bad Customer Experience

CustomerService

This is not a post to bash AT&T.

I know many folks who have had issues with their network, dropping calls and customer service.  I’ve had quite the opposite.  Sure I’ve dropped a call occasionally, but I actually switched to AT&T because they were the only service provider that had great coverage when I was traveling to a client in Ann Arbor, MI, years ago.  In addition to my Blackberry, I purchased a broadband USB card that has helped me tremendously while I have been on the road.  All in all I’ve been a pleased customer for nearly three years.

Where They’re Doing Some Things Well

On the social media side, AT&T has made some compelling strides over the last year plus.  For years they have been working with Seth Bloom (who I have met and think very highly of) and they took the leap to put him customer facing representing the company.  They have shown a good progression – starting with a Youtube channel and an engaging Facebook page, expanding to listening and customer service directly via Twitter, and making all the help more accessible via a social media landing page.  This week AT&T announced a new iPhone app called “Mark That Spot” – it allows customers to indicate when they are in a location with poor 3G coverage – they are listening to customers, and it’s a good start.  I’m not sure how many of AT&T’s competitors have made this much effort, frankly.  For a recent issue I had, @ATTNatasha reached out to me via Twitter and has been extremely patient, helpful and proactive in working to resolve the issue.  Just last week, when Natasha was out of the office, she asked @ATTJason to follow up on another request I had – he was professional, responsive and helpful.

Where The Experience Falls Short

ATTBillHere’s where my personal experience with AT&T fell down. In September I took a 2-day trip to Toronto, Canada, for a conference.  Before I left, I called customer service and asked for recommendations for voice, data and broadband plan changes that would help.  I put measures in place for each.  When I got back, I had a $6,000 bill.  My average monthly bill for all services is $250.

Over the next 6 weeks, I had many calls with Natasha and other customer service reps.  AT&T Billing (not Natasha) called me twice to threaten to disconnect my service while the September bill was in dispute.  Natasha was able to work out several credits offline through her supervisors, and continued to keep me posted via Twitter.  I really enjoyed working with her in this way – I avoided long wait times on the phone.  However in the end her supervisors told her that she could credit me only so much, they believe my broadband card was legitimately connected, and still invoiced me for $1300 worth of data and roaming charges in a two day period.  I have ample spreadsheets to keep track of the discussions and calculations we went through.

On my last call with Natasha, she delivered the news, and I immediately canceled my broadband service.  I already have a Verizon broadband card activated. I am actively shopping for cell phone service.  We agreed to disagree on the bill amount but considered the matter closed.  Two weeks later AT&T suspended all service to my cell phone and only reactivated after I paid the amount due in full.  I felt like I had no other option.

Here’s the point: No amount of interaction through Twitter or other social media outlets could prevent ultimately a bad customer experience and loss of a customer.

In the progression that AT&T has started in social media, a pivotal next step will be to integrate these customer relationships and interactions into their overall business process, with customer feedback being added to the product lifecycle, driving their programs and revamping their overall customer experience. I think I just lived at least a portion of what David Armano and Peter Kim are talking about when they preach “social business design.”

A disclaimer: Was user error involved? Probably – I may have left the broadband card plugged in overnight, which I have since learned is a quick way to rack up usage charges (even if not connected). I definitely did not download however many GB of data they have on record though. Was it worth AT&T to eat more of that cost to keep a long term customer? Apparently not.

Where have you had a bad customer experience?  Did the company try to use social media to overcome it?  Please no AT&T network bashing comments – there are plenty of other outlets for that.

Photo credit: dwfree1967 via Flickr

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  • Adam – what you’re pointing out here is something that many social media evangelists should read. In other instances of customer service issues documented on Twitter, I think we’ve been too quick to judge that brand’s activities in the social space. What’s the reality? It wasn’t social’s fault (in many cases), but a failure at the operational level. Of the many benefits of social, repairing operational deficiencies is not one (yet).

  • Adam – what you’re pointing out here is something that many social media evangelists should read. In other instances of customer service issues documented on Twitter, I think we’ve been too quick to judge that brand’s activities in the social space. What’s the reality? It wasn’t social’s fault (in many cases), but a failure at the operational level. Of the many benefits of social, repairing operational deficiencies is not one (yet).

  • What an incredible cautionary tale Adam. This isn't as much a social media issue as it is the complete and utter disregard of customer loyalty. All one has to do is see that that is not your normal usage pattern…Appalling..

  • The problem you may have Adam is that AT&T is charged roaming fees by International carriers, meaning since the charges took place off network, they’re culpable for the charges via their roaming alliance. How this applies to AT&T since Rogers is a partner of AT&T’s (hence the namesake) may be of little consequence since ultimately, someone has to ante up the money via the roaming agreement.

    A few suggestions: Any brand with a customer service team the size of AT&T will most likely have recorded your conversations. I would request to listen to the voice records with the customer service representative so you can specifically prove your point that you took the advice of AT&T to safeguard against outlandish roaming fees.

    I do think the future of social media will include more closer alignment with CRM since losing you as a customer should have been avoidable. Being able to pull up statistics on a consumer’s loyalty to the brand in addition to their influencer ranking could help customer service teams understand just how to mitigate a problem and what length of diffusion they need to use to do so.

    That’s not to imply specialized treatment for A-listers, but a more calculated approach of understanding the ramifications of not settling an issue with the loudest voice in the room. It’s common sense and something you often see in real world all the time.

    I wish you luck in finding a new mobile provider.

    -Craig

  • Interesting though Chuck. I'm not so sure social media will fix operational deficiencies ever – rather, operations will infuse the voice of the customer throughout, so that feedback through social channels is a fundamental part of a functioning business process. That requires operations to be rebuilt with social in mind (inside and outside the enterprise) – it's a big change. I'm already facing that at one client where business processes have been in place for 20+ years.

  • I think I spoke those exact words on the phone Marc. We debated my usage pattern over the prior 3 months and came up with an average daily rate. Even factoring out weekends, it was nowhere near what was somehow recorded those two days. The social media part of it was that social made it easier to communicate with customer service – that is leaps and bounds better than waiting on hold for minutes if not hours. But if it can't change the outcome it just isn't enough. Thanks for the commiserating!

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  • Adam, thanks for sharing that horrible experience. What's most interesting to me is that this happened to a social media professional. It shouldn't make a difference…meaning, treat all customers right and focus on retention…but what a difference it makes as the story gets out.

  • I wouldn't expect businesses are savvy enough yet with CRM (as Craig points out) to on-the-fly be able to identify the level of influence someone has online. I also thing that can be misleading. Rather, I would think creating a positive, “wow” experience for each customer through a rational approach to resolving service issues would prevail. In this case it didn't, and they lost a long time customer and previous fan as a result. One day I'd love to pull the “Don't you know who I am?” card, but despite working in this industry that's way off 🙂

  • Thanks Craig, you make some great points. The roaming fees were international, do doubt. And I was willing to pay for upgraded plans (you can buy packages of 100MB-200MB at a time, around $100 for 100MB). But in this case, it was way over.

    In terms of the recorded conversations – at no time was it disputed that I called in advance to change my voice, Blackberry data and broadband data plans. It was clear those were added to my account., but the safeguard wasn't anywhere close enough to cover what transpired.

    Great thoughts on the future of social and tying to CRM. I have already started working with clients to infuse social in the CRM strategy, but the hardest part (so far) seems to be adjusting approaches with new inputs rather than a just a one-way communication plan. The level of influence is key, and most companies who run a help desk do have “elite” teams who handle the most sensitive customer situations. Not sure this qualified, or that AT&T's social media support team is structured as such yet. We'll see. Thanks again for the thoughts.

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  • I have been thinking about Social Marketing and Social tools for a while. Particularly as the use of these tools skyrockets. Does Social Marketing really make a company social, and by social, I mean, is the company taking advantage of interactions and communications beyond traditional hierarchical communications? I think marketers are pushing social communication and social design beyond the traditional marketing walls but we still have a long way to go before many companies can actually call themselves social. While this social corporation concept isn't new, the prolific use of it is and I believe we have a few years before many companies completely understand and embrace the value of being truly social.

  • I completely agree… and actually I think companies like AT&T are abusing my “expectations – really = satisfaction” rule. By getting into social innocuously by starting a Twitter account, a Facebook page, etc… they are creating the expectation that they are listening and they care. But if the operational processes have not kept up, they end up hitting a brick wall with customers even faster than they otherwise would and Adam's example of this is a great one.

    The funny thing to watch is so many companies are jumping on the social bandwagon… which is sort of committing themselves to a path that leads to major disruption… and they don't even often realize it. I think there will be a lot of friction over the next 5-10 years as companies realize what they've gotten themselves into.

  • I like your point about the social bandwagon and unmanaged expectations. I think this could be the topic of another post – once companies start down the path it's hard to turn back. Customer expectations rise, employee expectations rise, and communities are connected and enabled in ways they weren't before and can't be ignored.

  • I completely agree… and actually I think companies like AT&T are abusing my “expectations – really = satisfaction” rule. By getting into social innocuously by starting a Twitter account, a Facebook page, etc… they are creating the expectation that they are listening and they care. But if the operational processes have not kept up, they end up hitting a brick wall with customers even faster than they otherwise would and Adam's example of this is a great one.

    The funny thing to watch is so many companies are jumping on the social bandwagon… which is sort of committing themselves to a path that leads to major disruption… and they don't even often realize it. I think there will be a lot of friction over the next 5-10 years as companies realize what they've gotten themselves into.

  • I like your point about the social bandwagon and unmanaged expectations. I think this could be the topic of another post – once companies start down the path it's hard to turn back. Customer expectations rise, employee expectations rise, and communities are connected and enabled in ways they weren't before and can't be ignored.

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