Wednesday, August 26, 2009

True Tales from the Twitterverse - The Verizon Twitter Ears are Listening!

On August 24th, 2009, my phenomenally good luck with Verizon customer service ran out. I was engaged in my month-end expense filing activity and pulled up my on-line MyVerizon account only to notice that it appeared that I had NOT paid my bill. My knee-jerk, panicked reaction was to hit the "Pay Bill Now" option, as I am far too trusting of technology on occasion. After milliseconds of reflection, I recalled that I had, in fact, paid my bill on the 17th and proceeded to dive into the "to file" pile to find the confirmation number. The Twitter Tale begins:

I call the customer service number on the paper bill (I know, not very green, but I still have to file expenses in a fairly dated fashion). I chose option #1 for billing and waited. As I was multi-tasking, I enabled speaker-phone and listened to the hold music and various disclaimers for some time before the theoretically billing-questions-enabled customer service representative answered. When I explained my "double-payment" and "why was the first payment not reflected in the on-line statement" issue, I was abruptly told that I would have to be transferred to "that" department. ?. I thought option #1 was that department. After some time, the line was answered by another indiviudal, to whom I repeated my phone number (I never really get why they can't transfer the number along with the call) and my concerns and was immediately told that she did not have access to my billing records. Back to on-hold land. This is where the Twitter Tale truly begins. I actually was able to create pineapple upside-down cake batter FROM SCRATCH and get it in the oven before I decide to start Tweeting. As I am ultra-sensitive to the nuances of customer service and I have (unlike many others) had fantastic service from Verizon in the past, I don't think I was ever vitriolic, just stunned and curious about not only the initiating circumstances, but how Verizon would respond.

Tweet #1:
Luck w/Verizon Customer Service just ran out....47 min and counting on hold for simple bill ? two transfers so far! from TweetDeck

Minutes after posting this Tweet, the hold music stopped and I heard the initial IVR message regarding my various options for service, including "Press One for Billing Questions." What? Is there a time-out feature? I thought that we were looking at my billing records? Back to Tweetdeck with the following:

Tweet #2:
If Verizon had active SM Twitter Triage they could turn this getting same msg about verifying acct. from TweetDeck

As part of my research for an earlier post about Social Media Risk Assessment, I created a Tweetdeck column around "Worst Customer Service." Verizon shows up daily and I have made the assumption that the individuals posting these truly nasty remarks are the exceptions. I also made the assumption that as a digitized, communications enabler, Verizon had developed a robust multi-media strategy for facilitating customer interaction in a variety of ways. (That is what I would recommend to them if they hired me to do an assessment.) So, I decided to make the best use of the hold-time and turn this experience into a metaphor around social media and networking's use in customer service practices. Thus:

Tweet #3:
Verizon customer service analysis Tweeting live right now! from TweetDeck

Tweet #4:
Verizon-1st billing transfer had to look up billing records 43 minutes later back to original account verification process?!? 51 mins now! from TweetDeck

Very shortly after this Tweet, (I had chosen Option 1, again, and repeated my phone number), my call was answered by Nicole (sp?) in Arizona. After relaying not only my initial query but my travels through the land of interminable hold and transfer-land, Nicole apologized profusely and immediately offered a couple of solution to the initial dilemna. Unfortunately, one of them would involve yet another transfer to another department and quite frankly, my time outweighed my curiosity at this point so I chose to keep the second bill payment as a credit. Nicole's apparently sincere concern regarding my experience and her immediate offer of two solutions were sufficient, however, for me to offer:

Tweet #5:
Verizon-Nicole in Arizona is the way that customer service should happen! from TweetDeck

Although not completely satisfied with the outcome (I make a lot of phone calls and abuse my Blackberry for all kinds of random and directed messaging and browsing so a double-bill pay is not insignificant), I was willing to focus more on the metaphor for social media use in customer service than flaming Verizon so I thought, "Why not test their Twitter Triage capabilities?" So I did:

Tweet #6:
Verizon-Are your digital ears burning? I challenge you to respond to this experience ! :) from TweetDeck

Clearly, Verizon does have a Twitter strategy of some sort as the next day, I received the "following" :) message:

Hi, Lisa Hoesel.
Verizon Help Network (VZHelpNetwork) is now following your tweets on Twitter.
A little information about Verizon Help Network:

179 followers234 tweetsfollowing 174 people

I have to be a little curious about the low number of people that Verizon's Twitter "Triage" group is following or is it that they just implemented a strategy, but I did feel alternately ego-stroked, a little nervous, and affirmed that establishing a conversation with customers seems to be the goal of this corporation. It is something that I have offered often in this humble blog and consult about daily. At minimum, we should all be "listening" to and for opportunities to engage with our clients, even those home-officed, low-profit (comparatively) ones. Just this "following" message inspired me to Tweet this:

Tweet #7:
@VZHelpNetwork Kudos to Verizon for initiating a conversation in response to a Tweet! Blog post to follow! from TweetDeck in reply to VZHelpNetwork

Clearly, Verizon is dipping their digital toes in the social media and networking world as a way to enhance, inform, and expand their customer service strategy.

Even though the initiating circumstance was NOT resolved to my satisfaction, more due to my unwillingness to be transferred again and the time I had already expended on the exercise than their ability to issue a credit, I was still encouraged enough by the fact that their digital ears were burning and they did respond to let the issue drop....for now. I am stunned by the multiple transfers and have a lot of thoughts (as I always have in these circumstances) about why the information about my numbers and records can be transferred with my call and why individuals in different customer service departments are not empowered to offer true customer resolution. Overall, however, I am feeling as if I am a valued client.

What Else Can Verizon Do:
1. Really turn this experience into a customer reference profile. If Verizon's Twitter Persona takes some initiative, he/she/they could potentially use this anecdote as a way to inform their social media strategy, customer service workflow, etc. Either for internal or external purposes, I might be a good candidate for illustrating success and failure and certainly could provide a positive testimonial about pieces of this experience.
2. Do the follow-through and follow-up. Verizon is following me now, so I "assume" that they may be more than usually attentive to any future issues. Certainly, they can mine some new search words for their listening activities.
3. Continue to offer multiple conversational/customer service portals. My elderly parents DREAD calling the 800 number for Verizon and are somewhat email literate, so certainly would respond to other options for engagement.
4. Respond in the same way to the messages that I am seeing in my Worst Customer Service Tweetdeck column as they did to me. I have strongly recommended responses in some fashion to Negative Tweets in the past, and I certainly recommend it to Verizon.
5. Free wireless, Blackberry, land-line, FIOS, etc. for life...... :) Kidding.

What We the People Can Do:
1. Offer our vendors the opportunity to converse with us in a mature, non-enraged, expletive-free fashion. If we need to vent, is it really useful to our end objectives to do so in a vile, nasty fashion?
2. Find ways of communicating with our vendors that are most comfortable to us and if they are not available, ask for them.
3. Share all sides of the story, including our own errors and any positive pieces in the hope that not only will the vendor be more open to listening to our problems/concerns but that our experience may inform and improve our future conversations with them.
4. As I have suggested/strongly recommended in the past, the digital conversation should be a reflection of our face-to-face and voice-to-voice engagements. The more information that we exchange digitally and the more reasonable that we are, the better the chance that we may actually see resolution and the potential for change.

I am hoping that this Twitter Tale turns into a series....Verizon, this is your opportunity to really become the poster child for customer service in the social media and networking world!

My best, as always,

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