Recently I carried out a small survey on social media among colleagues within the MLA-sector (museums, libraries and archives). Out of 32 responses only 1 actually saw social media as a channel for customer relations. Most common among the responses was to use social media as a channel for listening, to push information and to have a dialogue with the target groups.
Outside the cultural heritage sector, pure customer care through Twitter is growing. I have myself had two experiences as a customer where my use of Twitter actually made a difference. Well, a huge difference I would say.
Pixmania and customer care
First experience was in September 2009. I had purchased a microphone from Pixmania, a French company that is web based. They charged my credit card for the microphone but sent me a dvd instead. So, checking into their website to return the dvd I discovered that: a) I douldn’t call to get personal service from their representatives and b) to return the dvd I had to fill in a form with a couple of mandatory fields that did not correspond to my needs. Their website completely reduced my possibilities of making a complaint. I was seemingly stuck with the dvd.
In great frustration, the microphone was expensive, I ventilated my problem on Twitter. And soon enough I actually got a personal response from a Pixmania representative. She helped me sorting out the problem and I finally got what I had ordered and paid for.
The Lufthansa experience
Second experience was in April 2010. I was travelling with my husband from Denver to Stockholm with Lufthansa. Due to the volcanic ash clouds that covered Europe at that time our stopover in Frankfurt, Germany, turned out to be an uncomfortable experience. We ended up being transported by bus to Copenhagen, and to get on the bus we had to sign a release so that Lufthansa’s responsibility for us would end in Denmark (hotels in Frankfurt were not offered).
Being dropped off in Copenhagen at 3 o’clock in the morning we had to get a hotel room (at our own expenses) for a couple of hours sleep. The volcanic ash cloud caused a lot of chaos in the air transport industry in April. I was quite aware of that, but when Lufthansa_USA two days later cheerfully tweeted about flying some celebrity for free from the US to a German beer festival (just for fun), I was rather annoyed. There were stillthousands of passengers affected by the huge delays. Not to mention we had ended up in another country than our final destination.
I tweeted out my distress and soon enough Lufthansa_USA responded and said we should contact the customer relations. So I wrote a long letter to the customer relations on April 22nd.
Almost three weeks later I still hadn’t recieved any reply from lufthansa customer relations. So, I started again to ventilate my frustration on Twitter. This was on a Sunday. To my surprise tweets from Lufthansa_DE started to show up in my Tweetdeck, regular tweets about flights being on time etc. But absolutely no response whatsoever.
After several tweets about our Lufthansa experience, still no response, but several retweets and responses from people working with social media reacting to the very big mistake by the company. One way communication through Twitter is not a great success. And not responding to direct questions is a number 1 fail.
Then, Monday morning, Lufthansa_DE apparently had other staff coming in, with mandate to actually speak on Lufthansa’s behalf. The first tweet that I recieved through a DM, 9.12 am, was:
”Good Morning, Unfortunately we cannot solve complex issues via Twitter. Pls contact customer relations instead, thanks http://t.lh.com/GPjo”
I replied at 9.32 am:
”I did, on Aril 22nd, still no reply!”
At 9.48 I recieved this:
”Thanks for your quick reply. The amount of volcano-related issues is huge, your request will be dealt with in due time.”
And at 10 am:
”Customer relations informed us that your claim is indeed filed. Working hard to reduce backlog. Thanks for your patience.”
To show my gratitude and satisfaction to finally get a response I replied at 10.04:
”Thank you for replying! :-)”
Then, the very same day I got a long letter from Lufthansa with great regrets about the situation explaning that they were not able to predict the cancellations etc. They also stated they would reimburse us for the cancelled flight, but then not reimburse our extra costs when travelling from Copenhagen to Stockholm (our final destination).
Two days later
Two days later I recieved a personal phonecall from the Lufthansa customer relations saying they would reimburse us for the hotel night in Copenhangen and for the bustrip to Stockholm. They admitted that making us signing the release in Frankfurt was not correct.
These two experiences have raised a few questions, that are relevant to any company and organisation working with customer relations. What role did Twitter have in this case? Would I still be awaiting response had I not started to tweet about our distress and frustration? Right now the single Twitter-user can make a difference and these are just two cases out of many. A likely development is that the number of people using social media to be influential in their role as customers will grow, and for the cultural heritage sector this is ofcourse important to have in mind.