"Is anyone from AT&T on Twitter?" I tweeted several weeks ago, "I have a horror story."
The silence was deafening, despite the fact that there are at least six Twitter accounts that feature AT&T's blue-striped sphere as their avatar. Granted, with a foreboding Tweet like that, I might not have wanted to respond either, but I'm a customer, so AT&T should have been paying attention.
I have to admit I was perplexed that that the AT&T sphere is not participating more actively in the Twittersphere. They are active on Facebook, for instance, where they forged a strategic alliance with rapper Lil Wayne (who currently has 93,800 followers on one Twitter account).
So why the lack of response on arguably the fastest growing Social Media phenomenon (and real time search engine)? AT&T is a phone company, for heaven's sake, and should be listening when customers reach out, whether it's from an iPhone, Facebook, or two tomato cans and a very sensitive string! And yet their Twitter line was buzzing and none of their accounts were answering.
My motives for reaching out to them on Twitter were simple: I am an active Twitter user and I saw that AT&T had Twitter accounts too. I didn't need more customer service, which is what often prompts tweeters reach out to @comcastcares, for instance, run by Comcast's engaging and effective Director of Digital Care, Frank Eliason, who handles questions ranging from outages, to hard rebooting, to missing closed captions. My specific problems, which included a startling policy, a mind-boggling procedure, and systemic errors, had already been solved. I simply wanted to connect with AT&T on a corporate level to give them feedback about what they got right and what went appallingly wrong.
Here's what they did right: three remarkably dedicated phone reps -- all of whom I will call Wendy because one actually was named Wendy -- spent a combined total of six hours of company time, making sure I got exactly what I needed.
On Friday, Wendy #1 spent one hour porting my number from T-Mobile, creating a Family Plan, talking her supervisor into preserving my thousands of rollover minutes, and giving me a free refurbished Blackberry Bold. She was so delightful to work with, I let her talk me into a gel cover I didn't need. When none of the emails she had promised me with the contract and tracking numbers had arrived by Monday morning, however, I called back to discover AT&T had absolutely no record of my order. In spite of the reference number I had gotten from Wendy #1, the transaction had vanished into thin air.
Enter Wendy #2 who spent 3 hours trying to track my order down, actually calling me back with frequent updates. Finally, she discovered that my Harlem zip code had raised a red flag (I'm not kidding..,) because there are "fraud issues associated with it" and that my order had not even been entered into the system yet because AT&T (get ready...) had certain procedures they needed to follow first to verify my address.
I was stunned, not only because I had been "profiled," so to speak because I live in Harlem, but because of what it told me about AT&T's efficiency. AT&T was already my phone company: so if they don't know where I live, who does? And because I was already a customer, all they had to do was 1) call me back, 2) email me, or 3) look me up in the phone book to find out, but apparently AT&T has a "procedure" they have to follow to verify addresses that takes several days.
Wendy #2 truly cared, though, and worked hard to get me what I needed, which I appreciated. She facilitated a little magic and the phone arrived late Tuesday afternoon. Unfortunately it arrived with the wrong number written on the Sim card. Not only did my phone company not know where I live, they didn't know my phone number either! Enter Wendy #3, as gracious and dedicated as the others, and two hours later my phone was up and running with the correct number.
Dedicated customer service reps like the ones who helped me can do a lot to build brand loyalty, but only if the company they are representing cares enough to give excellent service as a company. And so, frustrated by how many hours of my (and their) life this had required, I reached out on Twitter, where I knew AT&T had several corporate accounts, to compliment their customer service reps while pointing out the places where their systems had broken down. But no one tweeted back.
Smart companies monitor the conversation. Craig Newmark, who astonishingly still does customer service for Craigslist, regularly uses Twitter Search to see what people are saying and to volunteer to help solve their problems. More and more government agencies are listening to and connecting with citizens through social media, like the HHS Center for New Media, whose excellent Andrew Wilson has been an important and reassuring source of information about the swine flu outbreak. As Digital Marketer Matt Snodgrass said at a recent round table I attended: "Customer service is often facilitated with a simple 'I hear you' and that's where Twitter can shine."
But AT&T, whose employees had been such good listeners on the phone, either wasn't listening or wasn't responding on Twitter, so my attempt to give them feedback fell on deaf ears. Given that AT&T has already established a presence on Twitter, it makes a lot of sense to integrate it with other customer service functions; it makes sense to join the conversation and let customers know that the company itself is as caring as they ask their employees to be.
Come on, AT&T, it's time to reach out and touch someone again. And this time you need to do it online.
Follow Catherine Ventura on Twitter: www.twitter.com/catherinventura