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John (my co-founder) and I started to get nervous last Wednesday that our weekend travel plans would get canceled due to Hurricane Irene, so we did what most people did: we called the airlines to check on flight status, cancellation policies and airport closures.
While we waited on hold for several minutes, we thought what any entrepreneur in the customer service space would think: how will the contact centers of the country’s largest airlines perform under the stresses and high inquiry volumes caused by Hurricane Irene?
Well, since it just so happens we are in the business of evaluating and rating customer service performance, we mobilized our network of “mystery shoppers on steroids” to find out, and here’s what we found:STELLAService originally excluded replies from tweets sent to Continental’s Twitter account since it stated that its Twitter account is no longer active. Even though United and Continental have merged and now use a single active Twitter handle, @United, we have updated our findings as of 8/31/11 to reflect the 58% response rate to tweets directed to the inactive @Continental Twitter account. The tweets sent to American Airlines were sent to an account they deem to be inactive, so we have removed their Twitter findings and updated the above chart for that as well.
Kudos to U.S. Airways for keeping average hold times under three minutes the day before the storm hit. Most of the wait times at other airlines ranged from 10 minutes to over an hour (American Airlines took an average of 1 hour and 32 minutes to answer our calls)!
As for leveraging Twitter to provide service to travelers in despair, Delta, Frontier and jetBlue proved their social media savviness. Delta and jetBlue even responded to customer service-related tweets within 14 minutes and 11 minutes, respectively. Delta took it one step further and personalized it’s Twitter support by denoting the initials of the specific agent at Delta who replied to each tweet. This is time saving and convenient in the event the issue needed to be taken to the phones and that agent’s name could be referenced as someone who was already aware of the problem / issue.
Considering the major challenges in reaching a customer service agent over the phone and the conversational nature of twitter as a channel for customer support, it was great to see these airlines use Twitter so effectively to help their customers. AirTran responded to none of the tweets we sent the day before Irene made landfall.
It’s obvious we have choices when it comes to choosing an airline, and while there are sometimes slight price differences that make us lean one way or another, at the end of the day it’s all about the customer experience. When things are calm or when things are crazy, we need our airline of choice to be able to help us quickly, confidently and in a genuine way.
We were fortunate enough to catch a Twitter interaction between Stephanie and the company she mentions in her post. We took a look at her amazing blog and realized that her love of fashion would help us prove a great point — that a company’s service transcends its products. Be it commodities like paper towels and batteries, or high fashion items like Isabel Marant Tan Lacow booties, the experience from ordering these products is of the utmost importance.
Thus, without further introduction, Stephanie’s experience:
After a never ending search for the much-coveted Isabel Marant Tan Lacow booties—a cult footwear shoe of sorts within fashion circles—that was met with no success on eBay (my go-to shopping site for staking out my wishlist items at a fraction of the cost) I decided the Sam Edelman Louie Fringe Booties in Evening Rose would do the trick. Initially I was skeptical of their fringed detail, fearing it would lend them a cowboy aesthetic I wasn’t exactly after. But after I placed them in my Shopbop shopping cart—my go-to shop for anything I’m not bargain hunting for—I didn’t look back (I had a party that weekend I knew they’d outfit coordinate perfectly for) and waited anxiously for their speedy arrival.
Being the frequent Shopbop customer that I am (and impatiently natured), after two days went by and I still haden’t received them, I had an inkling something was up so I double checked the DHL tracking number online in the hopes of a status update. My eyes widened. They had been delivered the day prior to my office, (the right address) to someone named Michael. I work at a fashion magazine and the only male in sight is named Eli. Paniccccccc. Where were my shoes and who is Michael?! I couldn’t help but wonder if my dreams of owning Marant-worthy booties were simply not meant to be. After an infuriating follow-up with the DHL call center and two or three un-sympathizing agents (remind me why these calls are “monitored” if said employees are being less than helpful?!) I was left with nothing but frustrating despair and the thought that my boots were holed up with some dude named Michael who knows where in Montreal. Great.
The following day, I persisted. Finally after feeling like the whole thing was a lost cause, I decided to tweet (@stephaniechic) Shopbop (@shopbop) my unfortunate luck. Twist of fate. I got an email saying Shopbop was following me on Twitter. Awwwesome. Followed soon after by a DM asking me to provide them with my contact info so they could do whatever they could to help me out. I obliged without blinking and eye and within an hour I had a Shopbop customer service agent on the case, trying to track down my shoes with their respective (and very efficient) DHL rep.
The following day, after no sign of life from my Louie booties, I called Shopbop back and we agreed that the best thing to do at this point would be for them to send me another pair (their stock was rapidly depleting) and have the other pair shipped back to them whenever it was finally tracked down. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve been a longtime online shopper, but always assumed that if something gets lost between the online store’s shipping warehouse and your delivery destination, it was a lost cause as there was no tangible evidence, really, apart from my irate state of mind, that the item in question was actually lost.
No sooner did the Shopbop agent (with whom I’d fast become buddies with over the last 24 hours, commiserating on the trials of online shopping and bonding over our love of well, Shopbop, our common point of interest) and I hang up (my mind at rest with another pair of booties on their way to me—via UPS this time—you see, you live you learn ), did Mykaelle, an assistant stylist at the magazine where I work, show up at my desk holding a brown box. I gasped. OMG!!! I quickly flipped it over in search of the tag. Shopbop. DHL. Check. Check. My BOOTSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!! They were in the office all along! My phone rang within a few seconds of Mykaelle’s appearance and it was the Montreal DHL rep, calling to inform me that my package had in fact been delivered to “Mykaelle” and not Michael, as was signed for by his very intelligent agent. Ten points for Shopbop. Zero for DHL. And the Louie boots? They haven’t parted ways with my everyday wardrobe since I first slipped them on back in April.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the size, power and influence of Twitter, especially as it relates to communicating a good or bad customer experience. Consider the facts:
With a direct connection to hundreds of millions of consumers, 24/hours a day, these famous (and not so famous) people provide an unmatched, credible and independent angle for information about companies and “real” experiences as a customer. Twitter’s most effective use for consumers is to obtain information they cannot otherwise get (or devote time to getting).
Consumers buy (especially online) based on three variables:
Customer service is the one variable that consumers cannot immediately see or measure, and it therefore creates a significant information asymmetry between the merchant and the consumer. Twitter helps to close this gap by providing a way for consumers to share customer experiences and information through a credible network of people whose opinions we “trust”.
(Random thought: Do you think this means that celebrities now factor in the number of Twitter followers they have when negotiating sponsorship deals? Does Miley Cyrus have a clause in her contract with Disney that pays her based on her popularity on Twitter?)
At the end of the day, STELLAService, just like Twitter, will provide the two things online consumers need: credible customer experience information; and transparency.