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AT&T Case Study: When Twitter & Facebook Response Isn’t Enough

Do you ever have one of those weeks when nothing is working out like you hoped? That was me last week. It started with a bad case of the flu and was capped off later in the week with my AT&T U-verse service going out for 24 hours. That meant my home phone, TV, and Internet services were dead.

Since I had some extra time on my hands recovering from the flu and I couldn’t exactly watch TV, I started tracking what AT&T was doing via Twitter (thanks to my iPhone with service from Verizon).

What I quickly learned was that the issues AT&T was having were widespread. It wasn’t just a local problem here in Nashville. There were lots of customers impacted across a dozen states experiencing the same problem I was. In fact, some had already been without service for two days which made my single day of no service seem more manageable by comparison.

What They Did Right
From the outset it was clear that AT&T was using their Twitter and Facebook accounts exactly as you’d suspect. They were trying to respond to the comments and replies. I looked like the frustation Tweets were coming in fast and furious and a small team of AT&T employees were trying to respond to everyone directly. You have to give them kudos for that.

Where They Messed Up
But here’s where they messed up: they weren’t really saying anything. They weren’t giving people any helpful information. They just kept repeating some version of “we’re sorry and we’re working on it.” So while they were being wonderfully responsive, they weren’t helping people by repeating the same thing over and over…especially after two days of the same cadence of replies. What was supposed to be a good thing was turning into a point of further frustration.

Responsiveness Versus Perfection
See, here’s the thing, one of the dirty little secrets of business today is that you don’t have to worry about being perfect if you’re responsive and helpful. It’s true. A company that screws up a lot but has good customer service has higher customer satisfaction than a company that doesn’t mess up as much but remains silent. People want to be heard and they want to know they that they’ve been heard.

Of course the problem with this is that it only gets you so far. At some point you have to fix the mess you’ve made and that’s where AT&T got into trouble. They couldn’t get their service back up quickly (when’s the last time you heard of someone losing the TV, phone, or Internet service for two or three days?) and that’s where all the apologies and responsiveness in the world won’t make up for the problem.

Level Up: Give More Information
When you’re in a situation like that you have to move to another level of information. What AT&T failed to do was provide a blog or newsfeed with information as it happened. If you can’t fix the problem, at least inform people thoroughly. AT&T never did that. As you can see from the screen shot below, they pretty much kept on saying the same thing over and over. I literally saw hundreds of these responses over the course of the day my service was out.

What They Should Have Done
What AT&T should have done was get much more generous with the information they were sharing and launch a status blog. Twitter did this several years ago when their service would go out frequently. People knew where to go for information and it’s still used by Twitter today.

AT&T could have answered a bunch of questions that would have helped the affected people feel like they were being brought into the know. It’s just like when a family member goes to the doctor, you want the doctor to give you lots of information even if you’re not sure you understand everything they say. It gives you confidence in their ability just to know that they’re as concerned and attentive to all the possibilities as you are.

They Could Have Said…
AT&T could have told us exactly which states were affected. It could have told us how many people were impacted. Where there more on day two or less on day two? What complications were they encountering? They could have given us more detail about what they thought the problem was.They could have given us insight into what goes into fixing it and what the expected turnaround time is. But they didn’t do any of this.

More information isn’t the problem here…more silence is the problem. When a company is in a situation like this, information gives confidence and silence raises concern.

The bottom line is that while it’s great to be responsive on Twitter or Facebook, there are situations that arise with such a level of magnitude that you are basically saying the same thing to everyone. In those scenarios it’s time move to another platform, give more information, and of course fix the problem as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately I suspect AT&T thinks they handled the social media response well based on some Tweets I saw like the one below when service began to return for customers. While they get an A+ in quantity of responses they get an F in quality and customers really want quality when it gets right down to it.

 

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  • http://Kylebjohnson.com Kyle

    This is great! What would have been really cool is if AT&T would have tweeted out a pic of crews working. You could have updated more pics by showing the areas and specifically what crews were working on. We live in such a visual times, companies need to get with it.

  • http://www.microexplosion.com bseaver

    Thanks Kyle. Agreed. Those are great ideas too. There were so many possibilities here for them that just didn’t happen.