Observation: The Great Digital (customer service) Divide

Late last year, my mother made a simple request to her local telephone monopoly which they said would be easy to fulfill.  On the appointed day when the service switch was made, it was clear the Local Telephone Monopoly did not have a clue.  In fact they disconnected my mom’s phone in the process.

The day the Local Telephone Monopoly disconnected her phone, she did what she thought she should do:  she called customer service from her cell phone.  She was given assurances that the problem would be fixed immediately.  A week later, a Friday, the problem was still not fixed even though the Local Telephone Monopoly had promised it would be.

My mom called me, from her cell, frustrated and concerned that she would spend a second weekend without a phone.  See my mom was once an early adopter of technology, in fact she was a computer programmer earlier in life.  But things like Facebook and Twitter are not relevant to her.  Her social network relies not on the internet but on her telephone.

But when my mom called me that Saturday, I did what any good Digital Citizen would do:  I joined the Local Telephone Monopoly’s Facebook Fan Page and followed it’s Twitter feed.  Once linked in to the Local Telephone Monopoly, I started posting complaints to both sites.

Within 20 minutes I received emails from customer service with requests to speak.  I called.  They had investigated the problem, offered me some assistance and tried to resolve the matter.  Unable to, they gave me the phone number to the president’s office which I called on Monday and the problem eventually was resolved.

In all fairness, it took another week to get the problem the Local Telephone Monopoly created fixed.  However, it was the use of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook that escalated the problem to the President’s office.  Had I not utilized the services to voice concerns, my mom would have been stuck in the endless loop of customer service.

Kevin Smith, the great writer/director, used Twitter to broadcast an incredibly negative experience he had with Southwest Airlines when they informed him he was “too fat to fly.”   Kevin has more than 1.5 million Twitter followers to whom he broadcast the way he was treated.  At one point on Saturday evening the customer service person behind @SouthwestAir posted the following tweet:

Hey folks – trust me, I saw the tweets from @ThatKevinSmith I’ll get all the details and handle accordingly! Thanks for your concerns!

Kevin Smith has kept up a barrage of tweets about the situation because he does not seem to feel the airline’s response and apology has been adequate.  News outlets around the world have picked up the story.  I do not know what his objectives for a solution are but he will be closer to getting it as a result of the use of Twitter than had he just picked up the phone to call customer service.

And that’s the problem.

At least weekly Main Stream Media reports on someone who was able to get customer service to respond to complaints using social networks after unsuccessfully using traditional avenues.   The problem is that there are significant elements of the population who may neither be internet savvy nor have access to the internet.    The use of social media to bring attention to customer service problems should highlight the overall problem with customer service, not provide a select few the opportunity to jump to the front of the line.

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About Nancy Prager

Nancy Prager is an attorney based in Washington, D.C. She represents a wide range of clients on matters from intellectual property to estate planning. Before starting her own practice, she practiced with firms in Memphis and Atlanta, as well as providing business development services to technology companies. She launched her practice to offer strategic legal services to clients at an affordable rate. Additionally, Nancy is a sought after speaker and writer on issues related to the convergence of intellectual property, technology and media. Nancy was asked to write a series of commentaries for News.com on the emerging legal issues related to the transmission of content on the internet. She has spoken to organizations and conferences around the country on issues related to the convergence of technology, content and intellectual property, as well as strategic legal issues for companies, individuals and artists. Journalists often rely on Nancy as a resource for emerging legal issues. Nancy has a strong commitment to social justice. She has founded, or co-founded, a number of organizations and programs that provide tangible services to their constituencies. For example, while a student in law school she developed the Domestic Violence Advocacy Center that provides legal services to victims of domestic violence. Additionally, she has been involved with a number of organizations that provide services to children and their families, including serving on the boards of the Harwood Center and Porter Leath Children’s Services. She is a graduate of Wake Forest University School of Law and the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She is a member of the District of Columbia Bar, the State Bar of Georgia and the State Bar of Tennessee. She has been a member of a variety of legal organizations including the Copyright Society of the USA and the American Bar Association.
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