Double Your Twitter, Double Your Customer Satisfaction

“Sorry, I was sending a tweet”Photo - Ted

One of the funniest scenes in the recent Seth McFarlane movie Ted is when the titular ursine character crashes his car and then offers this feeble apology to his victim.  This incident reflects the ubiquity of Twitter everywhere from business, to politics, to running.

My SMB Matters colleague Richard Lee recently mused about the US Postal Service’s poor customer relationship management practices.  In contrast, I’d like to share an episode that illustrates exemplary customer service, enabled in large part through Twitter.

Take the Good, Take the Bad
I’ve mused before about the consulting profession, wherein the unparalleled intellectual opportunities, exposure to diverse organizations, and network building co-exist with the challenges of a peripatetic lifestyle.  As I’d noted at Built in Chicago, there are a host of products to help manage these issues, but at the end of the day they can still be taxing.

Photo - DoubletreeIt goes with saying that the hotel stay is a central element of the consulting lifestyle.  On the recommendations of a few colleagues, I recently stayed at a DoubleTree.  The burnt cod and limp, flavorless asparagus I had for dinner at the hotel restaurant one evening left much to be desired.  My dissatisfaction was compounded by two other factors that greatly reduced my productivity:

  1. Dysfunctional wireless service that made the days of dial-up seem like science fiction
  2. Disinterested waiters whose turnaround time would frustrate even Rip Van Winkle

Inspired by Dave Carroll’s now-classic video diatribe against United Airlines, I took to social media to voice my discontent, firing off this angry tweet:

Barking up the Right Tree
While I’d previously used Twitter for a variety of purposes, customer service hadn’t been on the menu.  DoubleTree definitely changed my viewpoint that evening.  They quickly responded to my tweet, sent me an email, called me, and made every effort to rectify the situation.  The pièce de resistance was an assortment of wine and cheese waiting for me that evening in my hotel room, along with a handwritten letter of apology.  A cursory glance at their Twitter feed reveals that it is standard operating procedure for DoubleTree to keep close tabs on all customer feedback (positive and negative) and respond quickly.

Obviously, for a hotel with so many locations, (along with the fact that there are many travelers with axes to grind and Twitter accounts), there is a high degree of automation to the process.  Nonetheless, the human followup was excellent, and a nice contrast to the disinterested “yeah, not our problem” responses I’d previously received from the front desk.

Not a Game Changer, But…
Between the two hotels I’d recently stayed at, I definitely preferred the Marriott to the DoubleTree – mainly because of the high number of Marriott Rewards points I’ve socked away over the years.  However, the highly responsive, proactive behavior of the DoubleTree increased my satisfaction with the chain.  As such, I made sure to sing their praises the next day via Twitter.

Having witnessed the perils of TWD (Tweeting While Driving) that befell Ted, I also made sure to put my car in “Park” first.

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Requiem / Paean for a Dot-Com Darling

It’s a tale that unfolds more than we care to count, but is heart-wrenching to see nonetheless.  We’ve seen it many times: a young star meets with great success early on.  Their ascent is met with many accolades and kudos.  Then, they fall from grace.  Scandal; missteps; a change in public sentiment.  No matter how hard they try, they can’t reverse their fall from the great heights.

Sock puppets and search engines

yahoo pets.comI’m talking, of course, about Yahoo!, the once-revered icon of the late 1990’s dot-com era.  Two young Stanford grad students, Jerry Yang and David Filo, unleashed on the world an indexing service that would help navigate journeys on the increasingly congested “information superhighway.”  In this context, Yahoo! was nothing short of revolutionary.  Even its silly name seemed to capture the slightly irrational, but very fun, mood of the time.  This was when “burn rate” was a proxy for a company’s growth prospects, Herman Miller chairs and foosball tables represented credibility, and Jack Welch could get upstaged by a sock puppet as a company spokesman.

I have fond memories of that era: it’s when I moved to Chicago, fell in love with the woman with whom I just celebrated 11 years of marriage, and arrived at the very satisfying answer to the Frequently Asked Question, “what the hell are you going to do with a History and French degree?”  It’s why I still have a great deal of affection for this Sunnyvale company, even after the Microsoft acquisition debacle, the dustup over Carol Bartz ignominious departure, and the Scott Thompson resume kerfuffle.

Having logged time at two financial services companies, I was obviously a big fan of Yahoo! Finance.  There were two services, however, that capture the era well.

Yahoo! MailWashington University alums will recall standing in line waiting for the sterile “green screen” terminals to check their “Pinemail” in the Olin Library.  I quickly tired of the clunky interface I used to check my email after leaving St. Louis, and abandoned my “@wustl.edu” account for a Yahoo! one.  Granted, I am on the whole underwhelmed by Yahoo! Mail, given their glacial pace of introducing upgrades, and the fact that their integration with Outlook is a joke.   However, my Inbox is an ever-evolving scrapbook, a digital collection of moments I’ve shared with friends, family, and professional connections.  It’s why even though I have a Gmail account I’m still not parting with my Yahoo! account.

Geocities.  Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram have found a captive audience in folks looking for exposure – sometimes a little too much, as in the case of the “oversharenting” moms and dads examined in The Wall Street Journal.  It wasn’t always this easy.  I hate pulling out the “in my day” card, but you had to sort of know what you were doing in the late 90’s to publish content.  Geocities was the middle ground between Facebook and WordPress, that offered some primitive drag and drop tools for building and maintaining Websites.  Through Geocities I was able to share pictures with relatives in India, develop a Web portfolio to show hiring managers that a liberal arts grad could write code, and acquire a minor following from folks interested in sound clips from Goodfellas (one of my all-time favorite flicks).   Geocities has unfortunately gone the way of Delicious, Briefcase, and other sunsetted properties.

Holding out for a Hero (or a Good Product)

Ashton Kutcher was recently tapped to play Steve Jobs in an upcoming biopic.  At time of writing, if we were to associate a celebrity with Yahoo!, it would unfortunately be the likes of Lindsay Lohan or some other misstep-prone, washed up train wreck.  I’m holding out hope though.  Few seem to recall that the Apple of today was very much like Yahoo! before Jobs rescued it from the brink in the late 90’s – incidentally, while Yahoo! was riding high.  To win over the hearts and minds of customers and investors, Yahoo! needs to completely reinvent itself like Jobs did with the iPod, as opposed to half-baked, poorly executed attempts at innovation such as Livestand, and now Axis.

I’d like the next chapter of  the Yahoo! story to unfold like the amazing scene in Limitless when Eddie Mora shakes off the cobwebs, gets to work, and starts kicking some serious butt.  It would be nice for Yahoo! to replace “LiLo” with Bradley Cooper as the star with whom they are identified.  As talented as he is, however, I’m not sure Cooper could pull off the Jerry Yang look.  There’s always Eddie Murphy.

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Power to the Public [Domain]

We try to avoid political subjects as much as possible, so our headline here borrows from the familiar “Power to the People” in a (hopefully) non-threatening way.  This phrase is mostly associated with a bottom-up view to tear-down reform ineffective government.  However, there are some interesting new developments coming from the public sector, which hold promise for democratizing some government functions, while also improving services to the public.  You’ve heard of SAAS.  Do you know about GAP?

Government as Platform

Author and technologist, Tim O’Reilly is credited with coining the term “Government as Platform” to describe the ways that Web 2.0 technologies can be leveraged to improve government.  Combining social media, cloud computing and crowdsourcing, Government 2.0, as this movement is sometimes called, taps developing technologies and systems in an effort to build a core platform of data and services that the private sector and the general public can utilize to create innovations that government doesn’t have the time, resources or initiative to provide.  

 The core concept is that if government makes its information widely available, then the existence of an “Open Data” platform will spur the market to innovate and create useful applications, much like Apple’s App Store or the Android Marketplace.  At a recent Chicago technology conference, John Tolva, Chief Technology Officer for the City of Chicago, laid out some innovative ideas for harnessing the power of public resources for more efficient and effective government services.  When we use the term “public resources”, we’re not just talking about government buildings, assets or employees, we’re talking about people – the citizens. 

Tolva offered one illustrative example of why the City of Chicago is moving towards the vision of Government 2.0.  He described an incident on Chicago’s train system that caused a major outage, leading to train delays and gridlock.  Predictably, the wave of calls to local transit and police operators set off alarm bells with City agencies, but their ability to respond was in some ways hampered by the flood of communications.  A review of the incident sometime later revealed that activity trackers on the social platform Twitter would have enabled the City to recognize and address the source of the problem more quickly had the City been able to harness that (free and instant) data.  As witnesses on the scene, it seems that commuters using Twitter were able to provide more accurate information on the outage than the regular communication system, and in REAL TIME!  Let’s just say that Tolva recognized this moment of inspiration as an opportunity for Chicago to reap the benefits of Open Data, justifying initiatives like this http://www.openchicago.org/.

Through efforts like this Chicago is looking to leverage its local technology ecosystem to drive further improvements.  The results can sometimes be more efficient government services or better responsiveness, but they’re also just as likely to create opportunities for the public and private sector entrepreneurs to fill needs that were underserved or unrecognized.  For example, crime statistics published by the City rapidly found their way into popular applications and websites like Everyblock.com, which was originally a mashup combining statistical data from local government with online mapping technologies.  It’s not just established companies getting on the bandwagon.  Individual developers have created useful community resources like street-cleaning alerts and towed-vehicle sites

Many local governments and organizations are even getting citizens to take on projects that government may not be prepared to handle.  When a community mobilizes to aid in an emergency or respond to a crisis, that’s not just a way to reduce the burden and expense of government, it’s a leap towards better self-government.  Many government and community leaders hope that Open Data is the spark to ignite positive collective action.  There are certainly benefits to this phenomenon, but it might be worth proceeding with some caution.  Can you imagine the free-for-all if every bit of government data became part of the public domain?   Who wants data???

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