Customer Service Matters

Apparently we’re in a recession, everywhere belts are being tightened, costs pruned and price wars starting, which means for businesses the small things matter even more.  When two items cost the same, you’re going to chose the company that you believe gives you something better, like great customer service. Unfortunately giving great customer service in itself can be costly, so its nice to see a couple of examples of how two very different companies are using different approaches to enhance their reps in a cost effective manner.

The first is Virgin Atlantic. During last week a copy of a letter of complaint to Richard Branson started circulating. From a chap called Oliver Beale, it was sent to Branson on the 17th December 2008 and covered, in some detail with images, Beale’s less than pleasant trip from Mumbai to London two weeks earlier. Obviously a company the size of Virgin Atlantic get a lot of letters of complaint. The majority of which, I would assume, never make it to Branson’s desk.  However the email that I received said that it had, and not only that but Branson had phoned Beale  to say saying “he and his family had been laughing all weekend about it as it was the funniest letter he’d ever had”.

I must admit, I thought it was a hoax. I doubted that someone had actually seriously written the letter and if they had, then the bit about Branson calling was definitely not true.

Seems I was wrong.  Yesterday the Telegraph, along with a few other papers, ran the story, having confirmed with the press office that Branson did indeed call. Apparently  “He was incredibly nice about the whole thing but I haven’t received any compensation since talking to him.”. The Telegraph also quotes Beale as being ‘uncomfortable’ about his new interweb fame. Not sure if that was before or after Virgin publicised that they’d asked him to help shape the catering on future flights.

Its unconfirmed as yet if he will take them up the offer, but that really doesn’t matter. The industrial press, the news sites and blogs that covered the original story will update with the latest installament and future searchers will see that Virgin takes positive action on complaints. It also goes to show how a nifty PR department can turn something potentially negative into a positive, quickly and effectively. Although to be fair Branson and Virgin have been the masters of news hijacking and publicity stunts over the past few years.

The second example comes from a much smaller company that claims to have doubled the size of its customer base through the power of Twitter.

The operations manager, J.R. Cohen, CoffeeGroundz Cafe in Houston, Texas, joined Twitter after a customer told him about it.  As @coffeegroundz he started following the local twitterati, then in October 2008, a regular sent him a message via Twitter asking if he could pre-order a breakfast wrap to speed his way through the drive-through  The answer was yes and now customers pre-order on a regular basis via a direct message (DM).

Which is an excellent idea in lots of ways.  Pre-ordering is great and in order to DM someone you need to be following each other, so instantly Coffeegroundz has a reason for people to follow him and they get something that not every customer can have.   Creating exclusive groups within your customer base can be divisive if it is too difficult to move from the group of have-nots to the haves. In this case the entry barrier is incredibly low and the benefits to both sides quite high.

Obviously using Twitter for customer service could end up being quite time-intensive but there will be some geographic limitations on how many @Coffeegroundz followers use this service and in the USA it is still possible to receive twitter updates by SMS which would make it easier to track the incoming orders.  I’d be interested to see how well it would work in the UK or for a company with a larger customer base with few or no geographic limitations. Please do let us know if you know of any other businesses using twitter in other groovy ways.

Hat tip to MrTweet for the CoffeeGroundz story.

Also posted on Clicking and Screaming

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