Business and Social Media: The Good and the Ugly

Steve Wildstrom / January 30th, 2013

imagesI had an interesting little experience this morning with how customer services organizations use social media well and badly.

I was headed to New York for the BlackBerry 10 launch and took the first train on the Washington Metro Red Line to connect with the 6 am Acela at Union Station. The trip proceeded uneventfully to the Metro Center station downtown, where we sat, and sat and sat. Finally, they put us off the train and it headed out without passengers. At no time was there any useful communication with passengers, other than the order to get off.

What was a tight connection became an impossible one and despite hitting Union Station at a dead run, I got to the gate just after they closed the doors. I had sent several tweets on the situation, all using Metro’s #wmata hashtag but saw no response.

Then came the interesting part. After settling down to wait for the 7 am Acela, I got a response from @Amtrak reminding me to change my ticket for the later train. The only mention I had made of Amtrak was a tweet, without the “@,” complaining about the endlessly looping security video.

Metro, which uses a Twitter account to post often stale information about its unceasing delays and breakdowns, does not seem to have any interest in a dialog with customers. (Actually, Metro seems to regard itself primarily as an employment program for its workers, who avoid interactions with riders at all costs. If they succeed in moving some passengers, that’s a coincidental benefit.)

Amtrak, by contrast, seems to monitor Twitter aggressively and respond quickly, even when a response isn’t really required. I ride Amtrak to New York fairly frequently, but I’ve never had strong feelings about it, other than that it is preferable to flying Delta or US Airways or taking the bus. But that little tweet this morning made me feel that someone cared, even if it was only an AI bot.

The lesson here is clear. If you are going to have a presence on social media, you create an expectation of real communication. A little effort can go a long way, and the lack of effort can easily antagonize customers you could easily please (or at least defuse their anger.)

Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.
  • FalKirk

    Great post, Steve. Good customer service is extremely difficult – but it’s well worth the effort.

  • Sheryl

    Compare the Hurricane Sandy experience of NY’s MTA with NJ Transit. MTA was out front in letting riders know what was and was not working with frequent updates. They got great press and customer appreciation despite hassles and long lines. NJ Transit’s experience was just the opposite all the way around.

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