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Of course, when you have such rapid growth in what was already a massive company, I guess it’s natural to expect a few teething problems. Well… teething problems? That doesn’t even come close to classifying the customer service disaster zone that is BT.
Now, having said that, this article is not even about BT’s continued litany of broken promises. There are already plentiful examples scattered throughout the web. For example see this article by Rebecca Armstrong in The Independent. Instead, this article will focus purely on where BT are going wrong from a social media perspective.
How It Started
In my case, I had waited about two weeks for a response from BT Openreach to a complaint which was promised a ‘prompt’ response. Somewhat at my wit’s end, I thought that perhaps it might just be worth trying BT’s social media channels to see if they could help. Over the years, I have worked with large brands that take their social media ‘footprint’ very seriously indeed, and I have noticed that it is often an effective way to cut through the bureaucracy of large organisations.
Machine v Humanity
In fact, my logic went even further. BT has long been well known for being one of those organisations where you never speak to the same operative twice. Even though I was given the direct email of two BT employees, neither of them even responded to my emails. And when speaking to customer service operatives (both in UK and India) I couldn’t help but be reminded of 3 Telecom and the way they were all so reluctant to part with their full names. For the customer service agents knew full well that if they could just finish the call, then they would never have to speak with you ever again.
Well the same is true with BT these days. In essence, the machine has won out over the human side of customer service.
Now this is okay as long the systems put in place to support such an approach are robust enough to cope. Sadly for BT, it appears they are not.
So here was the great social media opportunity for BT. Perhaps social media could serve to re-humanise the company and to recreate some of that authentic human interaction that had been lost.
BT’s Social Media Channels
Well it seemed initially that I was onto a winner. The BT Care Twitter team were certainly making the right noises at first glance. After a fairly disgruntled tweet or two on my part (see below), along came a rather promising response:
In that magic word “I”, it appeared that I had finally connected with a real life human being who was going to personally assist me and make sure that my case was resolved. Happy Days! Well sadly not…
Because where does that link take you? It takes you to an extremely generic online form which you fill in and, having done so, you are promised a response within 36 hours. Yes, you read that correctly – 36 hours!
I guess I don’t really need to spell out just what an epic fail this really is, but, hey, let’s go for it.
Sadly, the authentic relationship I was craving, and which is at the heart of successful social media for organisations of all sizes, proved to be nothing more than a thin veneer of ‘responsiveness’ – the illusion that somebody somewhere in BT actually cared.
The next day I tweeted them again from a different Twitter account. Guess what? Exactly the same response – and exactly the same link. That personal attention that had initially proved so optimistic turned out to be nothing more than a generic attempt at ‘social media best practice’.
3 Important Lessons
The truth is that even in BT’s social media team, you don’t actually deal with the same person twice. It certainly fells like there is no humanity left in the company. And without that, any attempt at social media is nothing but a ridiculous farce. LESSON ONE: be authentic.
BT’s social media team effectively serve to add a layer of obfuscation between the customer’s problems and the solution to those problems. In organisations where social media is a success, they do more than just respond to tweets. They actually DO what they SAY they will do. This is LESSON TWO: follow through on your promises – or don’t make them!
The last element of successful social media management is to respond in a timely manner. This is what sets it apart as a channel. If all that the social media team actually does it to ask the customer to fill in a form on the website, and then wait 36 hours for a response (if they’re lucky), this is no improvement over any other channel. In fact, arguably it is worse. LESSON THREE: be responsive.
Fundamentally, successful social media management is about honest communication. And that unfortunately is where BT have a long long way to go. Look through the twitter wall of BTCare and there are endless stories of broken promises.
The bottom line is that if social media isn’t solving these problems, then it’s making them worse.