One industry that social media has been affecting greatly in the past decade or so is the call center industry. Before social media, there was really no good way for consumers to complain about absurd hold times or problems within different businesses’ contact centers. With the rise in popularity of social media, a new avenue has emerged where consumers are able to hold companies accountable for their actions, especially as it pertains to customers’ call center experience. Though companies have been aware of the problem, they have not done anything to improve the call center experience as the cost was too high, relative to the negative impact. However, a new very vocal generation of consumers, empowered by social media, is raising the cost of not fixing the call center experience, seen through publicly shaming companies who give poor customer service.
A well known example of a company being held accountable for their actions through the use of social media is the Dave Carroll incident with United. Dave Carroll brought attention to his experience with United through a YouTube video called United Breaks Guitars. Carroll had a terrible experience trying to file a claim with United when his guitar was broken by the baggage handlers. It took him approximately seven months to file the claim, only to be told that he was too late and that United had concluded the damage was not their fault. Carroll composed a song and through social media (YouTube, Twitter, Facebook etc.) was able to let the public know about his awful experience with the company. Even after the video started gaining momentum, United did not address the problem seriously and suffered a lot of bad publicity.
More recently, a monk traveling with United had trouble rescheduling his return flight. United claimed that the original ticket purchase was fraudulent even though his brother had already used half of the ticket and simply needed to reschedule his flight back to the United States from Africa. The United representative that spoke to Brother Noah even suggested that the monk drive 3 hours to the nearest United desk to work everything out. The monastery decided to post an open letter on its website outlining the experience and asking the public for help. Again United provided a terrible call center experience and no help at all to the consumer at the time of the complaint. Only when the monastery turned to social media did United respond with a return flight, apology, and $350 credit toward future travels.
Over the years there have been a number of attempts to leverage this shame factor to motivate companies to improve their phone-based customer service. The GetHuman project is a website offering “tools and information to take the waiting and pain out of customer service” (http://gethuman.com/). These tools include how to navigate through different companies IVRs in order to reach a live agent, customer ratings and trends, reviews, and other alternative options such as chat, email and even having a company call you back. In 2012, Fonolo – a company that provides call-back solutions for call centers – launched OnHoldWith.com, a Twitter-based service to amplify and track the endless “on hold with” complaints broadcasted on Twitter. OnHoldWith even filters tweets related to a particular industry or company.
The negative call center experience is an industry wide spread issue and has been for decades. Now with the power of social media, consumers are able to directly and publicly shame companies into doing something about it. A decade or two ago this may not have been worth the time to address or fix, but now when negative tweets, posts and reviews are left neglected, companies can and do suffer hits to their reputations. Before upper management at these companies may not have been aware of the widespread issue of the negative call center experience, but with the nature of social media they have become more wary and have the chance to fix the customer service experience starting from the lowest level possible.