Customer service through online networking

LOS ANGELES For months, Shawn Collins waited for his cable provider to lay cables for his new phone lines.

"I called them, probably I guess, about four or so times over the months just asking them to come out and take care of it," said Shawn Collins.

But time and time again, he says nothing got resolved. Frustrated, he cut through the red tape and reached out to them in cyberspace through their account on a social networking site.

"I posted a message on there," said Collins. "In an hour, I got a response from the cable provider."

That's right. The provider actually had an employee hanging out on Twitter, a site where users post thoughts, questions and complaints for the world to see. Collins was shocked. Not only did he get an instant online response, but he got a call from the cable company, and then ...

"The doorbell rang and it was one of their technicians who had actually come to my house and this was all in the span of about an hour and a half from the initial Twitter," said Collins.

Many companies are "socializing" these days, some with their own pages on networks like MySpace and Facebook, where customers can communicate in a less-formal way than through a company Web site. Others actually patrol the social sites, chat rooms, and blogs and jump in when they see discussions about their companies -- either praise or rage.

"That's the great thing about the Internet," said Lance Ulanoff, PC Magazine. "If you see somebody in a blog or in a forum talking trash about your company or being very angry because there was a problem, you can engage them right there and try and help them."

"At Southwest Airlines, we monitor more than 100 travel and airline industry blogs a day," said Paula Berg, Southwest Airlines. "We also are very active on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook."

PC Magazine's Lance Ulanoff says companies have everything to gain to get in there and resolve gripes, especially because what's posted online often stays online, both negative and positive. In Collins's case...

"They went from being a company who I felt was a necessary evil to somebody who I was very excited to be working with and I became all of a sudden the raving fan that wanted to tell people 'I had this good experience,'" said Shawn Collins.

One thing to remember: While cyber customer service is certainly growing, be careful when listening to praise about products and services. Some companies clearly identify themselves when they post, but others may not and the praise may be coming directly from the company and not a customer.


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