Perhaps the best example of a company leveraging new media to turn nasty customer complaints into happy customer evangelists is Comcast. Yes, you read that right, Comcast. This nifty piece of conversational jujitsu has been accomplished in large part by Frank Eliason, better known by his handle @comcastcares on Twitter.
I’ve been following Frank’s work on Twitter for a while, it seemed he was always listening to what folks were saying, and when folks (inevitably) ranted about Comcast service, he jumped in, and almost always seemed to fix the problem. Then it happened to me, in October, my service started acting deeply flaky, and I complained about it.
I quickly got a response, and when I moved to a new place last month, he helped again. Then just this weekend, my new Internet service started acting flaky again, and in ten minutes, Frank had assessed the problem and helped me fix it, calmly, intelligently, and in the grammar natural to social media.
I wanted to learn more about Frank and Comcast’s efforts in this area, so I emailed him and asked if he’d do an interview. Below is the result. Thanks Frank!
So question one: How did you end up being Comcast’s Twitter agent? Whose idea was it, and how long have you been doing it?
I started at Comcast back in September, 2007 managing a small service team. Starting on my 4th day we reached out to a few bloggers via phone after they made a post. Based on comments on the web, we were seeing success. Starting in December we started posting on a few blogs. This brought a new round of success. In February I was asked to create a team and make this a full time job. My title evolved to Director of Digital Care. Responsibilities included blogs, forums, and moderating our own help forums. At the time we started a daily newsletter. A VP from our Southwest Area, Scott Westerman (@ComcastScott on Twitter) responded one day in February that we should check out Twitter. We started watching it, reaching out via phone on occasion. In April we began to Tweet regularly.
The service we get in Twitter is superior, in my experience, to calling the support number. You quickly access the issue, you get things done – for example, sending a service rep out right away, or finding the right information to solve a problem. These things take forever and don’t work very well in traditional channels. Can this scale past Twitter? Are senior execs at Comcast paying attention to what you are doing?
We are working hard to improve the overall experience for all our communication channels. We view social media as simply another communication channel similar to phone, email or chat. I thank you for the compliment regarding my service, but I do know others with in the phone and email channels that are much better than I. One of the ways we are making the improvement is through improved tools. One of the tools is something called Grand Slam. Now I have been using this tool for awhile. It makes everything much easier. We are in the process of rolling this out to everyone. You can think of it has a dashboard of the technical aspects of your service. Everything is in one place. It also provides other diagnostic tools that are a click away. As a good example, here is a blog post from this week on Crunchgear:
I know from experience this is from this tool. She was able to analyze the signals which were good, but then she ran a ping test and most likely a traceroute to the modem to determine that something was incorrect. Not only is this good for the Customer it is also good for our technicians so we are looking to make the corrections at the right area.
This effort to improve the service for our Customers stems right from the senior leadership of Comcast. They are dedicated to seeing this happen. In terms of the work of my team, they are very supportive and they have cited my team as examples of what we should all be striving to do for our Customers.
The folks on Twitter might be called “influencers” in the world of tech media and the web. How are they different from other folks you’ve helped? Have you noticed an “amplification” effect of helping them in terms of the Comcast brand?
We monitor the entire web to assist when we can. This is done through searching blogs, help forums, other social media websites and Twitter. In terms of how many we helped, that is a little hard to completely assess because in Twitter we sometimes fully resolve via tweets. In forums and blogs we will provide a response if we can but sometimes we will call or shift to email. Our email address (email@example.com) also sees a lot of activity from people that have located it on the web. We have estimate that since the start of the year we have assisted over 10000 Customers. This is based on the amount of emails we have resolved, the number of tickets we have worked with other areas to resolve, and analysis of some of our tweets. Since actively tweeting I have had 19,895 public tweets and 5,925 private tweets. I also have over 5500 followers.
I really do not help anyone different whether it be a person on the street, someone who randomly sends an email, or those I meet on Twitter. What people see with me is what they get. There are a number of people on Twitter that like to blog and certainly share their life events. We have built relationships and we are a part of their life so we have seen 1 or 2 blog posts about our efforts. But I am a simple service guy, that is not my goal or objective. I just want to help if I can.
But you are a director, right? What did you do before Comcast? How many people do you manage?
I am Director of Digital Care. Today (I manage) 7, but I am in the process of hiring 3 additional.
Prior to joining Comcast I was a manager of Quality Assurance and Customer Satisfaction for a bank.
Congrats on hiring in this economy! Would you be willing to answer questions in comments here?
There is something so reassuring about seeing an emerging operating system play, based on Linux, that so blatantly declares its navigational interface to be search, specifically Google. gOS, which debuted early this year on a $199 PC sold at Walmart, announced Cloud earlier this week. I managed to miss it till now. More here and here.
The part that people don’t yet fully understand is that “vertical ad networks,” at the end of the day, are still ad networks. Ad networks are a vital part of the online media ecosystem. They provide publishers with additional revenue on inventory that isn’t otherwise fulfilling higher CPM sponsorship programs, and they provide direct-response marketers with additional reach at cost-efficient rates. Vertical ad networks offer a bit better targeting because they focus on a smaller set of sites.
While vertical ad networks may improve efficiency for direct-response advertisers, who determine success based on some variation of cost-per-click, they are not solving the needs of brand advertisers. Ultimately, vertical ad networks serve advertisers and will compete with everyone else who serves DR advertisers, from Google to the other ad networks. The excitement over “vertical” ad networks will erode as CPMs on those networks chase the DR metrics.
The author Andrew Chen notes that with “experimental” ad budgets (ie stuff like Facebook’s nascent “engagement ads” and the like) getting slashed, this might be what Facebook looks like soon.
I couldn’t pick three, so I went with four winners. I learned a lot from the hundred or so comments that came in, and I am busy preparing for the show next week. It was hard to narrow them down, but I had to. If you won, congrats!
I’ll be reaching out to the winners via email for their free We2 passes, but here are the comments!
* Dominic Son says:
* # October 22, 2008 11:57 PM
“Besides Yahoo, how’s everything going?”
(On Jerry Yang)
* Ian Kennedy says:
* # October 28, 2008 2:53 PM
Do you forsee a time when Intel will embed social features into its hardware? Microsoft tied it’s activation to Windows activation. Would Intel ever offer the ability for users on Facebook and other social networks be able to uniquely identify itself to a social graph and the associated permissions via the Intel chip?
(On Paul Otellini)
* Mike Johnson says:
* # October 28, 2008 2:03 PM
The Live Strong movement (and they visual representation of the yellow bracelet) almost defined “virality” and community for this decade. The copy cats are rolling in to this day. What did you learn from that experience? What does it take to truly engage people to the point of action?
(On Lance Armstrong)
* Narendra says:
* # October 28, 2008 6:41 PM
While we’d like to think that all successful entrepreneurs have the fearless composure of a poker player like Phil Ivy, most of us behind a closed office door have found ourselves exhaling the words “holy shit.” You’ve had quite a ride so far and it isn’t over.
For fun, rewind just a bit, and tell us, what you might be doing right now if your were *not* building Facebook?
(On Mark Zuckerberg)
I’m watching this unfold, OpenID, Facebook Connect, Y!OS, Microsoft support, Google support…it’s supposedly a big group hug, but it feels like a war, folks. And it’s not pretty. Note this:
A couple of hours ago, the Google Security Team posted an article claiming that Google’s made the switch to OpenID, joining Yahoo! and Microsoft in the ranks OpenID providers.
But it looks like someone may have been a bit to hasty to pull that switch (perhaps itching to get some of the limelight Microsoft has been receiving for adding OpenID to all Live ID accounts just the day before yesterday)… because whatever it is that Google has released support for, it sure as hell isn’t OpenID, as they even so kindly point out in their OpenID developer documentation
I hate to say it but watch this space.
Continuing my crowdsourcing of Web2 conversations (and this is nearly the last one), on the third day, and just a few hours after Elon Musk, I’ll be talking to Shai Agassi, founder and CEO of Better Place, and former President at SAP. Agassi is yet another example of a tech executive who left the IT industry to boil a new ocean, in this case, the automobile industry. Wired recently put Shai on the cover, his plan to “sell cars like cel phones” is audacious, and some say impossible.
Remember that I’m running a contest for best comments: I’ve decided to take three of my personal complementary passes to Web 2 – yes, even the Program Chair only gets so many – and give them to those who comment on my site about these Web 2 conversations. My decisions are entirely subjective, but I plan to pick the three best questions, and reward them with a fress pass – a street value of nearly $4000 each. Yes, commentators from the past six posts are already eligible:
So what would you ask Shai?
I’ve been on about this one for years, my most recent post is here.
Mashable reports on another advancement in the conversation interface:
Vlingo is an application that lets you perform various tasks on your mobile using your voice. Earlier this year, the company launched an application for Blackberry, allowing users to perform basic tasks like voice dialing, composing emails, and sending text messages, all through speaking. Today, that application is getting an update, allowing users to do a lot more, including update their Facebook Status and Twitter
Reminds me of my rant on “texting is stupid.”
My opening presentation at the CM Summit two weeks ago. All the video is now up from the event.