Let me start this blog post by saying that I’m a huge fan of Translink on Twitter. They answer questions and provide timely information; they even live tweet some Canucks games!

If you’re not from BC, here’s a little background: Translink is the organization responsible for public transportation here in BC.  Some of its responsibilities include the management of buses, the Skytrain, and the ferry. A few months ago, Translink launched a Twitter account to see if it makes sense for them to be in that platform. Three months after, it was announced that Translink’s Twitter team will stay on.

To date, Translink has 10,278 followers on Twitter — not bad for an account that’s not offering stuff for free!

So… what’s wrong?

My biggest issue with Translink strategy on Twitter is that it operates as a typical customer service centre. Translink’s Twitter team isn’t empowered enough to provide a complete satisfying experience.

To illustrate, here’s a quick example of an exchange I had with Translink a few weeks ago:

@ The bus driver for #41 bus (9693) is a jerk. Just FYI
@kcclaveria
Kelvin (KC) Claveria
@ Sorry to hear that you have had a bad experience.If you wish you can let CR know of this at http://ow.ly/4UzEd. ^DR
@translink
TransLink BC

A couple of weeks after, I noticed that a similar complaint was handled slightly differently:

@ Hi ther, I suggest that you call WestVancouver Transit to file a complaint. The number is 604-985-7777. ^CK
@translink
TransLink BC

Interesting enough, their Twitter staff seem to be able to handle compliments/acknowledgements:

@ Thanks so very much for acknowledging your driver :) If you'd like to leave him/her commendation, please let me know. ^JJ
@translink
TransLink BC

Why is this an issue?

You might be wondering what’s wrong with the examples I gave above. (There’s an issue with the consistency of how the complaints was handled, but this blog post isn’t about that.)

What we have here is an example of how companies usually handle complaints when customers contact customer service. You’ve been there before — you raise some issues and they give you a phone number where you can leave a voice mail. Or they tell you to fill up a form. Once you leave a voice mail or after you fill out the form, you never hear from the company again.

Beyond the Suggestion Box

Passing the buck is typical for many companies. But it’s not really acceptable anymore.

When I was working for a customer support centre, one thing I’ve learned is that when customers have an issue, they expect you to resolve it regardless of how they’ve contacted you. They don’t care that you’re from the “General Support” team and that there’s a different team that handles the complaints; as far customers are concerned, you’re representing the company, so you should be able to do something. Customers —rightfully so, I think — expect you to solve their issue, whatever it happens to be.

Telling customers via Twitter that they need to contact somebody else for a complaint isn’t really any different from a retail person telling a customer to submit a complaint via a “suggestion box”. Both are frustrating and useless.

Now, just to play devil’s advocate, there may be reasons why Twitter can’t take complaints via Twitter. I think they can all be solved though:

  • Not enough information — Not the case at all for both examples I gave here. But in any case, I don’t see why the Translink’s social media team can’t just ask for the required information. Bus number plus the time and the route should help identify who the bus driver was.
  • Privacy issues – Well, my complaint is on Twitter, so obviously, privacy isn’t top-of-mind for me. If they’re worried about the privacy of the employee, I don’t think they should be: Customers can provide the bus number, and that doesn’t reveal the identity of the driver.
  • “Paper trail” issue — Worst case scenario, Translink can take a screenshot of the complaint and send it to the appropriate people. If I don’t delete my original tweet, they can even take the link.  The evidence will be there.
  • It’s always been done this way — Worst excuse any organization can give, and I sincerely hope that this isn’t the reason why Translink can’t accept complaints via Twitter.

Too ideal?

I realize that the idea of a social media team being able to do almost anything for customers may be too ideal. As I’ve said, the old way of doing business simply necessitated that customers call different departments for different issues.

With the evolution of social media, however, I think that customers now expect more. And frankly, I don’t think it’s an unrealistic expectation.  The technology (a good CRM system, for instance, or even something like an email) is available, so the real issue here is the organization’s willingness to take its social media strategy to an even higher level.

Thoughts? What do you think of Translink on Twitter?

Photo: GetEntrepreneurial.com

© 2011, KC Claveria. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Please link back to kcclaveria.com