A renter left her laptop in the rental car and called the location after discovering it was missing, but the employee who answered the phone knew nothing about it. The renter immediately took to social media with a damaging rant about her “stolen” computer before the manager — who was out sick when she called — was able to contact her and tell her the laptop was locked up safely and waiting for her.
“[The renter] came in and thanked us, but the bad comments never came down,” says Gil Cygler, president and CEO of AllCar Rent-A-Car in New York, as well as Carpingo, a car-sharing firm.
Such is the brave new world where technology and social media converge; where the traditional customer touch points across the counter or phone line have morphed into forums through which a knee-jerk reaction can be amplified immediately — with a built-in imbalance against the company on the other end. How do you handle customer service when those Really Angry Customers have a much bigger megaphone?
Cygler agrees that technology is a good thing, but it’s really hard to resolve these problems once they go online. “There are so many different venues for people to vent, and yet sometimes it’s hard to get people on the phone.”
Those in car sharing are acutely aware that the new tech-enabled model has fewer human touch points, necessitating a more proactive, engaging and prompt approach to connecting with customers.
“The technology does take you a step away from the person,” admits Michael Lende, founder and CEO of Student CarShare in Ontario, Canada. “We can go an entire lifetime of a customer’s membership without having any verbal or face-to-face communication with them, yet they’re still a great member.”
Student CarShare’s vice president of member services (or Lende himself) will call members who’ve experienced any type of issue related to their experience. “Human beings still yearn for one-on-one contact,” Lende says. “Nine times out of 10 they are surprised that we called to express our concerns and apologies and how we’ll make it better.”
Surveying your constituency consistently is a must. On Student CarShare’s surveys, any score that falls below an 80% satisfaction rate, or even a survey with a comment or suggestion, will generate a phone call to the member. “That survey will lead to about 80 to 90 outreach phone calls,” Lende says, which will generate actionable feedback.
In regards to the urgency of a potential social media rant, “Our message is come to us first, because if we don’t know you have a problem, we can’t fix it,” Lende says. Student CarShare has an in-house social media team to jump on any problems right away.
“Today there is a much bigger emphasis on getting it done right the first time — before it hits social media,” Cygler adds. “We’ve tried to up our game for sure.”
Today social media is not only used to vent about a customer service issue after the fact, but also to facilitate the complaints process itself, such as through Delta’s Twitter account, Delta Assist (@DeltaAssist).
“If my flight just got cancelled, I’ll tweet Delta Assist; they’ll send me a direct message on Twitter and we’ll work it out,” says lawyer and frequent flier Daniel Warsh. “Everybody says they have much better luck than to call and wait on hold.”
Warsh also moderates a car rental sub-forum on FlyerTalk, the mammoth online business travel forum. Complaints and comments are posted in threads specific to each car rental company. “You don’t have to go into a call center; you post your issue and you have direct engagement,” Warsh says. “That’s refreshing. It’s a convenience thing.”
Nonetheless, a company’s level of engagement does not go unnoticed by forum members. One major car rental company responds promptly and personally to issues, which has helped foster its positive reputation, while another only posts a couple of times a year, and with a form response at that. “A lot of our regular members commented that it’s disappointing that a company that promotes itself as so customer-oriented is in here with a form response,” Warsh says.
The lesson for other companies: “Understand the landscape and work within it,” Warsh says.
The car rental industry is undergoing a tech-enabled evolution to a decentralized, automated model facilitated by kiosks, card readers and mobile apps. In this era of new connection methods, you need to be on social media when and where your customers need you the most.