Should I stay or should I go? The search for a new ISP

Put yourself in my shoes…. just for a moment. Here’s the scenario.

Kaleb FrancisI’m at the end of the contract with my internet provider. The relationship’s been pretty solid with not too many stuff-ups. The occasional outage results in a frantic call to get me back online as quickly and painlessly as possible. The call centre in Manila (or wherever they outsource to these days) tries to appease me with a combination of:

a. ridiculous politeness
b. blatant ignorance

I’m usually back online within a day or three at worst. Believe me when I say that three days offline makes for a tough time in my household, such is my reliance on the internet.

So I’m at the end of my contract. What should I do? Stick to my relatively well-functioning current service provider or test the waters and research some other options? Just like one of those pick-a-path books I read as a child, I chose path B. But where did it lead me?

Path B: researching the options

To be perfectly honest, my research didn’t take me very far. I was on Twitter and noticed Orcon was communicating (no, not advertising, that would have turned me right off!) its latest offer: 200GB of data for $90 per month. My current provider was offering less than half that allowance while charging me more. Sure, one needs to take into consideration the speed of the line, but in my book the two offers were miles apart. So what did I do? Put it to the Twitterverse of course.

Orcon tweets

Sure, two replies isn’t a large enough number from which to get any meaningful insights – but then again, I’m not a large company looking to improve my Net Promoter Score and in my book, word of mouth is king.

So even though Orcon is highly price competitive, its poor customer service suggests its brand isn’t strong enough to charge a premium for their service. And it appears Orcon doesn’t value me as a potential customer OR fully understand the strategy behind using Twitter as a customer service tool, otherwise I would have heard from Orcon by now.

 Coffee comparison

Brand strength: a trusted brand can charge a premium for a product that may not have a discernible difference.

How Twitter is changing customer service

If a picture paints a thousand words, then Twitter comes pretty close.

In my grandmother’s day, if she had a problem with a product or service, she would write a letter to the offending company and complain. Perhaps they weren’t a thousand words long, but they certainly made a point.  Often I’d turn up at my grandparents' house to find a freezer full of tubs of ice cream from apologetic brands like Tip Top.

We moved from writing letters to making irate phone calls that gave us only limited satisfaction. Now it seems 140 well placed characters on Twitter do such a good job that even my grandmother would sign up, although on second thoughts anything that involves handling a mouse isn’t really an option.

So why Twitter?

Because so many of us are online, and more importantly, so many of us trust the opinion of people we share interests with. Recently LA Fitness in the UK set up a Twitter account after an article in the Guardian about the company’s poor customer care.

 LA Fitness Twitter complaint

How long did it take for LA Fitness to get in touch to show that they ‘cared’? Approximately four minutes. “Hi Guy — can you DM [direct message] me your membership number? Thanks, Alice.”

Where’s the opportunity?

A number of clients have said to me that they’re reluctant to use social media because they may attract negative comments about their brands and I can totally understand their reservations.

Building positive brand associations can take a long time, whereas a brand’s reputation can be shredded in the blink of an eye. However on the other hand, the opportunity to create positive brand sentiment and brand advocates has never been greater.

This from a Fitness First customer in the UK:

“I complained about Fitness First, who immediately messaged me, got my number and called to fix the issue straight away. They were great and I tweeted again to say as much,” she says. “I’ve done it several times and on the whole find it a much more effective way of getting help. Having always tried normal routes first but to no avail.”

So what’s the lesson to take out of this? I’ll give you a clue. It wasn’t the reduced wait time that was impressive and it wasn’t the problem solving (because nothing was solved). It was the ‘you’re the most important customer in the world’ part that turned a disgruntled customer into a brand advocate.

 ‘Your call is important to us’

Recognition that we are important, that we are THE most important person in the room, is what we all secretly crave. Why do you think they have a recorded message that says “your call is important to us”?

When I was heading up a project at Interbrand for one of the world’s largest insurance companies, my team’s role was to understand how customers perceived the brand and what it would take to deliver a superior service.

The answer was simple: become customer-centric and your customer will love you and endorse you – and you’ll be able to charge a premium for your product or service. How you implement that is a whole new story, but a 100 percent commitment to embracing the tools available (such as Twitter) will go a long way to making this achievable.

Social brand = increased financial performance

A WetPaint and the Altimeter Group study of the top 100 global brands engaged in social media found brands that engaged consumers through social media grew revenues by 18 percent, while those that didn’t declined by 6 percent. Social media played a major role in improving the quality of the customer relationships, which in turn had a direct impact on business performance.

In a Chadwick Martin Bailey and iModerate Research survey, respondents felt that brands that did not fully embrace the power of Twitter “either are not interested in the demographic that embrace Facebook and Twitter or they are unaware of the opportunity to achieve more exposure".

In the end

So what have I done? Who am I with? Well to be perfectly honest I still haven’t decided which ISP to go with. Not because I’m indecisive but because I believe in the opportunity to improve and change people’s perceptions and because I won’t make a decision based on only two pieces of feedback.

I want to hear more opinions, I’m interested in other people’s experiences; there may be a hundred positive stories from people who’ve used Orcon.

In the meantime, it’s the deafening silence from the brand in question who’ve failed to use the tools to listen to and reach out to me that has me hedging my bets that may in fact see me stay with the incumbent.

Kaleb Francis is digital brand strategist at Marque - Brand Partners