Customer Service 2.0: Clients become brand managers

Companies must listen and respond to customers in a Web 2.0 world or risk losing them to those that do

Comcast scored a public relations coup in April when an executive responded within 20 minutes to complaints about a cable outage posted by a prominent blogger on a micro-blogging site.

Michael Arrington said that a top official from the Philadelphia-based cable company responded to his post and made sure that a technician was dispatched to fix the 36-hour outage.

Comcast is one of several large companies that have recently started using Web 2.0 tools to monitor blogs and social networks to discover user concerns. The companies are also using such tools to communication with and learn from customers, according to analysts and executives.

Arrington said that he first notified Comcast of the outage by a more traditional means -- the telephone help desk -- but technicians there had no idea when the widespread outage could be corrected.

Granted, Arrington's stature in the blogosphere may have speeded the response to his complaint, but it did come in the midst of a months-long program, called Comcast Cares, started by the company to monitor Twitter and respond to customer concerns posted there.

In October, 2007, prior to Comcast's launch of the Web 2.0 effort, magazine columnist and radio personality Bob Garfield created a blog called "Comcast Must Die." Garfield's aim was to help Comcast customers publicly air complaints about the cable company. At about the same time, a 76-year-old woman made national news by taking a hammer to a keyboard in a Comcast office after becoming frustrated with Comcast's customer service response.

A cursory check of Comcast Cares on May 22 found multiple examples of employees responding - often in less than 15 minutes - to complaints that customers posted on Twitter, where users can create 140-character "mini blogs." Comcast employees mostly apologized for the problems and requested information needed to solve them.

A Comcast spokeswoman said the company created the program to proactively address customer concerns. She said the company can now engage its customers wherever they are most comfortable.

Most early corporate Web 2.0 efforts included internal blogs, social networks and online communities that focused on improving communication among workers. The growing popularity of such tools among consumers has led to the launch of products that fit into what some companies are calling Customer Service 2.0, which lets customers have their say on company-provided online forums.

New York Life Insurance Co. in late April began a move to Customer Service 2.0 by providing a platform for customer feedback on articles and other content in its Web site. The company also added links to various social networking sites so users can bookmark and share information across the Web.

Ken Hittel, vice president of corporate Internet development at the insurance company, said the initial version of the site is designed to first give customers a way to "talk" to the company. The feedback program, he added, is but a first step in a plan to make better use New York Life's Web site to gain insight into customer needs.

The next step will be to allow employees to actively respond to the customer comments on the site.

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