Frank Eliason is the director of digital care for Comcast and has been involved in customer service in one way or another for the past twenty years. Frank’s work has been recognized by ABC News, New York Times, BusinessWeek, and many publications. He is the best example of how companies can use Twitter to provide technical support. I hope this interview can help you use Twitter as effectively as Comcast to support your customers.
Q: How did you get started on Twitter?
A: I started as a customer service manager with Comcast September, 2007. On my fourth day our communications team asked if a member of my team could contact a blogger. We did, and the communication team was thrilled. The reaction that you get when you call a blogger is amazing. People blog to be heard, and when they know someone is listening they are very excited. We used Google Blogsearch and did this to others over the next few months. Based on the success we were seeing, I was asked to do more community efforts.
In February, 2008 I became Manager of Digital Care, responsible for customer interactions on our help forums, other forums on the net, and blogs. I started a newsletter to share the customer story because social media is a great place for voice of the customer. A vice president, Scott Westerman, wrote to me because he loved the newsletter. He told me to check out Twitter. Like most people, when I looked at Twitter I was not sure what to think of it, but I saw value, especially due to the real-time search.
Q: Exactly how do you use Twitter?
A: We use Twitter to help customers. We simply search for “Comcast” and a few variations and respond by offering help. One of my favorite stories involving competitors, is on this post:
Twitter Customer Service: Two Firms Woo One Customer
We do not strive to say things about a competitor, but sometimes they come into our search. In this case, the customer was having trouble with his box. Since we use similar hardware, I provided a way to fix it. In the end he returned as a customer.
With everything I have done in social media, this is probably my favorite quote, “Eliason initially refrained from lobbying for Kerkvliet’s business, instead offering pointers on how to get his Verizon service working properly. This gesture floored the physician.”
Q: What Twitter tools do you use?
A: The best part to social media is there are plenty of tools that you can work with, and many are free. If you are thinking of listening, you can easily start with Google Blogsearch, Twitter Search, and Facebook Search. You can then progress to some really great tools. For analysis we use Radian 6 and Nielsen Online, but for day-to-day work we do use many free tools. We use Seesmic, Peoplebrowsr, or sometimes the tools listed above. On my iPhone I prefer Simply Tweet, but I like Seesmic on my Droid. On the iPad, I use Twitterrific
Q: How many cases do you deal with every day?
A: My digital care team is not structured around number of interactions, but instead how the team members help improve the customer experience through all communication channels. The bulk of the work that we handle is actually through email.
As a means to obtain account information from customers on blogs, we started our team’s email address (We_Can_Help @ cable.comcast.com). We also use it in other social media spaces as necessary – for example when a customer needs more than 140 characters). This creates another communications channel in which we receive about 7,000 emails a month.
My team is also responsible for our help forums which have over 3.5 million page views each month. These are usually people seeking helping from peers. My team moderates our help forums, and we also listen in forums throughout the Internet. We even have a private forum called Comcast Direct over at Broadband Reports.
This allows customers that hang out there to get help in a private manner where they already are. Forums in general are about peer helping peer, so typically you will not see us participate in a public manner. Doing so would take away from the community that is there. We will private message if we think we are the best option to help. With all the forums we watch, we review 500 to 1,000 forum entries each day.
We review about 6,000 blog posts each day with most not having anything to do with Comcast. They show up in the search because the blogger has a Comcast.net email address. We do not exclude them from our search, because we would never want to miss a post in which a customer could use assistance.
Twitter has about 1,500 - 2,000 tweets a day or more. Many of the tweets are not about assistance, but some are. We reach out to 600 - 1,000 people, and we have conversations with about 200 - 300 a day. We typically only have one person on at a time, and we try to cover 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern time Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday and Sunday. We see more activity than most companies since we are known for being in the space and spammers like to mention us. Many times when we feel it is spam, our initial response is to email. We know we never hear from them.
Q: Are your Twitter efforts now your full-time occupation?
A: I am responsible for our community efforts, which include Twitter. I also manage a number of customer feedback channels for Comcast. As senior director of national customer service I manage three teams with a total of ten people, and, as everyone in customer service, I act as the advocate for all our customers.
Q: Do you use ghosts or staff or is it pure Frank?
A: Every tweet from @ComcastCares is me, but I am not out there as much as I used to be. When we started on Twitter I was out there all hours of the day and night, usually seven days a week. Today we have ten different Twitter ID’s. Different than many companies, I believe that each ID should represent a person. I relate this to calls. You would never answer a phone, “XYZ company. What do you want?” so we have team members with ID’s like @Comcastbill and @Comcastbonnie responding to our customers, including those who tweet me.
I do enjoy being out there, so I Tweet also. Another difference is I recommend tweeting about other things too. So we will tweet what we are doing and interesting information that we find.
Q: Does your experience prove that one person on Twitter can make a big impact on a company’s reputation?
A: I think that a person, a team, and a website can make all the difference. Here is a video of Brian Roberts speaking to John Battelle at Web 2.0 this year:
Comcast CEO: Twitter Changed Our Company
Q: If Twitter didn’t exist, would, and how would, Comcast resolve the issues that you’re handling with Twitter?
A: We still use the standard communication channels, but I would still have been involved in digital media. It is a great place to listen to and learn from customers
Q: What are the key elements and best practices of providing support via Twitter?
A: The key to Twitter is being yourself. Ultimately the way used by every business will be slightly different for everyone. If you are a small business, you may be using search to connect with people that may be Customers in the future.
I recommend not doing the hard sell, but instead being the expert and offering assistance. Allow your background Twitter page to do the selling. For companies like Comcast where customer may be talking, the key is not jumping into conversation. If we see someone needs help, we usually do not jump in with the answer.
We might send a tweet that says, “Can I help?” What we are doing is throwing the ball in their court. If they want help, they will come back. No matter how you choose to use social media, I do recommend listening in all the spaces. It will help you better understand your Customers and further the relationship with them.
Q: What is the role of Facebook in providing support? Or is Twitter the best platform? Why?
A: Facebook is a place to meet up with people you already know, where Twitter is the space to meet new friends. This distinction is important because the reaction when reaching out to people in both spaces will be very different.
On Twitter reaching out is much more expected. Facebook recently opened up search to include status updates, so it acts a lot more like Twitter. It is a great place to listen because of the size of the community and the limited amount of spam that is there. We do reach out to people on Facebook, but it is not as often. If you reach too much to people that you are not friends with, the system will warn or even block you as a spam prevention measure.You can find Frank on his blog or on Twitter at @ComcastCares