30 days of human comms: #30 London Midland signs off

It’s unplanned and ironic that the 30th post in this series is one from a railway company I’ve often despaired at.

London Midland were a train company that operated through the North West, Midlands and London. The trains I largely travelled on in the Black Country had no wifi, no plug sockets, no coffee and no tables. They also used to have their drivers poached.

But as a company their social media was superb. Human. Engaging. Real time. This company set standards their trains rarely did.  If you were sat outside New Street station and wondering why you were not moving along the tracks their Twitter would tell you in good humour.

So, their sign-off when their franchise came to an end was no surprise:

Be more human. Be more like London Midland’s Twitter.

UNCLE KEITH: Never argue with an idiot and 11 things on being social for your organisation

860372850_bfa68652cc_bTim Berners-Lee, Paul Otlet and Clay Shirky add to that list of web visionaries if you will my Uncle Keith.

Bear with me on this one.

When I was 18 he came back from Australia to visit and he took me to the pub in the Cumbrian village Portinscale near Keswick where he was born.

He buys me a pint and after we take a drink he tells me he’s doing to tell me something really important.

He levels with me and I’m expecting some tips on how to chat up women. Or at the very least play cricket better. He leans across the table.

“Dan,” he says, “the best advice I can give you in life is never argue with an idiot.

“You end up on the same level and to a passer-by it’s just two idiots arguing.”

At the time it didn’t really register.

When that advice made sense…

Years passed by and as the social web became something that started to fascinate I end up helping train and advise people. Often, people are worried about being inundated with abuse from trolls when actually that very rarely happens. In my long experience most people are not looking for a fight but looking for information or maybe sometimes to let off some steam. A professional and human voice can really help.

But sometimes my Uncle Keith’s words came back as good sensible advice. It’s Cumbrian for ‘do not feed the trolls.’

When Cineworld looked a bit silly…

A customer unhappy at the pricing structure that Cineworld had fired a questioning tweet at them. It wasn’t an unreasonable thing to ask. The response was a masterclass in how to be a bit overbearing.

Maybe as others have said Cineworld’s Twitter operator was having a bit of a bad day. But their response was at best high handed.

You can read the entire exchange via this storify here.

Eleven things to remember when you’re operating social media for an organisation

1. You’re the public face of that organisation.

2. In a little guy v big guy row you can expect people take the side of the little guy as a default setting.

3. The vast majority of people you’ll come across are really decent.

4. If they’re not you need to rise above it.

5. And count to ten.

6. You need to not take things personally when you are the voice of the organisation. They’re not having a go at you personally when they’re complaining.

7. You need to print off the picture at the top of the post and stick it by your screen.

8. Remember the Channel 4 social media policy of  ‘don’t make your boss look stupid.’

9. Most of the time you’ll not need the above at all. Seriously.

10. Be human. It beats everything. The @londonmidland Twitter bio has the words:  “We aim to reply to all tweets, but pls try to be polite if things have gone wrong – we’re real people just trying to help!”

11. Shout a colleague for a second opinion or help if you’re unsure.

Creative commons credits

Two men arguing (remixed) http://www.flickr.com/photos/97248642@N00/860372850/sizes/o/

HELP 2.0: What good Twitter customer service looks like

4970060350_d31f172762_oThere’s a train company that went through a nightmare spell with cancelled trains and delayed services.

Talk to anyone who uses it and the answer is often the same. “Bloody London Midland. Late again. Only their @londonmidland has told me why. In a human voice. So I can’t quite bring myself to hate them.”

There are lessons there for all of us.

When local government started to use the social web it needed to buy into the idea that this was going to be two-way and a place where people ask questions. We can’t just tell people the latest announcement. People aren’t waiting for us to post them links to a press release. They want a place where they’ll be listened to about potholes, bin collections and things that matter to them, too. Maybe then they’ll wear some of the things we’d really love it if they listened to.

It’s a measure how things have become mainstream when questions via Twitter get plugged into customer services too.

Vodaphone UK emerged in a recent Socialbakers study as the most connected with almost of 80 per cent of incoming tweets answered.  When the channel was established it was primarily a customer services tool, the company say.

Jan Rezab, Socialbakers CEO, says Vodafone UK is particularly well set up for social customer service because it applied itself to the format early on by structuring up its internal trained team to handle queries.

Rezab says: “Brands should apply themselves, it’s more authentic when it’s a trained employee of the organisation answering your queries. Companies have to be ready – and it’s actually cheaper to reply to questions via Twitter than it is a phone call.”

That’s not to say that social should only be customer services. Or comms. If people are talking or asking questions then local government needs to be there too.

The ‘why bother?’ question

If you’re asking why bother have a customer services team at all you’re the absolute last person to think about the social customer services stream. If you think that people should be helped in the channel that works best for them you’re onto something. Once, all customer services used to happen by letter. Then the telephone was invented. And email. We responded to them because that’s where people wanted to be helped. 3973247231_74ecf13184_bIn short, we remembered that we are here to serve. Not the other way round. It’s been five years since local government started to use it. There’s at least 10 million UK users. It’s a good way to respond to issues in public to show that you are listening and also give out answers to a large audience that may need them too. In short you are being more responsive, more relevant and dammit, more helpful too.

The preparing to do it…

Have a dedicated customer services Twitter. Yes, I know your organisation probably has at least one already. But plan with scale in mind. You may be answering three or four a day now. But once your generic enquries email was doing that too. Just as you have different email accounts for different things you need different social accounts for different things too.

It should say when it’ll be monitored. 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday is fine so long as you make that clear. You’ll get more brownie points dealing with things out-of-hours but sometimes this just ain’t possible.

It should be staffed by real people. It should be authentic. Human. It should talk about the weather if it’s raining cats and dogs. That’s fine.

It should speak human. It should talk in a recognizably human way. Like real people do. It shouldn’t talk in jargon.

The actually doing it…

Start the day with a tweet from a real person. Close it the same way, too. Train operator London Midland do this beautifully.

Acknowledge the query. People don’t expect fully formed answers within the hour to complex problems. They know life isn’t always like that. But they do want to know you are on the case. The tweet that says: ‘Thanks for your tweet. Will find out for you’ is fine in the short term.

Get back in 24 hours or less. And make a point of saying this on your Twitter bio.

 Have a few people trained up. Not just one.

Never argue with an idiot, is what my Uncle Keith once told me. How right he was. How much of a web visionary he was, too. If you can help then help but if people shout, swear or troll you are probably better off spending your time answering other queries. Michael Grimes of the Citizenship Foundation’s seminal blogger engagement guide works well.

When in doubt think what you’d do if this conversation was taking place on the telephone. Which, when you think about it, is a lot more tricky than Twitter. You have to talk to people directly in real time. How tricky is that?

Use the channel as two way. Getting a flood of telephone calls about bin collections? Maybe a Twitter update and a piece on the website can help.

The working out if you are doing it right…

In short, you’ll find this out if people are asking you questions.

But yes, you can evaluate it. Don’t bother too much with follower numbers although that’s always nice. Keep a log on how many queries you dealt with each week. Then work out how much they would have cost you to deal with using other routes. The SOCITM stats for avoidable contact can help with this.For face-to-face it’s £10.53, for telephone it is £3.39, while post costs £12.10 and web just 8p.

Report the stats and the successes back far and wide. A satisfied customer is worth shouting about.

Creative commons credits

Helping hand http://www.flickr.com/photos/9729909@N07/4970060350/

Help http://www.flickr.com/photos/41304165@N04/3973247231/

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