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Content, strategy and creating value in a digital world

Corporate Twitter: a simple, sad lesson from Europcar

This is a story about how I tried to spend £100 with a car hire company and failed, thanks to an unhelpful customer service department, compounded by spectacularly poor use of the official company Twitter account.

It started well enough with an online booking, followed by a phone call from the branch to confirm the exact car I needed.

The wheels fell off when I tried to pick the car up. Despite being assured by the man on the phone that I didn’t need to take along the company credit card to pick up the car, when I arrived without it, I was stonewalled.

Nope. Sorry. No can do.

Did I have recourse?

“You can call customer services”

And so started my customer service odyssey, an epic that involved being referred between departments, then back to a self-service website that denied any knowledge of me.

What did I want? To reschedule a booking, pay for it with a company credit card and then pick up the car using a different card for the deposit.

The short answer from Europcar: “Computer says no”

And then I noticed the Twitter link on the Europcar homepage, offering me “Daily Driving Inspiration”

So in desperation I messaged them:

@carhiregetaways experiencing terrible customer service with Europcar – what do you recommend I do to get help?

The response? Silence. Until 11pm that night, when I received this direct message:

Thanks for following us… Get 10% off your next UK car hire at http://www.europcar.co.uk with our exclusive Twitter offer! http://bit.ly/GeHOn

To make it worse, they hadn’t even followed me back, so I was unable to DM them back. Did anyone read my message? Did I sound like I was in the mood to make another booking with Europcar? Is there anyone actually there?

If you thought there was nothing worse than callcentre staff who refuse to veer off script to help a customer, may I suggest this: a company using a bot to broadcast Tweets into cyberspace in the belief that it amounts to engaging with customers.

I’m a customer, I have a unique problem, I have apparently fallen through the cracks of your carefully-written customer service scripts. What I want is a real person (with some initiative) to address my problem. What I got was an automated message that was irrelevant at best, infuriating at worst.

So Europcar, if you’re reading this, perhaps I could give you a few simple tips to improve your Twitter presence (you could easily apply them to any of your social media channels), the rewards will be great, I promise:

  • If someone follows you, follow them back
  • Welcome messages are fine, so long as they are appropriate to the situation.
  • Social Media is about conversation, not broadcasting. If a customer reaches out to you with a problem, make sure you respond. It’s probably going to be the difference between retaining a customer and creating an advocate for your competitors.
  • Customers who do engage with you via Twitter are more than likely to be higher income, highly engaged,and willing to book online – ie your dream customer. Treat them well and they will sing your praises to all of their high income, highly-engaged friends. Treat them badly and the damage will stretch much further than just one lost sale.
  • Do a quick inventory of your followers – How many look like your target market? Of your 115 followers, the majority are other car hire companies and travel guides. Now ask yourself: Why are my customers not listening to me? Should I change my messaging, my engagement strategy or both to attract more of the right kinds of followers?
  • If it’s your official Twitter account, make sure it features your corporate logo. The Europcar page links back to the official site and has links from the official site, but the page itself bears no branding at all.
  • And finally (suggestion: do this first) @europcar is unclaimed and available. Go and grab it, before someone less sympathetic takes it first.

So did I finally get to drive that car? Yes I did. With Europecar’s direct competitor.

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Should you pay customers for their time? A social media lesson for brands

Picture this – you’re the accounts payable clerk at a fast food company. In amongst the invoices for wholewheat bread, organic chicken mayonnaise and coffeecup holders, you find an unsolicited invoice from a customer who wants you to pay him for time spent waiting in your restaurant.

What do you do?

Do you see a blagger, a fool, or an opportunity?

Paul McCrudden [full disclosure: Paul is a colleague at Imagination], recently hit upon the idea of billing companies for the time he spends in their company.

For six weeks he used Daytum to track time spent with any and all brands –  from Pret (his regular lunch haunt), to Transport for London, to The Killers (whose concert he attended).

Then he sent out invoices, charging brands his regular hourly rate, less a generous 75% discount.

The response?

Initially, silence. Then a couple of messages from confused corporates – the head of Carluccios failed to understand why his time should be of value to them.

But now, a trickle of creative responses.

Pret a Manger not only paid him, they covered the cost of his trip to cash the cheque – see the letter from founder Julian Metcalfe here.

Cranberry sent an invoice
for the time spent reading Paul’s original letter and invoice

The lesson for brands: respond to consumer feedback, be awake to opportunities to engage with customers, and most importantly: be sure to craft the tone of your engagement.

Judge it right, and the return in goodwill could be massive. Get it wrong, and you risk looking like the po-faced guy at the party who just doesn’t get the joke.

It’s about being canny, nimble and just a little whimsical.

Take Pret’s response: they clearly recognised that Paul is their ideal customer – a high income, articulate, creator and influencer.

A quick read of Paul’s covering letter would have shown that not only is he highly connected, but that his campaign is all set to go viral via his social media profile and #sixweeks hashtag

By playing the game and effectively calling his bluff, they’ve guaranteed a much bigger return on their investment. They also cleverly took the opportunity to solicit some customer feedback – asking him whether in all the time spent in their restaurants, he had come up with any ideas for improvements

Savvy brand owners know that quick response to a meme can give them major kudos on the social web.

They were invited into a conversation, and by responding appropriately they can win fans and, perhaps more importantly, access user feedback of the highest quality.

Paul’s campaign is now starting to gain traction in the media – featuring on the Campaign and Wired blogs. A #sixweeks meme beckons. Watch this space…

Paul may already be £62 richer, but the companies who responded are whole lot more so.

Perhaps he should bill them for it.

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