Life Imitates Blog


This past Monday I wrote one of this blog’s more popular posts, on The Mandate to Synch Social Media and Customer Service.  In essence I argued that Twitter users were more likely to get good service than the Average Joe calling an #800 line, and that that was not going to be tenable for long.

This very same week, I bought a new Netgear router for my home office.  I am not technical guy, but, I’ve set up a few routers in my time and never had a problem.  This time?  PROBLEM!  I couldn’t get it working.

I called Comcast first.  Hey, it falls under “Connectivity,” right?  Well, the folks at Comcast were very helpful, right up to the point where I said I was having problems due to the new Netgear router.  You could almost the support rep’s voice go dead.  “Call Netgear. Bye.”

I tweeted plaintively to Frank Elliason of @ComcastCares fame.  Frank went out of his way to help me out, even offering some late-night service from his own home office.  We didn’t figure it out but I did appreciate the attempt.  Still — it was only because I was a Twitter user that I got a Comcast rep to try to fix an issue with a 3rd party product.

So, I finally call the Netgear #800 line.  Honestly I’d been avoiding it cuz I assumed that I’d have a bad experience.  And I did.

Netgear put me on hold for 30 minutes; I waited for “the next available technical representative.”  Terrible hold music, too, fwiw.

After 30 minutes, I get a recording saying to leave my name & phone number and they’ll “call me back.”  You made me wait 30 minutes to leave a vmail?  FAIL.  But, I leave the vmail.

No call back.  Two days go by.  My family grumbles about my technical doltitude.  They want their Internet back!  Their frustration wears me out and I tweeted angrily to my 10,000 tweeps: Dear @netgear. Your cust. service sucks so far. Thx for not calling back, as had been promised (after 30 min holdtime). Kthxbye.”

It was like a gun went off.  I soon got a DM from @netgear, apologizing.  I get the private phone# of a member of their “Executive Support Team.”  She puts me in touch with her supervisor, who sends me to their very best tech guy.  He’s superb!!  My Internet was up and running after 15 minutes of patient technical walk-throughs.  He transfers me back to his supervisor to recount my experience and ensure my complete satisfaction.

So yes, now I am a happy Netgear customer.  But per my earlier post, I am still peeved that this executive-level treatment (from Netgear and Comcast) only came after I was identified on Twitter.  What if my own Dad had had the same troubles?  He’s not on Twitter.  He’d have been the schmoe waiting helplessly for a call-back.

This is a common disconnect for now.  But it won’t be acceptable forever.

Posted on: May 15, 2009 at 12:21 pm By Todd Defren
27 Responses to “Life Imitates Blog”


  • I’ve long had a problem with this disconnect. Beyond being unsustainable, it’s not ethical on the part of the business to treat customers with different access or influence differently. As Susan points out, this has long been the case–but that doesn’t make it right.

    Personal example: way back before these channels were available, I had a problem with my cell phone billing. The service provider had cashed my check but didn’t credit the account–they insisted I was delinquent, and threatened numerous times to cut off my service. Luckily, I was working in the state legislature at the time, and was friends with one of the company’s lobbyists. She was able to fix my problem with one call–but it always left me thinking, what does someone without that access do?

    Companies big and small need to understand that their reputations are only as good as their worst customer service rep. That is the front line, and no amount of dedicated customer service on Twitter is going to cover that up. Additionally, this, as someone else points out above, creates a perverse incentive for people to flock to Twitter to complain. This too, is unsustainable as it will be difficult to scale (I’ve been beating this drum since last Aug.)–I have no idea what the pay rates are at Comcast, but my guess is there is a spread between Frank’s salary and an entry-level, outsourced CSR phone rep. Companies cannot *afford* to have Twitter (or blogs, or insert whatever social media tool) become the de facto method of customer service.

    Fix the service at the entry level, where it is best, and cheapest, for the problems to be addressed.

    Great post Todd!

  • Matt says:

    Online social hierarchies are operating exactly the same as they do in real life. It’s online social stratification, except now those with the most influence are those with the loudest voice and farthest reach and not only the ones the deepest wallets.

    It’s all well and good that Netgear and Comcast have redefined customer service via Twitter but the same shotty service exists on the 800 service.

    It’s unfortunate that those without massive social networks aren’t given ‘executive class’ treatment. Stratification is occurring just as frequently as it is offline.

  • I am beginning to wonder the same thing. I know Twitter is the new thing and people are using it a lot. I just don’t know how they would have solved the problem if the person has NO social media experience what so ever.

    I know of a few people who just don’t want to participate but then they wouldn’t be talking to thousands of people at a time. So I think that might be the key difference.

  • janyxu says:

    Awesome post! Through my personal experience, I definitely have had much more success with the #800 than on Twitter. Sometimes I wonder if one’s Twitter-fame contributes at all to the responsiveness of the company. For example, I tried tweeting BordersMedia yesterday about a book I couldn’t find on their site… nothing. But when I called a local branch, they were able to help me track down a copy, even though that location doesn’t carry said book. So maybe to the Passionates and Influencers, Twitter is a better technique. But I feel like for most Ad-Hocs, the #800 is the way to go.

  • It’s not just power users, though. I’m definitely not a power user–but when I’ve gotten stonewalled by customer service on the phone, I’ve been able to get help because of social media: Facebook in one case, and Twitter in another. Both times I blogged and shared a link to the posts.

    The real answer is to change the way customer service is handled over the phone. It’s one thing to say that good service shouldn’t be reserved for people who are using specific technologies. But the real answer is that people shouldn’t have to turn to those technologies for customer service. We should all be getting what we pay for.

  • ComcastCares says:

    I actually disagree. Whether you reach out via Twitter or not you would still be making the public statement. If someone is talking, I believe it is best that companies listen. Now where we agree is that the service should be the same no matter the communication channel chosen. We are striving to improve the service experience through each channel. We learn a lot each day on places like twitter and that leads to improvements or process flows that can help the other communications channels. I love working with people on items like yours with a different brand router, because we can sometimes use that in our support of Customers. As an example today I worked with a major company having trouble with VPN connections and I provided them the steps I take to trouble shoot. This worked, so now he is implementing the same steps for his team. I have my team now documenting it so we can provide to our technical support staff and post to our help website.

    Our goals since we started have been to meet the Customer where they already are, listen and help when we can. Twitter was never part of that vision but the ease of search and timeliness of information make it an ideal space to build relationships.

    We provide this same level of service for anyone that my team assists. Besides activity on Twitter we are on many other website, Comcast’s help forums, and we handle over 6000 emails a month.

    Thank you!

    Frank Eliason
    @ComcastCares on Twitter

    • TDefren says:

      Frank, please know that I only have the utmost respect for you and your team. I hope that that came through.

      I guess I am wondering if your team is the same team that answers the #800 line? Cuz y-o-u were SUPER helpful and yet the original call to the 800# was not nearly so… as noted, the rep on the #800 was flatly uninterested in helping out with a 3rd party router issue.

  • I appreciate that they did this, but I have reservations.

    1. Fixing what they screwed up in the first place is not great service. It is the bare minimum.

    2. The people without a few thousands of followers in their networks are just going to get angrier when they tweet about a problem and it gets ignored. I don’t think a lot of big brands don’t care if someone is getting poor service unless that person has a substantial audience.

  • Sean Bailey says:

    Excellent post!

    I agree companies may be setting themselves up to be criticized publicly but if their 800# service wasn’t so shoddy we wouldn’t have to bemoan them. Just sayin.

    I’m just curious as to why didn’t you @Netgear to begin with? They seem like they were really quick to respond, and most importantly, helpful!

  • This is a definite problem, although let’s face it, not really a completely new one. “Celebrities” have always gotten faster better customer service than the rest of us; tools like Twitter have just expanded the definition of fame. Oh, and made it more public too, and therein is the real customer service problem. Bad enough to think that the other guy is getting better service, but to KNOW is a whole ‘nother kettle of stinky fish.

    The other problem, as we’ve discussed before, is the other disconnect, when the presale experience is online, highly interactive etc., and postsale is an 800# answered by some 20-something in Mombai.

    I’m going to write something about this soon I think.

  • Bryan Saxton says:

    This post is right on!

    On one hand, I would point out that it pays to work your way up to star status in the twittersphere. But as you said earlier, the level of customer service you eventually received should not be reserved for twitter power users. Every customer who calls into Netgear for customer service should have “Executive Support Team” quality service. Heck, the mere existence of an “Executive Support Team” implies that the standard customer service guys at Netgear are not as capable at fixing problems as they should be.

    • TDefren says:

      “Heck, the mere existence of an ‘Executive Support Team’ implies that the standard customer service guys at Netgear are not as capable at fixing problems as they should be.”


  • George Snell says:

    Wow, great post, Todd.

    Look at this way as well. Isn’t Netgear and other companies actually creating an environment where it pays dividends to criticize them publicly on Twitter and other social media channels?

    • TDefren says:

      Interesting point, George. Let’s hope they don’t realize it. I may bemoan the disconnect but am happy to benefit from it for now. I really needed to get that net connection fixed, after all! ;)

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