With just a few well-chosen words last Wednesday, a human being with the thankless job of handling Twitter outreach for San Francisco’s ailing BART commuter rail service converted a negative event into a brand building campaign.

The fellow, identified by the San Francisco Chronicle as Taylor Huckaby, succeeded in generating customer sympathy for BART’s aging infrastructure and the people tasked with its upkeep and public defense.

The thread began with Huckaby’s response to one commuter who appeared to be chiding him for sticking up for his employer.

Twitter Responds

In fairness, in addition to waves of support from commuters who now perceive BART with a more human face, Huckaby tripped an even greater cataclysm of complaints and snark, including from folks looking for an opportunity to use Photoshop with the BART logo.  

But he generated positive press, and successfully transitioned the pre-packaged press image of a mindless bureaucracy running the rail system, into an organization with feelings and a genuine attitude, if not always positive and upbeat.

It’s successful customer outreach in the midst of catastrophe: namely, a plague of electrical surges causing shorts and failures in the system’s newest vehicles, which are still about 35 years old. Is the rest of the world accomplishing the same degree of success with its Twitter customer support efforts as Taylor Huckaby in San Francisco?

5 Twitter Responses

Here are five recent examples we found of Twitter customer support incidents with known companies. Knowing that many Twitter response systems are at least partly automated, we’d like to hear your opinion about whether these services are doing an effective and appropriate job of representing their brands in the event of a negative event.

  1. A customer of Vodafone UK complains about having to type an authentication code sent to her phone, every time she tries to pay her bill.  Is it possible to opt out of two-factor authentication, she asks?  “It’s not,” responds Vodafone UK Help.  “We take security extremely seriously, so it’s not possible to opt out.”
  2. A purchaser of the 64 pack of Crayola crayons e-mails pictures of an improperly packed box.  Crayola responds, “DM [direct message] us w/ the product style # and your full mailing address.”
  3. Last February 23, a Verizon customer complains about phone lines having dropped into the yard since the start of the year, and about having to call the customer support phone line yet again.  “Talk about negligence!” the customer writes.  “You are in good hands,” responds Verizon.  “Follow and DM us so we can gather more info, then get those lines cleaned up as soon as possible.”
  4. A fellow tweets to no one in particular, “Love is your spouse illegally parking car (with son in back seat) to chase down UPS truck for your #AppleWatch while you’re at work.”  UPS Customer Support responds with an apology for the wife having to chase down the driver.
  5. A subscriber to a Comcast sports package complains that certain Premier League soccer channels have switched to low resolution and slow frame rates.  Why the change, asks one customer, noting that Comcast owns the network (NBC Sports Network) that produces soccer coverage.  “Sounds like this may be a connection issue with the frame that you are having,” responds customer support.

As you ponder the efficacy of these responses, place yourself in the Taylor Huckaby position for a moment, and consider the extra burden support personnel have when they must also defend their employers’ infrastructure.

How are brands connecting with their customers on Twitter? We told you just recently that most brands are still struggling to uncover the full value of social media, not just as a promotional venue but also as a powerful, two-way communications tool. 

Do you agree? Who is doing social right — and why? (This is your chance to promote your own company successes so jump into the conversation in the comment section below.)