Brands Are Listening, But Is The Hearing Selective?

I would say that in general, I’m a positive person on Twitter, more prone to happy and humorous conversation than rant. But the other week, after receiving a bill from AT&T, I couldn’t help myself. I tweeted and Facebook'd: Right after I finish this peanut butter cookie post I am flexing my wrists to write a strongly worded letter to AT&T. #fuming

I fielded some outraged Twitter and Facebook responses on the topic then went about my business. Then, within an hour, I received this tweet from @sethbloom, who handles blogger relations for AT&T via Fleishman-Hillard:

@bostonmamas Hey there. Sorry that you're having trouble. Would love to try to get you some quick help with whatever's making you fume.

This isn’t the first time I’ve tweeted about a brand without using an @ and had a rep respond quickly, but given that AT&T seems like a giant vortex, I was impressed. I emailed with Seth and he was just as pleasant and interested in resolving my problem as that tweet suggests.

So here was the problem: during my press trip to the Bahamas, though I didn’t use my Blackberry for phone calls, I did access the web a handful of times, perhaps a minute or two at a time. I honestly don't remember accessing the web 10 times in the Bahamas (I’ve always found the Blackberry too slow for browsing) but there were 10 roaming charges, totaling $386.23. Five charges were 31 cents or less; the remaining five charges totaled $385.31, an average of $77.06 per use.

My issues? First, the charges seemed truly criminal in the sense that the punishment far outweighed the crime (seriously, an average of $77.06 for a couple of minutes of usage?!). And second, it seemed bizarre to me that there isn’t an interface between Blackberry/AT&T to notify users about these exorbitant roaming charges, such as a pop up warning similar to the warning I receive if I accidentally push the Push to Talk button on my Blackberry. We did receive an e-mail warning from AT&T about international charges, but not until the third day that charges were incurred (which also was the last day of usage), which I consider a communication fail compared to the way credit card companies (who I certainly don't consider angels) contact you immediately in the presence of unusual activity -- in my case, the first usage was a whopping $166.32 roaming charge.

The point is, because of this poor corporate-level communication, consumers suffer. And similar to our dealings with Blue Cross, this is the kind of experience that leads consumers to feel alienated and mistrustful of a brand. The vitriol I responded to on the web about AT&T and other large corporations certainly seemed to reflect that notion.

Seth quickly connected me to someone in AT&T’s social media department (interestingly, not customer service) and in one short and friendly phone call my immediate problem was resolved; the charges were refunded.

And I felt of two minds about it all.

First, I was impressed. Refund aside, I thought, damn, this is why brands should be engaged in social media. I’ve seen lots of brands use Twitter and Facebook fan pages beautifully to monitor conversations from customers and respond. I’ve seen companies translate negative feedback into loyal customers because the company was there, listening and acting. (Brands fearful of engaging in social media due to potential – inevitable, really – negative feedback should take note.)

Second, I felt troubled. Yes, I got my problem resolved. I was lucky that Seth was monitoring the brand on Twitter around the time I posted that tweet, but otherwise how much of the resolution was due to: a) my willingness and ability to communicate my concerns; b) the fact that I was spouting off on Twitter; and/or c) my alleged status as an influencer in this space? I will always be the consumer who is willing to take the time to stand up for my rights, but regarding b and c, though the social media world seems expansive to those of us in it, the reality is that it is not reflective of the majority. Not everyone has this platform from which to speak and I imagine that those who do take the time to stand up and fight (blogger or not) meet mixed results in resolution, and the rest end up eating unjust charges.

On Facebook, my friend Sarah aptly wrote that it’s “so much more efficient for [companies] to simply address the complaints from people who can be bothered to complain than to actually fix what's broken in their system.” And my friend Julie pointed out (in relating her dealings recovering funds lost by Bank of America) that, “People could cure cancer in the time it takes BOA to research money of yours they lost. But go late one hour on money you owe them, they seize your firstborn child.” I agree on both counts; I can't even begin to estimate the number of examples I have heard of big companies demonstrating that they clearly are business -- not consumer -- first, with inane practices that clearly seek to take advantage of the fact that most people are unwilling or unable to raise their voices for fair resolution.

So what's my point? I will keep on doing what I'm doing -- fighting back in the face of each bit of corporate absurdity I come across. But I'm also now pledging -- and I hope you will consider doing so as well -- to encourage friends and family to fight too; to even help write a letter or make a phone call for someone who doesn't know where to begin. Because as far as I can see, the only way we're ever going to get companies to fix their broken systems is to get so damned noisy with our complaints that it's inefficient to do otherwise.

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Finally, two additional bits of information:

1. For those in need of consumer advocacy resources, my friends Karen and Julie both referred me to Clark Howard’s website; I haven't had a chance to check it out in detail yet, but Julie and Karen noted that the site includes a support group, complaint letter templates, etc.

2. If you're an AT&T customer: until that useful pop up warning feature comes for exorbitant roaming charges...I asked AT&T for resources on how to handle usage during international travel. They passed along a link for their info hub for international travel as well as links for these four commonly asked questions.

Prayers for Anissa

I spend a lot of time explaining to friends, family, and businesses what the point of Twitter is. It's not uncommon to hear the, "Why the hell do I want to know what people are having for lunch?" question in regards to the micro blogging platform. And while Twitter sometimes gets abused as a lightning fast way to spread negativity, there are other times when it serves as a means to disseminate information, issue a rally call, and evidence love and solidarity in a way that no phone tree could ever achieve.

Just a few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting Anissa Mayhew for the first time at the Aiming Low party in Boston. We had connected over Twitter a couple of weeks prior to the event and have since exchanged all sorts of humorous, snarky tweets. Simply put, she's a hilarious person. And of course we share that Korean bond.

Yesterday Anissa suffered a stroke and she is in the ICU. The Twitter community exploded with love and support for Anissa (you can follow the hashtag #prayersforanissa). I know I wasn't the only one hitting the refresh button last night, hoping and praying for good news. At one point there was word that Anissa squeezed her husband's hand and I could feel exhales and hope out there. I truly could.

It's so hard to feel helpless in situations such as this. My first reaction was to gear myself up to interface with my former postdoc supervisor (who I haven't spoken to since leaving academia); to implore for help via my old connections in neurology and at the stroke unit. But medical connections in Boston likely will do Anissa little help, and where I feel I can be more helpful is sending Anissa all of the positive and healing energy that my cells can muster. I truly believe in the power of universe energy; she's gotta be feeling the waves from around the world.

And meanwhile, IzzyMom has posted about ways to help, which I'll be tapping as soon as the PO box is set up.

Anissa, get well. So many are sending so much love your way. I know you can feel it. We are eagerly anticipating your snark and humor and light when you get out of the ICU.

UPDATE (11/18/09): Unfortunately the Aiming Low site has crashed; keep checking back, but otherwise, you can find updates about Anissa's condition via Heather at The Spohrs Are Multiplying.

Confessing to the Absurdity of my Worst Procrastination Tendencies

I’m a high functioning person with the capacity to get a lot done in a limited amount of time. However, when I have a lot of projects on my plate (which is pretty much always, between Boston Mamas, Posh Peacock, and my other freelance writing and editing gigs), sometimes I just feel utterly overwhelmed; every task on my list seems too large to tackle, and I procrastinate. And the thing is, lately I’ve become a little disgusted by the ways in which I tend to procrastinate, particularly given the constant state of disorganization I feel mired in, my overflowing inbox, the lovely bird greeting card collection that has been half-designed for about 6 months, and the fact that Laurel’s closet is filled with clothes that are 1-2 years too small for her. The list goes on.

I queried on Twitter about people’s worst forms of procrastination and they involved things such as TV (@vpzdesigns, @that_danielle), web surfing (@allisonpeltz, @wbgookin, @loveyoga), food (@kidmuseumnh: I loved their response, “either eating food or talking about food if no actual food is available”), or forms of procrastination that actually are productive, such as laundry (@k_patterson).

There are some similarities, but my list also includes a few more ludicrous items. So my hope is that by confessing to the absurdity of my worst procrastination tendencies, I can shed them. I want to make better use of my time. And if I do find myself with a few minutes to kill between meetings or whatever, I’d like to spend them better.

So, here are the worst ways I tend to procrastinate, followed by related, more meaningful replacement behaviors. I'd love to hear your confessions too.

Tell It Like It Is

Had it not been for my Twitter feed, the fuss over Twilight very well would have bypassed my filter (clearly, I’m the parent of a preschooler not a tween/teen). I did take a moment to get up to speed via Friday’s Boston Globe review, and laughed out loud over this capsule box, whose rating description includes “fervidly repressed adolescent sexuality.” In reality, the (far less salacious) rating descriptor is “some violence and a scene of sensuality.”