Yesterday I got up before 4am to catch the earlier train to New York city from Philadelphia. Little I knew I'd get on a train that had been having power/engine problems since it left Washington, DC. How did I find out?
When I tweeted to learn if @Amtrak is on Twitter, which it is (thanks to all who responded), someone else who seemed to be on my same train tweeted back and provided the back story in their stream.
So no power, and Amtrak knew that might be the case before we did. Why were we boarded in Philadelphia? Maybe they thought it was going to be spotty and hold until New York?
There we were, dropped on the tracks in Cornwells Heights with no further announcements. I was thankful for the cloudy weather vs. rain, there we were all standing, waiting.
Since I was standing around, I thought I'd check to see if Amtrak's Twitter stream had any info, or if someone had by chance seen my tweet and responded. The responses from my network were not encouraging.
Apparently, the Twitter account is for broadcasting promotional messages and the occasional weather alerts. They still channel people to their 800-number for customer assistance. We all know what those phone trees sound like. I think they've become short code for "don't bother" for the many of us who have spent the time waiting on hold.
Looks like Will @Amtrak will not be responding any time soon. He probably has the 1-2 tweets to send out per day all ready to go. And maybe, just maybe, the one metric that matters to Amtrak executives is the number of followers.
Counting the number of followers is not a good success metric when you fail to respond to people who are talking to you.
As for the communication part -- no response, no foul, right? Then again, why not use this as an opportunity to improve?
Amtrak Twitter Stream
Since March 2, 2010, the company's Twitter stream has sent out 200 tweets. Exclamation marks are employed liberally to emphasize promotions and reinforce positive comments from customers. The few @ replies I see are something like "glad you enjoyed the trip!"
What happens when you didn't enjoy? My hunch says not much. What can Will learn from his colleagues at top customer service accounts on Twitter? The Amtrak Facebook wall is a little better, in case you were wondering. They get back to you on occasion with a link to a feedback form.
Joining the conversation in real time
The Twitter account seems to have auto-follow enabled. When I followed the account, it followed me back -- there I was, part of a collection. I can just see that report -- we now have 3,843 followers!
Here's the thing: it's not how many, it's what you do with them. It's not about the numbers, it's about the opportunity to connect with customers. What does joining the conversation in real time mean? Let's look at the definition of real time on page 128 Greg Verdino published in his new book microMARKETING (Amazon affiliate link).
"The realtime Web is fast, fluid, torrential, and borderless. Fast means you view the world as always fresh. Fluid means updates come in many droplets more than a few buckets. Torrential because the volume of updates is overwhelming without filters an gatekeepers. Realtime Web changes how the Web feels. More immediate, interpersonal, complete. And human." [Phil Wolff]
It feels human. As Greg wrote, the biggest marketing opportunities lie not in the one big thing, but in lots and lots of small things.
Easy enough, right?
Except it's not that easy. For companies to join the conversation, they need to think strategically -- in what ways are customers using these tools? How can we flip the funnel on customer acquisition? -- vs. tactically -- give me one of everything, and with a nice custom tab, to go.
More companies are seeing their competitors dip their toes in social media and decide to jump in feet first so they can share their promotions, coupons, specials, messages, etc. What you see when you're looking at the Amtrak social presences is what a tactical execution looks like.
Strategy requires a different kind of thinking, one that would take into consideration a broader view of customer relationships, beyond buying tickets and wanting coupons or choosing the better of two options over air travel -- actually putting customers in the center, and potentially reconfiguring the organization to support a new way of doing things.
Hiring and training staff to respond in real time, learning to run promotions that are more social and engaging, and so on. The truth is that most customer service models are detached from the operational realities of customer relationships. Customer service is the new marketing -- and the responsibility of the whole organization.
Maybe the current system works for Amtrak -- and for the majority of the company's customers. Maybe a staff member taking the day off means very little when the Twitter stream is about pushing out messages. For sure, fixing the trains is priority #1.