A century or two from now, human beings may no longer have inner lives—and it will all be the fault of BT customer servicesby Sam Leith / June 21, 2010 / Leave a comment
Lily Allen’s tweets lit a fire under BT
Not long ago, someone who uses BT in their online business described the company on his Facebook page as “a bunch of unaccountable, business-shafting, useless bastards.” I don’t know what it had done to deserve that, but I daresay the description truthfully conveyed his degree of satisfaction.
A few hours later, he got a chirpy call out of the blue from a BT customer service person, asking what his beef with the company was and how they could help. Rather than be pleased, this Mr X found this contact unsettling. “I have since changed my privacy settings so only my friends can access my page,” he said. “What happened was quite Big Brother-ish and sinister.”
His experience is becoming more commonplace. BT is one of a number of companies—including easyJet and Carphone Warehouse—that use software called Debatescape to scan blogs and social networking sites for negative comments about them. A friend in the industry tells me that some companies do more than use software: “They’ll have teams of flesh-and-blood people in India looking through every mention of the brand and rating them according to the degree of negativity expressed.”
The way the story was reported was, in the main, along the Big Brother lines suggested by Mr X. The companies were said to be “spying on their customers.” But, as BT points out, it’s only searching the public parts of the internet. The company boasts of having helped 30,000 customers with this system.
So is this the bright new dawn we were promised: social networking sites handing power back to the people? Well, kinda. It does empower customers—but only to the extent that they are in a position to embarrass companies. BT was all over Lily Allen when she complained about it on Twitter, on which she has more than 2m followers. When she couldn’t get Thames Water to answer the phone, Twitter came to her rescue again.
But you’re not addressing customer dissatisfaction there—you’re combating negative advertising. This isn’t customer services so much as brand management, and though you could argue the two overlap, there’s a clear distinction to be made. Those teams searching for damaging tweets could, after all, be redeployed to call centres to answer the sodding phone.
The more visible you are—and the less private—the more power you have as a consumer. But if you don’t…