Consistent Customer Service Across All Channels

In higher education, do we offer consistent customer service across all of our communications channels?


May 30, 2012

A couple of months ago, American Airlines had me listed as female on my account. I didn’t want to get in trouble with TSA on my next flight, so I attempted to correct my sex via their AAdvantage website. Unfortunately, the option to switch my sex from female to male wasn’t possible online. I called the AAdvantage phone number. The helpline seemed like it had been constructed to keep me from actually speaking with a human being. After several dead ends using the automated system, I finally figured out that if I said “agent” over and over again, I would be connected to a customer service representative. Once connected, I informed the rep that I needed to correct a couple of things on my mileage account, most notably, my sex and my home address. Apparently when you live in a residence hall the system has an issue with authenticating your address. After the phone representative fixed my address, she then informed me that I needed to fax a copy of my passport to American Airlines to switch my sex. I asked if this was absolutely necessary as it seemed rather antiquated that I would have to fax something to get my information updated. The CSR spoke to her manager and told me that I had to fax my passport information to them. I wrote down the fax number and added this task to my to-do list.

Later on in the day, I tweeted out to the American Airlines Twitter account that I wasn’t exactly happy about having to send a fax. My aversion to fax machines is well-known. Within minutes, the Twitter team from American had tweeted back at me. They asked me to follow them (they had just followed me) so that we could exchange direct messages. I sent them a private message about the fax situation. I also publicly tweeted out another post to their Twitter account that I was going to fax my passport information later on that day as I had to book an upcoming flight.

Then something surprising happened. According to the American Airlines Twitter account, they had been able to verify and update my sex in their system. My initial thought was “how cool is that, one tweet and a DM, and my issue is resolved.” However, I then realized that it was unfortunate that there was a major disconnect in the customer service that I received. A phone representative could not verify/update my sex while the American Airlines Twitter team could? That type of inconsistency of service really bothered me. I didn't understand why the Twitter team has “access to the internet” while phone-based customer service representatives did not. Most people are not going to seek assistance via Twitter. My guess is that there are a lot more customer service moments that take place over the phone. Social media channels like Twitter can be wonderful conduits for customer service, but they shouldn’t offer “special” treatment. Every customer should get the same level of service...regardless of whether or not they are on Twitter. American Airlines will admittedly get more positive buzz from customers who tweet about their experiences in working with their Twitter team, but that doesn’t make it right. The Twitter Team at America Airlines is part of American Airlines, the company. Customers should receive outstanding service via all forms of contact. Exceptional service should exist within all customer service channels. Twitter shouldn’t trump “normal procedures.” In this case, I felt bad for the phone rep. It’s not her fault that her ability to serve customers was hampered by a lack of connectivity. In fact, my sentiment toward American Airlines was less than positive because of this experience. I value consistency. Plus, it felt like the Twitter team had thrown the phone-based rep under the bus a little bit.

In higher education, do we offer consistent customer service across all of our communications channels? If I tweet a question at a school will I get the same response that I would have received if I had called? In my situation with American Airlines, it seems like the big picture issue was that they weren't engaging in service uniformity. Frictionless service builds loyalty, trust, and connection. Communication with customers, students, clients, etc. should be consistent.

How are communications coordinated at your school? Are Twitter-based questions handled with the same care and concern as those that are made via telephone?


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