Bad customer service on Twitter vs no service at all.

Despite having 35 people on the payroll, we are considered a small business when we shop for employee benefits such as health care and insurance. We have been very fortunate in being able to offer health, disability, dental, etc to our employees. These benefits are costly, our second biggest expense after payroll, but allow us to attract a great team. Plus its the right thing to do.

One of these ‘benefits’ became a real negative to our team. How the vendor attempted to resolve it made it worse, and highlighted the risks of approaching Social Networking as just another fad rather than a fundamental shift in how to communicate with your customers.

We provided each employee with a significant amount of life insurance through the Hartford Group. Everyone filled out the appropriate paperwork and turned it in on time. 9 months later, employees start to receive letters from Hartford requesting additional tests for $91.17, and stating that ‘because coverage was requested after the initial eligibility period, all fees are your responsibility.

As an employer, this was pretty embarrassing, especially since we followed the rules and turned everything in on time.  Following up with Hartford was going nowhere, so my partner, Patrick Callahan, decided to voice his frustrations in a tweet, calling out Hartford directly by Twitter name:

“Having the hardest time with @Thehartford life insurance for my company. Aughh!”
One day later, @Thehartford responded with a tweet of their own, stating:

“@biggreenbox We take customer issues seriously. Please send info to media.relations@thehartford.com so we can determine how best to help you”

We thought ‘wow, they really listen!’, and we sent on the details of our troubles. My first concern was that we weren’t being asked to send the details to a group at Hartford who can fix our problem, but rather a group that can fix their PR problem. But, we were happy to be getting somewhere and waited for a response.

And we waited

And we waited

As of today, 10 days after we initially tweeted the frustration, 8 days after they tweeted to the world that they take ‘customer issues seriously’, we wait for a response.

Companies need to realize that while their PR person can stand up in the board room and tell everyone that the company is on top of social networking with their own Twitter account and facebook page, their are real consequences if the company is ready to deal with these new communication paths to the public.

Hartford isn’t alone. Another big institution, Wachovia, fills their twitter page up with useless comments such as “Time for a meeting. Will return in one hour. ^JR” and “Good morning. I’m here to talk about banking. What can I help you with today? ^IM” others such as INGDirect use Twitter to provide real value, with messages which are consistent with their message of saving “Equipment, uniforms & team fees (yuck, fees!) for the kids can cost 2k+ per year. How do you save money on sports? http://tinyurl.com/mx67hp and “Would you rather create a budget monthly or annually? Save yourself some time (and money!), read the benefits here http://tinyurl.com/mo8fzm

Social Networking is a two way conversation, where credibility is gained and lost very publicly. Companies need to take the responsibility of these new open dialogues seriously.

BTW: We are in the market for some new life insurance, any suggestions? :-)

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