If you've heard anything about Twitter, there's a good chance it involved the word "useless." And if you've heard anything about customer service at Charter Communications, Madison's primary cable television provider, there's a good chance it also involved that word. Or possibly stronger language.
But something strange happens when you combine the two: They work.
I discovered this not long ago, when I blogged about the problems I had getting the television, phone and Internet company to set up a landline for me. I tweeted a link to the blog post and included Charter's Twitter handle.
Less than an hour later, an email appeared in my inbox. Josh Chapman, a social media communications specialist on the company's @Umatter2Charter team, was sorry to hear about my problems and wanted to help. In two hours, my phone was working and he'd knocked $20 off our monthly bill for the next year. It was pretty great.
I'm not the only one who's had such an experience. I contacted Matthew Dubnik after I found his tweets thanking Chapman for helping him.
Dubnik, who lives in Gainesville, Ga., learned about Umatter2Charter from a magazine he was reading...while on hold with Charter customer service. "If I hadn't found that story at that time, I would have cut bait," says Dubnik, who'd already been on the phone for an hour with a rep who couldn't determine why Dubnik's cable wasn't working.
Dubnik hung up and tweeted. Minutes later, Chapman wrote back. Soon, Dubnik's problems had been fixed - and Chapman had refunded some erroneous charges Dubnik hadn't noticed on his bill. "I was tickled to death," he says.
Charter's efforts to reach out to customers via social media started in 2009. The company gets about 3,000 contacts a month via social media, 80% of them via Twitter. The number is rising.
Still, asks Dubnik, "Why should they have to have a whole Twitter team instead of letting their regular employees help customers?"
According to Charter communications manager Eric Ketzer, the company is in the process of retraining its customer-service employees. "Whether it's in person, on Twitter, on the phone or online, the goal is the same, that every customer has every question or issue resolved quickly and efficiently," he says. "Reaching a goal and sustaining an outstanding experience for our customers will take time."
Meanwhile, if you're a Charter customer, maybe get a Twitter account.