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Customer service via Twitter works for unpopular people too

Comcast is using Twitter to monitor customer service. And it works!

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
3 min read

Yesterday I was in Internet purgatory. Today I'm back in the land of the living.

The occasion? Cable installation--an activity on par with going to get fillings at the dentist. It's time consuming, and often a learning experience about the quirks of wherever you're living. When my wonderful technician was done, I had play-off basketball and what I thought was a working pipe into the Web. However, I learned soon after that, Comcast had changed its system for getting customers online since the last time we had leased a modem.

The latest system requires you to install a small piece of software to activate your service with the use of a captcha. It's also a bit of a Trojan horse to get you to install two other pieces of company software: a browser toolbar and a "desktop doctor." While it's not necessary to install these bits of software, the installer will start up every time you boot up your system, and is set by default to give you reminders to install the software later on.

No thanks.

Feeling bullish I Twittered my disapproval, and shortly thereafter got a response from Frank Eliason, a customer service manager from Comcast. Eliason offered to get me in touch with someone who would let me bypass the software activation--a time (and registry) saver.

Just a few minutes after whining, I got redemption. (click to enlarge)

I had read about Eliason's efforts to quell user problems posted to Twitter last month when TechCrunch's Michael Arrington had had his own share of problems with the service provider and had gotten great response from Eliason. The big difference is that I don't have 16,000 plus followers on Twitter, and I'm certainly not on Time's list of the 100 most influential people. I expect the response I got would mirror that of any other Twitter user who had a problem.

Eliason tells me he's "lost track" of the amount of people he's helped through Twitter. A casual perusal of his responses to people's problems range from the most mundane to the technically complex. His plan of attack to help people who have been unhappy with the company involves not only Twitter, but also services that track keywords in blog posts from unhappy customers. He says that watching blogs lead to watching Twitter, and before that he'd actually track down the phone numbers of the complainers and call to help. Not too shabby from the same company that kept me on hold for nearly 20 minutes earlier that day to add some extra channels.

So what's the lesson learned here? That 800 number you have for any company might not be the way to go if you've got a problem or special request. Scour the Web if you can to find the customer service representatives who are online and that care. There are already several companies that are monitoring Twitter and blogs to keep their brands intact including H&R Block, Joyent, Zappos, and Oosah. Sarah Perez over at ReadWriteWeb has a great missive on this that includes ways to do this for your own company.

While people like Eliason don't come along that often, there's clearly a need for people who can give large, often faceless companies some personality--and more importantly good customer service.