Stories of one company or another coming to the aid of its customers via Twitter are now legion. Consumer-facing firms like Comcast have made it a priority to scan the twitterverse for unhappy customers and to make them happy.
What you will find less often on Twitter are stories of one customer being simultaneously wooed by multiple companies eager for that person’s brand loyalty.
That’s just what happened to Baltimore doctor Gary Kerkvliet, who found himself being courted by Comcast and Verizon — via tweets and direct messages — for his home-Internet business.
Kerkvliet would ultimately become a champion of both companies — despite having initially horrific problems with one and ending up with the other.
Here’s how this physician’s Twitter-based customer-service saga unfolded:
Kerkvliet, a longtime user of Comcast’s cable-based broadband-Internet service, was recently persuaded to try a Verizon alternative known as fiber-optic service (or FiOS).
Soon after making the Verizon switch, he ran into technical problems. His wife’s Windows laptop wouldn’t remain connected to the company’s Wi-Fi-enabled router, for starters.
Attempts to get satisfaction by phone went nowhere. Kerkvliet describes one Verizon customer-service rep as appallingly “arrogant.”
So, like many Twitter users, he tweeted his frustration. Kerkvliet, one of my college buddies, had begun to dabble with Twitter after reading my new book, “Twitter Means Business,” with its many case studies about customer-friendly companies on Twitter. These inspired him to write:
gkerkvli: Verizon FiOS: RU watching Twitter? Seems that U should direct effort 2 appeasing your customers’ anger w/ your service. But I’m no Einstein!
CZ: @gkerkvli can i help you?
This was the start of a lengthy Twitter conversation, largely documented here, that restored Kerkvliet’s faith in Verizon customer service (after he had begun cautioning Twitter users to beware of the Internet provider).
gkerkvli: @CZ Thanks, CZ. This personalized touch is VERY much appreciated…I plan to tweet a lot about your helpfulness when this is all resolved.
Unexpectedly, Comcast entered the picture in the form of the famed Frank Eliason, who helps the company clientele as @comcastcares amid recent press and blog acclaim.
Eliason initially refrained from lobbying for Kerkvliet’s business, instead offering pointers on how to get his Verizon service working properly. This gesture floored the physician.
When it became clear that Kerkvliet’s wife wanted nothing more to do with Verizon, Eliason helped smooth Kerkvliet’s sometimes-bumpy return to the Comcast fold (with assists from Comcast customer-care reps).
gkerkvli: @comcastcares Thank you. You have restored my cable service. Thank God for Twitter & e-mail address on the weekend. Excellent service.
Kerkvliet, who later told me he would have stuck it out with Verizon if this decision had been his alone to make, now has nothing bad to say about this company. In fact, he has taken pains to amend his negative Verizon commentary in the twitterverse:
gkerkvli: I had ranted pretty strongly against Verizon FiOS when day one started out with spotty service and an arrogant jerk on phone service.
gkerkvli: I thought it right to set the record straight and let the readers of my previous rants know that Verizon FiOS, indeed, has became a team player.
He and CZ have parted as friends (perhaps to cross paths again someday):
gkerkvli: @CZ thanks for the wishes for safe travel plans.
And now both Verizon and Comcast have a Twitter champion:
gkerkvli: Final tweet regarding Verizon FiOS & Comcast. If you have troubles, send out a tweet, and there are people w/ both companies who will help.
One final note: I am well acquainted with @CZ and @comcastcares after interviewing both for my book, and Comcast is one of the work’s most-prominent case studies. But this had no effect on how either treated my college chum, to my knowledge, since I instructed Kerkvliet not to drop my name lest this taint the process.
Julio Ojeda-Zapata is a St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press technology columnist and the author of “Twitter Means Business: How Microblogging can Help or Hurt your Company,” available from Cupertino, Calif.-based Happy About Books.