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Lessons from last week's London Tube strike: Analysis of TfL's Customer Engagement Strategy

Harry Rollason
By Harry Rollason on May 7, 2014 10:15:00 AM

London once more came to a standstill last week, as a 48-hour tube strike commenced. As expected, from the chaos came a flood of social chatter directed at transport companies throughout the capital—none more so than TfL’s (Transport for London) own brand Twitter accounts.  

Although my own commute to work was one of limited disruption—and actually quite a pleasant uncrowded journey—many commuting to and from work over the two days faced severe delays as stations closed and service became sporadic. This is, however, not a blog post questioning the strike itself or impact on journey times, but looks at how TfL utilized social media for customer service—answering customer’s questions and keeping them updated about service issues during the strike.

TfL has a number of official Twitter accounts, including @TfLTravelAlerts. But for the purpose of this post I analysed both @TfLTravelAlerts. To make the results comparable we pulled data from the same time period, namely Tuesday (April 29th) morning.

**In all cases used the Twitter Search API to find the most recent 2000 @ mentions. We then gathered the replies that the brand Twitter handle made. We automatically matched replies to mentions and calculated the time taken in each case, excluding the slowest 5% of tweets (which can otherwise disproportionately affect the results).**

Analysis of TfL’s Twitter Customer Service Performance

@TfLTravelAlerts had an average response time of 15mins 24s—with 100% of responses being made in under an hour. This is impressive, with @TfLTravelAlerts meeting the recommended guidelines set for acknowledging a customer's question or query over social media.

However, when it came to response rate over Twitter, @TfLTravelAlerts only acknowledged 11.3% of customers Tweets with a response. Leaving, on average, 19.3 individual tweets unanswered in this time period. This can be for a multitude of reasons, the most common being sarcastic, snarky or potentially inflammatory comments from customers when a response could lead to issue escalation. So, when @TfLTravelAlerts answered they answered quickly, but they failed to acknowledge and answer the majority questions aimed in their direction.

@TfLTravelAlerts must consider if leaving these interactions unanswered is the correct approach to take. Many would argue that every customer needs acknowledgment, while leaving them unanswered, in a public channel, has a negative impact on a company's online reputation.

When entering @TfLOfficial into our Twitter performance tracker, TfL’s official brand Twitter account, there is a different approach to social customer service taken. Despite receiving almost 3 times more direct mentions (98.6 per hour) there was no active social customer service taking place.

A Clearly Defined Customer Engagement Strategy

It is important to acknowledge that this could well have been the approach TfL wished to take, deciding to use their official account for service updates only (that they did well). But what is clear however, from an external standpoint at least, is that there was no clearly defined customer service engagement strategy.

With no clear external communication from TfL on how customers could reach out with service issues, customers were left unanswered—reaching out to the brand handle that was not acknowledging questions with responses. A clearly defined set of SLAs would have offered customers clear guidelines for issue resolution. Critical at a time as volatile as travel disruption.

Creating a Fully Integrated Customer Service Strategy

Communicating your customer engagement strategy, both internally and externally, is key to successful social customer service. But to take social service to the next level, through a fully integrated social customer service strategy, TfL should consider: 

Conversation Context:

  • You need to provide prior interaction history to give agents full context of the customers issue. A complete action history, of both private and public messages, gives your agents greater context of the customers outreach, resulting in more educated engagement and issue resolution.

Creating Brand Ambassadors:

  • Proactive customer service provides the opportunity to surprise and delight customers, calling out to them when they indirectly mention your brand or use related terms. Brands using tools that only process direct @ mentions are likely to miss service issues, or in this case opportunities to turn an irate commuter into a less irate commuter.

Cut Through the Noise:

  • Social media is full of noise, by prioritizing actionable content, agents would have been able to work systematically through the messages that require a more time sensitive response. An effective prioritization engine will have allowed TfL to address issues that are more likely to spiral into a social crisis quickly and effectively.

Effective Resourcing:

  • Finally, it’s important to recognize that real-time dashboards that track incoming content volumes, SLA performance and trends will allow managers to identify trending issues as they happen, and ensure a timely response to a crisis or increase in volume.

These are stepping stones to providing great social customer service. From this brief performance analysis it seems that, although a basic internal strategy is in place, TfL need to further refine their approach. Ensuring that your customers know the right contact path is as important as ensuring their customer service agents know the right process.

Luckily, we are not in line for another tube strike, with the RMT suspending planned walkouts. So hopefully when the next one takes place, in the not too distant future, TfL have a clearly defined customer engagement strategy in place to deal with the increases in volume.


Topics: Best Practices, Customer Service

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