Tweetreach 8-23-09I’m actually a nice person. I try to be helpful. I add value and I am often compassionate. I’m also an excellent customer since I network and provide word-of-mouth referrals. Most of the time.

Things have been difficult this last week, what with the funeral, getting the 16 year old back to school and catching up with work after having been out of town. The garden is choked with weeds, the house so scary that I had been debating hiring one of those emergency cleaning crews that come in after a major catastrophe. The pressure has been intense.

I worked most of the day Saturday and was engrossed in a project when my son came home. He announced that his cell phone was missing from his car. Possibly stolen; certainly gone. He relies on his cell phone to stay connected with his friends. I rely on his cell phone to know that I can reach him and that he can call for help if he ever needs it. It seemed important to go to our local Verizon store to report the phone missing and use the insurance policy to get the replacement.

I was grateful that we had insurance on the phone. I had forgotten that Verizon no longer provides replacement phones in the store. You have to report the loss to the insurance company and then wait for them to overnight the replacement—after paying $50 on top of the monthly insurance policy fees.

All of this as background to explain why I was in such a foul mood as we went to the Verizon store to report the phone missing.

At the counter, a fresh faced young man earnestly explained the situation to me. Having the insurance company handle the transaction was really for the customer’s benefit and convenience, he said. It was clear he believed every word of it. As a business woman I have my own opinion about why Verizon no longer provides this service in their local stores and it has nothing to do with convenience for the customer. There was nothing more to do but return home, without a replacement phone, and call in the loss. As we left the store, a sweet young blonde customer service representative made a mocking comment about me, sotto voce.

I turned and reentered the store and told her I had heard what she said. This would have been an ideal time for a simple apology. Instead she indicated that she was aware that I had heard her and stood her ground with an insolent grin on her face. I was really annoyed. Fabulous customer service, Verizon. Insult a customer who is already frustrated and dissatisfied.

The point of this shaggy dog story?

The story might have ended there, or with the phone call I placed to her manager when we returned home. However, I am an avid Twitter user. Still annoyed, I tweeted about the experience and used the hashtags #Verizon, #customerservice and #FAIL. My tweet was retweeted by many of my followers (for non-Twitter users this is when a text update someone sends get sent out through other networks and is how twitter updates can go viral in moments)., a service that measures the reach Twitter users command, shows that one of my tweets was seen by 8,377 people. The exposure generated by 50 of my tweets is estimated at 151,700 impressions. So, my poor customer service experience story was shared with many, many people.

According to the blog, Socialnomics, 80% of Twitter usage is on mobile devices. People update anywhere, anytime—and all the time. Imagine what that means for bad customer experiences?

The social web has changed the way we do business. Social networking sites and communities offer customers an easy way to express dissatisfaction. As Marta Kagan so eloquently states, because of the speed in which social media enables communication, word of mouth now becomes ‘world of mouth’.

Does this mean I will cease doing business with Verizon? Probably not. No more than they will cease hiring sweet young things whose major accomplishment to date has been to show up for work on time. However, my one tweet will have registered in many minds as a negative comment against the company. Twitter updates are crawled by search engines and show up in online searches. What company in today’s economy wants to inspire negative word of mouth—especially on steroids? Verizon?

Business owners will do well to become aware of the power of the social web and train their staff accordingly—or face the consequences. And there will be consequences.

What do you think?