About a Great Customer Service Experience With Aetna & Why Social Media Is Huge For Customer Service

by Jeff Kirchick (@JeffreyKirchick)

In today’s day and age, we know people are more likely to report negative experiences than pleasant ones, and they have the medium to do that so easily. Whether it is on Yelp or Twitter, bad reviews are all the more common, and now they have the power to tarnish a brand’s reputation more than ever. That’s why it’s important to spread the word about companies who are doing a good job when you can, so I wanted to share an experience I had with Aetna back in December.

I recently joined Next Caller, and our company decided around the same time to use Aetna as a healthcare provider. With the Christmas/New Years festivities in full swing, our application got approved retroactive to a prior date while Aetna could sort through the holiday madness and provide individual policy numbers in the coming week. However, I was dealing with a medical emergency (what are the odds) at the same time and needed to see a doctor immediately. I tried calling the Aetna customer service line in the evening, but to my dismay, at 7:07 PM, I was told by the IVR that their phone lines close at 7 PM. Feeling like the world was out to get me, I took to Twitter, and admittedly I sent Aetna not the nicest tweet in the world that basically demanded why the world was not revolving around me in my time of need.

Within minutes, I had a response from Aetna.

Clearly, my “emergency” was not as urgent as I thought it was, because I fell asleep and responded the next morning. With some basic information e-mailed over to them, Aetna could then go ahead and provide me with the policy number I would need to provide to a doctor in order to be treated. Problem solved.

However, the message was encrypted, and the person I was corresponding with, who saw that I had sent my e-mail from an iPhone, tweeted back at me asking if I would like a phone call instead with the information since iPhones sometimes have a tough time with the encrypted message.

Within seconds, I was talking to Jennifer from Aetna over the phone. She gave me all of the information I needed. She then proceeded to tell me how she had peeked at the Next Caller website the night before after my initial tweet and asked me some questions about what I do. It’s not often that customer service representatives take an interest in you as an individual, but it was truly a pleasure to feel like I was an actual person over the phone that Aetna cared about, rather than someone they would just like to get off the phone with as soon as possible. In any case, I was on my way.

But it didn’t end there. Later on, I was at the pharmacy picking up a prescription, and I ran into another issue that required me to call Aetna. I became frustrated with Aetna’s IVR, and twice I was disconnected when being transferred to a human. So I went back to Twitter. Being at a pharmacy urgently needing medication is a time where you want instant gratification. Lo and behold, Jennifer was back on the phone with me within minutes to settle the situation and ensure that I could get the medication I needed.

Looking back on the experience, I had a tough time with Aetna over the phone, but a great time with Aetna when dealing with their social media team. This has often been the case – that it is frustrating to call customer service, but I have often received great help through social media. Why is that?

Well, brands today cannot afford for people to be saying bad things about them in online communities, and so they are investing accordingly in putting together teams that meet frustrated customers where they are. Something I have often noticed with social media customer service reps is that they often try to take the issue offline immediately by encouraging the customer to e-mail them at a certain address. This diffuses the situation in a public setting, and brings it to a private place where the customer and the brand can negotiate without others taking notice.

But people who work in social media are quite frankly savvier than others. They take pride in being part of the digital wave and in doing so, they see to it that they are quick and precise. They often need to prove the value of what they do to their superiors who have invested in more archaic forms of communication for the past few decades. Measuring ROI through social media is difficult, so those who work in the field are personally invested in being good performers.

I also believe that because most executives did not grow up with social media, but are being told of its importance, they are putting the proper amount of resources into social media because they know it’s “up and coming” and “popular.” Meanwhile, they continue to do the opposite with their call centers – make them as mean and lean as possible, which leads to longer hold times and frustration for the consumer. Even basic upgrades to caller identification would save companies and customers a lot of hassle, and yet over 60% of inbound calls to call centers today still require identification.

I know that several large companies I have spoken with have at least twenty people who work on their social media. What an astounding number. I cannot express enough how satisfying it was to have an Aetna representative essentially at my fingertips throughout the day in a critical time of need.

As a Starwood Platinum Member, I have similarly had exchanges with their social media team via Twitter to handle certain issues or room upgrade requests and again I have been amazed by the prompt responses and just flat-out results that you get when you can compartmentalize an issue and deal with it head-on with a representative from the company. When you can skip all of the bureaucracy, the voice recordings, the risk of being disconnected or having to spell out your name over the phone over and over again, things are just straight up easier.