Friday, February 06, 2009

Why Twitter kicks ass

DiscoverCards on TwitterImage by whiteafrican via Flickr

As those that follow me on Twitter are aware, I've been having a minor sparring match with a certain state government bureaucracy this week. Some of it is my fault, but some of it is an example of how not to do customer service--unless Twitter has your back.

Not to bore you with too many details, but I used an online form to request a certain service from the state. There were follow-up steps to this process that I screwed up, so I went back online to sort out the mess. Except there was no way to address filing errors online; the system requires that you call by phone or show up in person to a state office.

So I call. And then I learn from the bureaucracy's voicemail system that it is this agency's policy to not answer the phone. Instead, the automated operator said I should sort out my issue online or, if that wasn't satisfactory, I could leave a message or dial zero for human assistance. Except that dialing zero just routed you back to the phone line that, by policy, they don't answer, bringing me back to the same operator-bot that told me to dial zero or leave a message. And, just for Catch-22's sake, the mailbox for this system was full, so I couldn't leave the requested message.

Online says call; phone line says go online or leave a message, except that you can't leave a message. My only option at this point is to find a hole in my schedule--which wasn't until today--and go down there, delaying everything.

So here's where Twitter comes in. It just so happens that two of my Twitter friends--unbeknownst to me--have secret inroads with this agency. One is an admin for the automated system I couldn't use properly, the other is a lawyer who had a friend in the bureaucracy that I could call. I had never met either of these guys in person, but they were willing and able to help me simply by virtue of our Twitter connection. All it took was me sharing my troubles via Twitter, and they jumped in. This, as they say, was awesome.

The admin confirmed what I already knew; my filing attempt threw up a system error that only human intervention could sort out. He said that if I could get the right person on the phone, it could be sorted out. That, at least, was a relief to know that, while I had made the initial mistake, I wasn't completely insane for not being able to fix it myself. The lawyer's contact, however, was more helpful. She told me exactly what I did wrong, but, sadly, I would have to come down in person to sort it out. Again, this was helpful, if only because it stopped me from spinning my wheels with the phone system any longer.

And the irony of it all? When I finally went down to the local agency office, all they did was give me a number for someone to call in the main state office in Frankfort. We spent ten minute son the phone sorting it out. If the agency Web site could have given me this phone number directly a few days ago, I could have saved everyone--myself especially--a lot of time and trouble.

I'm not usually an ragingly anti-government guy, but experiences like this push me further down the Libertarian path--where I promise I'll be Twittering.

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