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GM tries to be proactive by responding to online gripes

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GM tries to be proactive by responding to online gripes



SAGINAW -- Those comments you posted on Twitter, venting about General Motors products, aren't going unnoticed.

GM has a new team of customer service agents scouring social media Web sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, looking to reach out to people who've complained about problems with their GM vehicles and offering help to them.

"You're kind of like a detective having to go through and see what's going on," said Sheri Haefele, one of GM's social media agents based in Saginaw. "It's a lot of sifting but those people are there and they want to be found; they just don't realize that somebody is looking."

It's all part of GM's post-bankruptcy efforts to be more proactive in dealing with customers.

"In the old GM, we said you need to call us or you need to write us a letter. That's not treating them how they want to be treated," Scott Lawson, GM director of customer and relationship services, told the Free Press in an interview. "In the new GM, we're going to be where our customers want us to be."

The Detroit automaker expects to double its social media efforts in April, adding new agents and automating more of the process in hopes of reaching more people.

Fed up with her 2001 Cadillac DeVille's mechanical problems, Melissa Walker turned to her usual spot to vent about her experience: Twitter.

The Jacksonville, N.C., real estate agent wrote earlier this month that her Cadillac was acting up and that she hated her car.

The Tweet quickly attracted the attention of General Motors' new team of social media sleuths, who are searching sites such as Twitter for people's complaints.

An agent followed up with questions about Walker's problems.

"I was very surprised. ... I hadn't actually addressed GM or GM customer service or anything -- because I knew there probably wasn't anything they could actually do. It is an older car," she told the Free Press by telephone this week.

In the end, the problems weren't covered by any recalls and a solution couldn't be found for the 100,000-plus-mile car, Walker, 32, said. "I really didn't expect much but the fact that I even got the call was pretty impressive."

Walker plans to buy another Cadillac in the future, she said. And, of course, she turned to Twitter to praise GM for her customer service experience.

GM isn't alone in using social media sites to improve its customer service. Rivals such as Ford are also busy trying to help customers through cyberspace.

"Ultimately, the goal in monitoring these sites is to steer customers into our system ... so we can document the concern and get them a response from the appropriate party," Scott Monty, a Ford spokesman, said in an e-mail.

GM has found that its customers have higher satisfaction with the company if the automaker is proactively looking to help people, said Lawson.

"The benefits far outweigh the costs in terms of the dollars we're going to save by keeping the customer in our products," Lawson said.

GM already had an extensive customer service operation with five U.S. call centers that interact with 25,000 customers and dealers in the U.S. each day.

But starting in July, GM put about 50 workers at a contractor's offices in Saginaw to conduct Web chats on GM-brand Web sites with potential customers interested in GM vehicles.

That effort now includes 35,000 live chats each month with potential customers about a variety of subjects, such as sales incentives and vehicle options.

In November, five social media agents also were added to the effort to look for GM consumers posting messages about the automaker -- positive and negative.

In April, GM expects to further expand the effort, including more than doubling the team.

Lawson's social media agents get special customer service and marketing support training. Once a social media agent has identified an issue online, the agent gathers information and gets the person in touch with somebody to help.

Sheri Haefele, one of GM's social media agents, understands the allure of social media sites.

While she spends her workdays on Facebook, the 25-year-old also spends her free time on the site keeping up with her friends.

"This is how people go about their lives; they may not want to call in or sit there on the phone," she said. "This is life now."

David Howlett, senior director of consumer insights and strategy at J.D. Power and Associates' Web intelligence research division, said social media efforts such as GM's are increasingly important.

"It allows them to try to get on top of these issues before they snowball," he said.



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GM also addressed issues with programming in the SRX Turbo. They will have a new program ASAP once the testing is done. I guess if someone put in the wrong fuel it would wipe the engine out vs safe mode.


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