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GM's Social Media Team Helps Resolve Complaints, Keep Customers : News

In a command center with a wall of monitors resembling an air-traffic control room, General Motors employees "listen in" on social media.

Every day of the week, they scour Facebook, Twitter and 90 auto-enthusiast sites for customers in need and disgruntled rants that could damage GM's four brands' images or point early on to a potential product problem.

The 18 employees in the social media customer center mostly watch GM car owners converse.

But the employees are trained to engage with people online when appropriate to find them parts, hook them up with dealerships or defuse their anger by showing them that someone at GM hears their complaints.

In many cases, the intervention preserves a customer, said Melody Blumenschein, GM social media manager of customer and relationship services.

"Everybody knows it's a whole lot easier to keep a customer that you have than get a new one," Blumenschein said. "I can give you example after example after example of a customer who has said, 'I'm so glad you were out here. I would have left the brand.'"

Every automaker has a social media strategy. GM, like others, builds brand awareness by interacting with shoppers on Facebook pages, tweeting out tidbits about launches and sponsoring content on any number of sites and blogs to show subtly that the automaker cares about customers and their interests. That's the offense part of social networking, for which GM has a staff separate from the customer service group.

But GM also believes in playing defense. Blumenschein said many GM brand customers prefer to air their questions, platitudes or frustrations online, not over the phone or at a dealership.

GM feels so strongly about online perceptions that this year it mandated that its 4,300 dealerships use one of three reputation-management vendors to help them solicit reviews and monitor posts or risk a portion of their factory incentive money.

Blumenschein said her 18 employees answer questions online or otherwise post 200 to 300 times a day. That's about 5,000 to 7,000 a month, seven days a week, she said.

The effort began in 2009, and the group was moved from Saginaw, Mich., to GM's Detroit headquarters last year so the customer service group could be integrated more closely with social media marketing and communications.

A lot of effort is expended defusing problems or misinformation. For example, a staffer monitoring a Chevrolet Silverado enthusiast site, gmtruckclub.com, saw that posters this month were complaining that they couldn't get trailering wire harnesses to connect the lights between their pickup trucks and the trailers they wanted to pull.

After some research, the employee quickly intervened, posting that the factory-made harnesses could be ordered as original equipment on new vehicles or installed at the dealership, Blumenschein said.

Word traveled quickly to other enthusiast sites, troubleshooting a misconception that could have dinged the crucial recent launch of the redesigned 2014 Silverado and GMC Sierra 1500 full-sized pickups.

Blumenschein said about 47 percent of staff interactions are responses to Twitter posts and 47 percent to posts on GM enthusiast forums for many of the models that GM makes, such as the Chevrolet Cruze sedan and, of course, the Corvette and Camaro sports cars. The group also monitors the 20 Facebook pages operated by the company and Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC.

The group also fields complaints about warranties. Customers often turn to social media for resolution when they run into vehicle problems shortly after their warranties expire, Blumenschein said.

To keep customers happy, GM will look at individual situations and consider paying for the repairs or splitting the cost with customers if a reasonable case can be made that the warranty just expired or similar warranty claims had popped up previously, she said. But she cautioned that GM will look at such complaints on a case-by-case basis.

GM is attuned to what social media can do to a brand. Last year, for instance, the carmaker bought back a Camaro from a customer who alleged in a viral YouTube video that mechanics at a South Carolina dealership had damaged his car during a joy ride after he had taken it in for service. He had an audio recording as proof.

Some of the work is just plain fun, though, said Kelly Malone, 32, who interacts with Corvette enthusiasts. She's a fixture on corvetteforum.com, finding out for fans when their all-new 2014 Corvettes are going to be delivered and generally sharing the passion of posters.

Malone's father and family own several Corvettes, and she got caught up in the craze at a young age, she said.

Malone said her work today reminds her of days spent with her dad and his friends in the garage. "If they had a question that needed to be looked up on the Internet, they would say, 'Hey Kelly, go look this up.' I'd say, 'OK, Dad.' And I'd go look it up on the Internet, find them their answer, and they'd go back to fixing the car."


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