Herein lies a cautionary tale relating to social media and a phenomenon I like to refer to as the “warm fuzzies.”
This weekend, I decided to take a rather last-minute trip to New York City to visit my brother and help him tape a scene for an episode of his web series. On Friday evening, I sat down to buy my bus ticket. Though I am a loyal Greyhound rider (and a veteran of the Boston<->NYC route) I had the idea of taking BoltBus, lured by the promise of outlets and cheap prices. But when I checked it out, the only Sunday return trips available on BoltBus were at 11AM or 8:45PM. So, I went with Greyhound. I tweeted about my decision:
Turns out BoltBus is sold out for NYC->Boston on Sunday except for 11AM & 8PM trips. Greyhound RT for $40? Not bad. No outlets, but not bad.
Who responded to me but GreyhoundBus, the company’s Twitter presence?
Actually…we have power outlets and Wi-Fi on Greyhound between NY and Boston. You’re in luck! http://tinyurl.com/crr2st
The link goes to a New York Times article from a couple weeks ago about overhauls to the Greyhound fleet. I noticed at the time the discrepancy between the company tweet and the article: the former made me think that all the Boston<->NYC buses did have outlets and wi-fi, while the article said that only the first of these buses were being rolled out this month. Still, I was really impressed. I had a clinical case of the warm fuzzies about Greyhound. In my mind, perhaps foolishly, the wifi and outlets were a done deal — the company said so! I briefly pondered bringing my laptop, though in the end I didn’t.
And I would be glad I left it at home. I had a 1PM bus, but I got there pretty early. I settled in at Gate 3 and waited. And waited. The line grew. 12:45, still no bus. 12:55, still no bus. The warm fuzzies began to wore off, and reality set in.
I began recalling what Greyhound is like in reality. They never have attendants at the gate to inform you of delays. Signage does not reflect schedule changes in real-time. You wait, and eventually (hopefully) a bus shows up and takes you where you want to go. Usually, in my experience, they are fairly on time while not making any extra efforts at customer service. This is the experience I was used to.
But coming down from a warm fuzzy high, I began to feel pretty frustrated and vented a little bit to Twitter. I remembered a story that Boston Mike told at an American Marketing Association event on social media I attended last week about how when encountering difficulties with JetBlue, he tweeted about it and the problems were resolved in almost real-time. So yeah, I was sort of hoping in vain for that sort of intervention, even though I maintain an organization Twitter account and know that would be pretty unlikely on a Saturday afternoon.
Then, I see one of the fancy new Greyhound buses mentioned in the NYT article coming around the bend. The warm fuzzies almost return until it rolls right past our gate and parks at the other side. Shortly thereafter, by 1:10 or 1:15 at this point, a Vermont Transit bus pulls up at Gate 3. Some folks get off, but others are still on board. Some Greyhound staff are milling around, going in and out of the bus. No one has told us anything. Everyone is eyeing the bus impatiently, wondering if it’s ours.
The driver finally opens the door and begins taking our tickets. I have to presume the dozen-plus people already on board are from Vermont? One couple is eating tuna, which is an unfortunate smell to encounter in an enclosed vehicle. Soon, the bus is full, the fate of the rest of the people who had been in line unclear; one would think another bus is en route, since Greyhound (wisely) tends to stock its routes with extra buses. As we pull out, I see the slick new Greyhound bus pull out as well, perhaps heading to pick up the others at Gate 3? Soon, I was on the Mass Pike, Brooklyn-bound and leaving South Station behind.
So, what did I learn from this experience? Greyhound gave me a delightful case of the warm fuzzies with its Twitter presence — friendly, engaging, helpful, informative. Perhaps too informative, as the 140 chars. of information I received was potentially misleading. What if I *had* brought my laptop? That would have been a huge pain.
That was the online experience, but the offline experience — the actual experience — was not all that friendly, engaging, helpful or informative. And in all honesty, it was more or less the same caliber of experience I typically have on Greyhound, but it was thrown into sharp relief by the warm, fuzzy experience I had with @GreyhoundBus the previous day.
I applaud Greyhound for the way they run GreyhoundBus, and I remain a huge fan of them and bus travel in general, but I feel they would be better served by bringing their entire customer service apparatus — online and off — up to the same level of quality and accuracy. This experience exposed not only the potentially annoying aspects of taking Greyhound, but the pitfalls of making promises you can’t keep and have two customer service experiences that don’t match up. And as for me? Next time, I’ll try to take the warm fuzzies with a grain of salt. There’s the virtual world, and then there’s the real world, and while the distinction grows increasingly blurry, there are some areas in which the two are very much apart.