Social Software

How To Use Twitter To Reduce Wait Times, Anxiety and More

My kids’ doctor is great, but we can wait over two hours to see him. Here’s my suggestion to him and anyone enduring mind-numbing wait times
Click here to skip to my answer.

A Waiting Room
Hospital waiting room (CP file photo)*
I’m not complaining about the system

Relatively speaking, up here in the Great White North – Canada, we have little to complain about our socialized medical system. Of course, it could always be better but please note my emphasis on the word “Relatively“. So this post is not a bitch-fest, but really about accepting things for the way they are today and trying to offer a tiny, practically free way of making some peoples’ lives a little bit better.

The routine

We’re lucky! Whenever either of our kids – Sara, or, Alex get sick, or, need a routine check-up we take them to their pediatrician – Dr. DaCosta, who works out of a clinic less than five minutes from home. We have two options: We can book an appointment with our doctor, or, go to the walk-in clinic any morning from 8 AM to 9 AM. Either way, all the doctors have access to our kids charts so everyone is in the loop.

Naturally, we book routine check-ups with Dr. DaCosta. But depending on the severity when one of them gets sick, or, hurt, we weigh the delay getting an appointment with Dr. DaCosta, or, going to the walk-in clinic. Since Dr. DaCosta also works out of the amazing Montreal Children’s Hospital, that delay could sometimes be a week.

The look

If you have kids you know the “look”. It’s the look when they’re just not themselves. It’s the look when you acknowledge they’re not bouncing off the walls laughing but possibly lethargic. It’s the look when you realize the Tempra isn’t working and it’s two days now. It’s the look when you start to feel useless. It’s the look when you look to your partner in life for answers. It’s the look when your partner in life looks back at you because she already read the sentence before the last. πŸ™‚ It’s the look when you want to see their doctor.

The waiting room

Dr. DaCosta is a great guy! He spends as much time as we need with him. He never rushes us. He writes things down on paper for us to make sure we understand & remember what to do. These are amazing attributes in a pediatrician! There’s nobody I’d rather wait to see than Dr. Costa when my kids are sick – especially when they have the look.

Now, I can understand when you show up at the clinic, or, hospital, the wait time is going be long. I can understand that when you show up for a scheduled appointment, there’s going to be a wait-time – especially with a pediatrician like ours. But that wait-time is regularly over two hours. And for all of you parents out there, you know what that two hours is like. You’re not only are you dealing with your sick kid. You may also be dealing with a healthy sibling whom you had no choice but to haul along for the ride. You may also be dealing with an anxious partner feeling guilty because they just couldn’t help out. Most likely, you may also be dealing with an over-crowded waiting room full of folks just like you & yours. Most likely, you may start to wonder what other diseases your kids are going to pick up now and if it’s worse than what they already have. And then of course, you’ve got other issues going on in your life like work, or, obligations that are just not going to be met.


It is what it is, let’s move on

The truth is, at least in my little corner of the world, I actually don’t mind seeing the doctor two hours later. But I do mind waiting two hours and especially under those circumstances mentioned above. So here’s my step-by-step suggestion for the waiting rooms of doctor’s, hospital’s, clinic’s, or, any place with long waits:


  1. Get a Twitter account.
    1. If you need a little background, check out My Five Ws of Twitter in less than 10 minutes (video included)
    2. If you want to see the power of Twitter, watch Monittering Twitter – The Obama Inauguration Experiment
    3. YIf you want click-by-click instructions,check out Amanda Kondolojy‘s How to Create a Twitter Account
  2. Ask patients if they have a Twitter account. If they don’t then suggest to them they read this post while they’re waiting πŸ™‚ .
  3. If they do, ask them if they would like to be notified of delays and give them your Twitter account so they can Follow you. If they don’t, they will one day soon.


  1. Pick a time interval, like 30 minutes
  2. Simply tweet your delay. For example: “We are currently experiencing a 2 hour delay.”
    1. You cold even allow those with scheduled appointments to Reply, or, Direct message you back with cancellations. For example: “We are currently experiencing a 2 hour delay. Please reply if you are not longer able to make your appointment.” By the way, our clinic charges $30 CAD for not cancelling an appointment 60 minutes in advance. Under these conditions, maybe they should waive that charge in the name of customer service.
  3. Reassess the situation and if need be go to step 2
  4. Wait for step 1


  1. Your patients can stay in the comfort of their own home until it really is time to show up for their appointment
  2. Your patients can keep their germs at home
  3. You can keep your germs – like the ones on those waiting room toys, away from your patients
  4. Your patients’ family members are less inconvenienced
  5. Your patients & their family are less stressed out
  6. Your waiting room is less crowded
  7. Your patients still see their doctor and receive proper treatment
  8. Your staff and doctors will be less stressed out
  9. Your staff and doctors may even be afforded the time to provide better care and custoemer service

Connection issues?
If your office has an Internet connection then all you need is a browser. If your office and/or patients don’t have an Internet connection then there’s always Twitter’s mobile phone text messaging option, as described in the click-by-click instructions above. Depending on your mobile providers’ packages there may, or, may not be a charge. For those of us in Canada, Bell Mobility is our only text messaging option. Finally, you can take a look at Al Sacco‘s review of Best (Free) Mobile Twitter Apps for BlackBerry, iPhone, Windows Mobile.

Why not give it a try?

Chances are pretty good that someone working in your office is already using Twitter. So setting up an account and tweeting is second nature for them. Just ask. And believe me, I know the people working in your office are swamped. But maybe they wouldn’t be so swamped if you didn’t have patients at reception lined up out the door.

What do you think?

Do you know of anyone using twitter like this? Are you going to give it a try? If so, then please come back and share your experiences we can all benefit.

* Photo credit: Hospital waiting room (CP file photo)

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Startup Life

A Nordstrom “Nordie” Story

An unexpected customer service story right out of the pages of Chip & Dan Heath’s “Made to Stick”.

A Nordie Story
A Nordie Story

A little off topic for me but …
For the most part, I focus my posts on social software. But while doing so, I’m also working on a start-up project and spend time with books that I often refer to in my writings. Chip and Dan Heath’s book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die is one of them. As described in the book, one of the principles in getting someones attention, is to use stories about something unexpected.

Setting the scene
A few weeks ago, while on vacation, my family & I were walking through a mall in Hallandale, Florida. As we approached the Nordstrom department store, I started recounting some of the Nordie stories illustrated in the book, like;

The Nordie who ironed a new shirt for a customer who needed it for a meeting that afternoon;
The Nordie who cheerfully gift wrapped products a customer bought at Macy’s;
The Nordie who refunded money for a set of tire chains – although Nordstrom doesn’t sell tire chains.

My wife – Anna, thought the first one believable, the second just a mistake and the third simply ridiculous. But as fate would have it, Anna needed a dress for an upcoming wedding and despite my being the poster child for “I hate shopping”, I suggested we try Nordstrom simply because of the book.

The scene
Right, or, wrong, this is how I shop with Anna & the kids – Sara (11) and Alex (7): I let Anna walk up front while the kids and I hang a few steps behind. Being the Poster Child, I often backseat drive and offer which direction we should be going – call it payback πŸ™‚ However, this time I got us into a small enclosed area of with some brand name over top which I never heard but had Anna chuckling to herself. You must know that chuckle. The one you get when you refuse to stop for driving directions and you end up on dead end street. Within less than a minute, Anna held up a white T-shirt with a movie poster on it for $395 US dollars. I then bowed my head, held my kids close by and quickly and quietly, followed Anna into a friendlier neighbourhood.

The score
Thankfully, we found our way into a area that was more appropriate for our budget. And with the quick help of a salesperson – Bethany, Anna tried on a few dresses & settled on the first one – which by the way was around $150 US dollars. There was only one slight glitch; both Anna & Bethany thought a “shrug” would go nicely but there wasn’t anything suitable in the store.

So Bethany offered to hold onto the dress for a few days while Anna (read “we”) scoured the mall (read “malls”) for the shrug. However, feeling a little smug about scoring the dress in Nordstrom’s and fearing that a pattern may be emerging, I encouraged Anna that it would be a lot easier, to find the shrug if she had the dress with her. Besides, in the worst case, if Nordstrom could take back tire chains they can certainly take back the dress. Since the customer is always right πŸ™‚ , Bethany offered Anna a few places to check and sure enough, we scored the shrug too.

The unexpected
A week after returning home to Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Anna received that Thank You card above. Needless to say, the both of us were impressed. Its not like we’ll be back in area next weekend and decide to stop by Nordstrom’s. its also not as if Anna bought the $395 white T-shirt with the movie poster on it. But it was an unexpected and very pleasant surprise. One worth retelling and one worth visiting Nordstrom’s the next time we’re in the neighbourhood.

Thank You Bethany!

Given the current economic climate, I would imagine more and more retailers would be following Nordstom’s lead. Do you have any unexpected customer service stories you’d like to share?

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Social Software

My $0.02 to Dirk’s “Are you using twitter for customer support?”

More on how to infuse Social Content 2.0 into your social software lifecycle

One of Twitter’s endearing qualities is simplicity. After it’s “@” (Reply), or, “D” (Direct message), you have the remaining 140 characters to get your message across. Another powerful aspect of Twitter is it’s ability to broadcast, as well as, persist these messages. This means that anyone can pick up on a previous conversation and breath new life into it.

Traditionally, if you’re in customer service, or, support, this is probably the last thing you want. Imagine you’ve been working on an open “ticket”, playing round robin with the customer and perhaps development, you finally close the matter and someone, out of the blue, shows up with a new wrinkle. You may never be able to close a ticket again.

Granted, I’m pushing it a bit, but not much. The primary issue here is, Twitter is unstructured and traditional customer service and support need structure. And for good reason too! Customer service and support are legally binding. Customers pay money, in one form or another, for support and perhaps maintenance of the product, or, service. Once we, as providers of these products, or, services accept our customer’s money we are on the hook to deliver for a certain period of time.

So how do we convert this Social Content 2.0 that lives not only in Twitter databases, but in all the social networks, from casual conversations into legally binding action items? My guess is you don’t. I think if you try then you’ll stifle the casual conversations and pollute your service/support systems.

This is what I think you need to do with your customer service and support folks:
1. Explain to them the journey they are about to embark on in the new social networking frontier.
2. Take the time to onboard, or, train them on how to the tools.
3. Encourage them to use the tools in their personal lives first so they can appreciate their new found power and enlightenment.
4. Arm them with a core message so they’ll always know how to handle themselves. Read Chip & Dan Heath’s book Made To Stick about Southwest Airlines’ “THE low-fair airline”.
5. Follow other companies leads, like Dell, and create their social network accounts with their real names suffixed by the company name. For example: DirkShawVignette. Real people want to relate to real people. Not silly unprofessional icons and bizarro, or, no empty profiles.
6. Create a company web page listing all of their accounts so others can a) validate these people actually work there & b) discover more Twitter accounts to Follow. Look how Radian6 does it. Look to them again when you’re ready to scale your monitoring process.
7. To protect the richness and integrity of your Social Content 2.0 and not blur the line between it and your customer service and support systems, I would move some of traditional inside the firewall systems to the outside. Moving to transparent development means anyone, customer, or, not, can participate in the development and debugging process. That means you can see any defects already discovered in the system along with the internal and external conversations revolving around them. The same for feature requests. Maybe someone already asked for exactly the same thing, only slightly different. Go ahead and add your $0.02. The same for usability features. Maybe you’re having trouble with a particular feature. Could it be you’re the only one? Maybe, or, maybe not. At least you can check it out for yourself.

My guess is you’ll see a reduction in backend customer service and support costs, an increase in overall customer satisfaction and a happier, more fulfilled development team that’s not only more in touch with your market but also your new flock of evangelists.

IMO, of course πŸ™‚

Off you go now. Good luck trying to fit this into 140 characters. That’s what tinyurl is for.
Thanks for inspiration! I’m going to blockquote this stuff and repost on my blog.

Originally posted as a comment by stevenmilstein on Dirk Shaw’s blog using Disqus.

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