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customer service and social media
how @boingo did it right
by maigen thomas (@Maigen)

Customer service (or the lack of it) makes us all angry at some point or another. Social media makes it easier then ever before to have your voice heard, but how many companies are using social media to really interact with their customers?

I have been angry for a while now. Not a Super Pissed Off and Going To Shout About It kind of angry. Just a slow simmering crankiness that peaks once a month and then returns to being out of sight and (mostly) out of mind.

Since I'm a high-time flight attendant, I'm always on the go, rarely in one place for more than a day and constantly swiping my debit card for innumerable small charges (a coffee here. A hotel charge there. A quick bite to eat. Oh! A pretty scarf!). Instead of relying on a bank statement that only shows up once a month, I check my bank account once a day - sometimes more. There's a constantly updated ledger of checks and balances in my head, and if anything goes wrong it's usually my fault. I don't have credit cards, so if I spend more than I can afford, well, I'm eating Ramen noodles and peanuts on the plane until my next paycheck.

It's not often that anything goes wrong in my bank account because, for the most part, I don't spend everything I make. I do a pretty bang-up job of kicking 25% of my income into savings in one way or another (side note, someone please tell me the difference between a Roth and my 401k - what do I do!?); I spend less than most on rent, more than most on my phone bill. It's rare day when I see an unauthorized charge pop up in the timeline of my account, so I get really cheesed when one does show up, and I'm usually on top of finding out what it is and why it is there and how to remove it.

Only once has the process failed to work, which might explain the slow-burn anger.


It's March 2010. I've just come back to work from a six month leave. I have a half-working iphone (no data plan, because I had swapped in my sim card from a non-smartphone-phone) and was stuck in the Minneapolis airport between flights and needed some information. I had wifi capability, and Boingo Wireless was available in the airport. I created an account, signed up for a single session and took care of business.

It's August 2010. I'm moving to Guyana. In the JFK airport, and I still don't have a smart phone. I can't remember my account information for Boingo, so I start a new one. Something goes wrong (user error, I'm sure) and I end up signing up for two accounts the same night. Both are monthly charge accounts, billing at $7.95 a month.

In December 2010, I end up upgrading my phone. I now have a blackberry with a data plan. I've been charged for months now, for access to Boingo wireless that I don't use, billing at $7.95/month TIMES TWO. I try to cancel my account online, but I can't remember the account names I used to sign up with. There isn't an option for lookup via email and frankly, I probably used a tertiary email anyway.

So it rides. This is the part in the movie where you'd either see calender pages flipping past as if turned by an invisible hand or the protagonist walking down a city street in the spring, then summer, then the leaves fall and suddenly it's snowing. Either way, time has passed. I'm being charged almost $16 a month for a service I don't use, can't access, and can't get through on the Customer Service line to cancel because it's automated only and guess what? You have to know your account number.

I'm steamed every time I see the charge on my bank statement, but try to mentally block out the fact that I've resigned myself to spending $190 a year on something I'll never see the value of.

And now it's the end of 2011. Late in the evening on November 20th I logged into my bank account to check that my phone payment had been debited, and there they were again. Those awful little words on my screen, telling me I have less money to spend for Christmas.

So, of course, I whine about it.

I feel better immediately, because at least I've gotten the anger out, right? I go to bed that night having, once again, put it out of my mind. Lo and behold, the next morning I have a mention:

Get Active

In 2010, I visited boingo.com several times, attempted a phone call at least four times and generally felt like I had done my due diligence trying to get my accounts closed. I'm one of those fantastic customers that doesn't actually like to listen to ten minutes of phone menus and will hang up rather than having my problems solved after thirty minutes of waiting. In early and mid 2010 there were a rash of angry blog posts and articles about how bad Boingo's service was - they were impossible to contact and it was tremendously difficult to cancel your account. It seems that since those days they've not only turned around their style of customer care, they're proactive about it.

When I woke up in the morning to seeing that I'd been mentioned by @boingo on Twitter, I was shocked. It was, despite my own involvement with social media, the last thing I expected to see answering my short, bitter tweet. Whoever was monitoring the mentions over at Boingo that day, they didn't wait for me to figure out Boingo had an account and address them directly. That’s the beauty of social media and real-time services - any company can set up a Google Alert or search to see who has mentioned their brand name in any number of ways. Good customer care starts with being active and involved in your online presence.

Get In Touch

Because the representative manning the Twitter feed that day gave me an email, it was very easy for me to sit down and type out any and all information that might be helpful to look up my accounts (including an apology for not knowing pretty much *any* account information at all). Merely a few hours later, I had my first email contact from Lauren Sanyal:

"Thank you, and many thanks for your patience! I'm looking into this and will send you a detailed response tomorrow. :)

Warm Regards,
Lauren Sanyal"

Just getting that brief email, an acknowledgement that someone had read my words and was actually going to help me... It was one of those warm-rush "whoosh" feelings. The specific flavour of that whoosh was SOMEONE CARES ABOUT MY BUSINESS. THEY GOT IN TOUCH WITH ME.

Give Information

Less than twenty four hours later, I had a detailed response from Lauren. She had located my accounts (which must have involved a magic wand, because neither of them were account names I would ordinarily have thought to use) and fixed everything.

"Found them! There were two Boingo Mobile subscription accounts that were active and billing you $7.95 each month. We went ahead and refunded you for the months in which you didn't use the service at all, which amounts to $238.50. We also closed your accounts. Please note: It will take 48-72 hours for this amount to post to your credit card."

Lauren also included confirmation numbers for referencing those cancellations, and the names of the accounts themselves (I refuse to include them because they are that stupid and embarrassing - and you all know I'm the queen of not caring how stupid and embarrassing I look). The email was friendly, professional and exactly the information I needed.

Give Thanks

My favourite part of the whole experience wasn't just getting an unexpected and very happily accepted refund for money I had grumbled over for a year. It was how Lauren ended her email:

"Please let us know if we can help you with your Wi-Fi needs in the future! We will never spam you, but you may opt in to receive marketing emails if you wish. Hope you'll give Boingo another try during your future travels. :) Just send me a quick email, and I'll be glad to help with your account.

Thank you,
Lauren Sanyal"

She thanked me and offered her assistance in the future. It's that simple. Because the process was such a positive experience, I hope to be able to use Boingo again in the future as well - their customer care changed my attitude from disappointed to very happy. I would not only recommend Boingo to friends who need internet while traveling, I also wholeheartedly commend their social-media savvy customer service revamp. This is the kind of example many other companies need to follow.


Maigen is simple. is smart. is wholesome. is skeevy. is spicy. is delicate. is better. is purer. is 100% more awesome than yesterday. She';s traveling the world and writing about her experiences with life, love, yoga, food, travel and people. Mostly people. Because they';re funny. hear more of her random thoughts @maigen on twitter.

more about maigen thomas


i, the jury
find me to be working on not (feeling) guilty
by maigen thomas
topic: general
published: 5.23.07

self image is more than just what's in the mirror
an eye-opening yoga experience
by maigen thomas
topic: general
published: 11.10.06


dirk cotton
12.21.11 @ 10:59a

Maigen, response to your ROTH question is too long for a discussion comment, so I emailed you. (I'm writing a book on retirement planning, which is why I haven't posted any attempts at humor on IntrepidMedia lately. But I assure you, it's a page-turner.


maigen thomas
12.21.11 @ 12:21p

Hey! Thank you, Dirk! That's more than I expected to come out of a column about social media!!

russ carr
12.21.11 @ 5:10p

Wow. That's staggeringly good customer service.

maigen thomas
12.21.11 @ 6:29p

And I hope they get business from my column!

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