One day last week my phone rang. It was a number I didn't recognize, so I let it go to voice mail.
The caller left a message, and a few minutes later I keyed up my messages to listen: Medtronic was calling for me, mentioning my name specifically. They were calling on a U.S. holiday, no less — the 4th of July — because of an apparent question I had about one of the devices I was wearing.
I was confused. Not only had I not called my pump and CGM-maker anytime recently, I wasn't having any diabetes device issue that needed attention, that I could think of.
Curious, I called back when there was a free moment. I told the friendly customer service representative that I really had no specific problem, but was just returning their call (weird).
He took my information and pulled my account up on screen, and transferred me to the division of the person who'd phoned me. A second rep told me a "customer support supervisor" had phoned me in response to a tweet I had put out there earlier in the day.
My first thought: WTF?!
"Really?!," I responded, my interest piqued as I tried to recall what I had even tweeted.
Then, the memory of that tweet came back... and I almost dropped the phone laughing.
Hey, weak CGM sensor signal alert. STFU. Thanks.
— Mike Hoskins (@MHoskins2179) July 3, 2012
Yes, that was the tweet that Medtronic was responding to.
The day before, the Medtronic Paradigm 723 that I'm trial-testing was being all fussy with repeated weak signal alerts. No, it didn't get to the point where it lost the signal, but kept losing and regaining the signal strength, and telling me all about it with incessant beeps, as I was trying to move about my normal routine.
I have this current sensor on my left arm (disclaimer: not an FDA-approved site), but I've traditionally had no problem when using a different manufacturer's CGM on my arms. This Medtronic model, however, doesn't seem to work as well for me on those spots. This wasn't a big deal, and I just planned to switch sites at some point. In the meantime, I silenced the alerts to give myself peace of mind.
But not before tweeting my annoyance to all who might be watching in the Diabetes Online Community and beyond.
And apparently, Medtronic was watching! And they were "concerned" enough to reach out.
I know this happens. Other businesses and companies do this, far outside the diabetes and healthcare worlds. With varying results. There are also "bots" that essentially hone in on key words in tweets and ping you with a response tweet. I've read about this on forums like Children With Diabetes where parents have gotten calls or emails in response to posts they've made.... that's the 21st century reality: that pharma and device companies "are where we are" online.
In returning the call, I explained that I wasn't necessarily trying to "troubleshoot" anything and really didn't have a concern worth a phone call. I knew how to navigate this issue. I got the simple explanations about arm sites not being FDA approved, that wireless signals can sometimes interfere with the CGM signal and cause these alerts, and that Medtronic recommends you wait up to 45 minutes after a "Weak Signal" alert to see if it re-connects with the device before changing anything on the body.
Uh, huh. Pretty much the same stuff my manual tells me. All stuff I know.
The rep on the phone told me they continuously monitor social media and reach out before an issue becomes an actual concern or problem where someone calls them for support, to basically be proactive and not reactive. But I was still confused, because they called me, based on a tweet that didn't specifically mention the company name or any revealing product identification.
Medtronic's PR director, Amanda Sheldon, expanded in an email the following day: "We monitor Twitter and other social sites for complaints and report them. In this case, when our team member found it, we happened to know you were on the trial. So, we reported it and asked them to reach out to you. We are doing a lot to advance 'social support' and help customers where they are and when they need it."
She said the first priority at this point is responding to people who directly contact them via Twitter at @MDT_Diabetes, or who mention Medtronic or MiniMed in a tweet. The company's also just trying to "listen" in as many ways possible in social media, and Sheldon says that after a while they started recognizing "a variety of people" by handle and can respond. That appears to be what happened in my Weak Signal alert situation. Medtronic is also responding to people who post on the company's Facebook Wall, through private message and through the Contact Us app. But that's different of course, because people go there intentionally to talk to Medtronic.
"It is a big breadth of content to go through," Sheldon wrote. "We monitor and respond as quickly as we can. In the future, you will see a lot more of this..."
On one hand, this seems like a good thing. There's the obvious customer support element to it, which I certainly do appreciate. Look how wonderfully responsive these companies have become to their end-users! Going the extra step and appealing to consumers, while tapping into their concerns in this way, is the kind of phenomenon that's starting to occur more in healthcare, and so I almost feel obligated to say thankful and be grateful for their desire to help me with potential problems.
But on the other hand, I'm uncomfortable with this on a few levels. There's something all "Big Brother" about it, like I'm being cyber-stalked by my pump and CGM company. Now I'm starting to wonder if there's a need to self-sensor my tweets and emails (more than the usual reasonable amount) just in case Pharma is watching.
Even on the customer service aspect, if I start thinking about it too much... I get a little peeved.
In my case, someone out there obviously knew I was using their device. I'm basically on a list somewhere, so I got the call when others might not have. This isn't the first time I've ever tweeted in frustration about my pump or CGM, and have even used this particular company's name in past tweets and blog posts... and never received a response.
So why now? Is this a customer service perk of being a part of the 'Mine, or after attending the Medtronic Diabetes Advocates Forum back in March? Would my tweet have gotten the same response if I hadn't attended, or if someone didn't recognize me as a Medtronic user? We can hope so, but we may never know.
Basically, this is like my tweet going into a huge virtual Inbox on someone's desk. But instead of it getting buried, someone walks by the cubicle (or open work space) and places it on top and flags it for immediate attention.
And I'm not OK with that. Not at all. Particularly if it was done for marketing purposes and I was getting treated in ways that others weren't!
OK, maybe there's nothing shady going on here. Maybe my initial skepticism and cynicism about all this is unfounded... This simple little response to my tweet-venting at first made me feel like Medtronic was just trying to make an impression on someone who might be more likely to share that "good customer support response" story with other PWDs. In other words, it was a good PR move for them. And that irks me.
But maybe it's just a matter of them doing their best to recognize and respond to at least some individuals in a whirlwind of online activity — like a sparkling needle being spotted in a haystack. Medtronic is trying, and that's a good thing, right? I guess we should appreciate the fact that at least one device manufacturer is take a proactive customer support stance like this.
Still, to be clear, I would say to Medtronic and all other companies that might be using these social media support methods: Do it for all your customers, or don't bother.
Customer support through social media may be fine for some people and less fine for others, but regardless of our philosophical feelings about the practice we all deserve the same kind of customer support.
And clearly, I'm willing to blog and tweet that.