For Better Customer Service, Should You Tweet That Complaint?

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Tweeting customer service problem to businessesWhen your cable goes down, the airline loses your luggage or your new laptop won't boot up, you can phone the company's customer service line and watch a chunk of the day disappear while you wait on hold for your chance to argue with a call-center representative.

Or you can fire off a quick Tweet or post on the company's Facebook wall and go about your day.

Not surprisingly, many people now choose the latter course. According to a survey by social media research firm NM Incite, 47% of social media users "actively seek" customer service through social media channels, and 30% say they prefer that method to the traditional phone call.

But is tweeting really the most effective way to get your customer service issue resolved?

Taking Your Complaints Public

The biggest argument in favor of using social media to lodge customer service complaints is that it takes your gripes public. By calling out a company in front of an audience, you force the company to consider not only its relationship with you but also its public image.

"It's a very public channel," says Randy Brasche, director of marketing for customer service software firm Genesys. "When you're on the phone, its one-to-one. On Twitter, it's one to many."

And that means that if a company doesn't resolve a complaint to the customer's satisfaction, it isn't just losing a customer -- it's also potentially facing a public relations disaster.

There are countless examples of customer complaints that went viral over social media. In 2008, baggage handlers at United Airlines broke Canadian musician Dave Carroll's guitar. After the airline's customer service representatives refused to compensate him, he made a music video about the incident that has garnered more than 12.5 million views.

More recently, Star Trek: The Next Generation star Patrick Stewart tweeted that he'd "lost the will to live" after waiting 36 hours for Time Warner to install cable at his Brooklyn apartment. Captain Picard's grievance was retweeted more than 1,800 times and was picked up by a handful of media outlets.

Both incidents hold the same lesson: The customer you leave unsatisfied has the potential to turn into a PR nightmare for your company. So when a customer lodges a complaint in a public forum, most companies are eager to nip the problem in the bud.

(And even absent PR considerations, social media is often a good way to get through when the phone lines are bust. Reuters reports that in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, some storm-affected residents unable to get through to their insurance companies by phone have found success by tweeting at them.)

More Followers = Better Customer Service?

Knowing that the stakes are higher, says Brasche, some companies are staffing their social media accounts with more experienced customer service reps. Indeed, a particularly good online response can go viral too, burnishing the company's reputation for customer care.

"A lot of the savvy ones that do this right see it as an opportunity to enhance their brand," he says. "That consumer, who might have 10,000 followers, thanks the airline or thanks the bank, and that turns into a PR coup."

While we'd like to think that companies will take care of their customers just because it's the right thing to do, we really can't complain if they're bending over backwards for us in the name of good PR. Still, it's not hard to see the potential downside of the merging of customer service and public relations. Genesys, for instance, announced in June that it was partnering with Klout -- which develops scores to measure a person's influence on social media -- to create a system that helps prioritize customers by their social influence.

"Customers... may have a high social media influence and amplification, and represent a tremendous value to a company," Genesys explained in a press release announcing the partnership. "An individual with several thousand followers on Twitter has the potential to cause irreparable damage to a company's brand."

It's a move that makes all the sense in the world for a company worried about its brand image; Time Warner no doubt wishes it had prioritized Patrick Stewart's cable installation over that of his less-famous neighbors, for instance. Still, we're guessing that most consumers aren't crazy about the idea that their importance as a customer could rest on how many Twitter followers they have.

Growing Pains

Gadi BenMark , senior VP of Client Development at social media consultancy NM Incite, says that companies jumping on the "social care" bandwagon often make one of two mistakes. One is to take experienced customer service reps from call centers and assign them to the Twitter feed -- what BenMark calls "the reality show of customer service." The call-center workers, while equipped to answer in-depth questions, are unaccustomed to the high level of scrutiny that comes with responding to queries in a public setting.

The other mistake is to go the opposite route.

"They'll say, 'Lets put a bunch of college grads on it, they have the gene for social media,'" says BenMark. "They could be well-intentioned, but they're not equipped and empowered to answer questions in depth." In such situations, he says, the person manning the Twitter feed might wind up just advising the customer to call the main customer service phone number, which for the customer defeats the purpose of going through social media in the first place.

"The biggest issue with social media is when a complaint or issue is much too complicated to answer in 140 characters," says Jeff Wiss of ZenDesk, which makes customer service software for businesses. "It's best to use [Twitter] as place to receive the issue, and then take it to another channel." Often that means initiating a direct-message conversation to get more information, and in cases where a more technical solution is required, the representative will arrange for technical support staff to contact the customer directly.

A company adept with social media should be able to handle this process with grace and aplomb. While you could do research to determine whether a given company has embraced social care, it's probably easiest to just fire off a quick Tweet or Facebook post and see what happens.

"It takes 10 seconds to tweet, and if you don't receive an answer in a very short time frame, then you should pick up the phone and call," says BenMark, who adds that it won't be long before every major retailer and service provider is up to speed with Twitter and Facebook. "Two years from now, a company without social care will look just as odd as one without a website looks now."





Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.

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andy_mcf

Social media hasn't hit the mainstream for responding to customer complaints. In fact, only 31% of social media complaints even receive a response. Here’s why:

1. Tools – Many tools exist to express oneself via social media, but not many help companies hear.
2. Processes – When (not if) someone in the Twittersphere complains about your company’s service, chances are your team isn’t prepared to handle the issue. The threshold for a social media rant (“you stink”) is much lower so companies must be prepared to reach out for more information.
3. Identity – Who is complaining?

More here... http://bit.ly/LdydDq

November 20 2012 at 2:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Shep Hyken

When a customer complains, be it face-to-face, over the phone or via social media channels like Twitter, they are saying, “Hey, I have a problem. Please help me fix it!” For some, Twitter is just how the customers think to communicate. It’s their preferred way – for all types of communication. For others, Twitter is the fall back of trying to get noticed because the company hasn’t yet responded to their pleas for help. So my answer to: Should a customer Tweet a complaint? Yes! More important question, should the company be monitoring Twitter (and other social media channels)? A bigger yes!

November 12 2012 at 3:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Robert

Hey Matt.... How many year's have you been involved in Customer Service? Are you aware that in many instances, and because of this lovely economy we've now been involved with, Consumer Fraudulent rates have climbed as high as a 300% increase? Guess where much of this fraud gets promulgated....Yup....Social Media.
The absolute last thing a company wants is to get into a back and forth with a consumer on a public forum...and these fraudulent consumers know this, and will try to take you hostage. Do you know how many of these consumers we catch acting fraudulently, and then their response will be -"well then I'm going to post this on Facebook if you don't give me what I want."
Can't disagree with you more on interacting in this way with a consumer on Social Media. In my opinion, business has opened up a horrible can of worms becoming involved with Social Media. Social Media was designed to be an interactive forum between friends.... No business entity was ever intended to be a part of the mix.
When a consumer comes through our channel for a specific question, we refer them to our FAQ section of our web page. When they have a complaint, we refer them to our customer service channel. If they break the rules of our Facebook page, we remove the post.....period. We're also one of the most admired companies in the Consumer Packaged Goods industry!
Social Media is Fluff....and that's what we let reside on our page... We use it as a marketing tool to reach out to our "friends," but certainly don't address customer complaints there.
We do have a twitter account - but refer these to the same channels.
Matt - the next time you have some dirty laundry, I'm going to ask you that you hang these up right along your front door just before your dinner guests arrive for your party.... How would you like that??? - Bet you'd move them to the back of the house where they belong - for there's no place for them at the front door...

November 08 2012 at 4:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply