Social Media Alone Can’t Carry Customer Service: 3 Personal ExperiencesSocial media is both a glorious and brutal landscape when it comes to the ways it’s being used by customers and businesses alike as a means of communicating with one another. Customers like to feel that they’re being heard—especially when they’ve had a bad experience with a service or brand—and social media has proved itself to be the perfect place to air one’s grievances. On the business side, this wide open platform can be a golden opportunity to turn a bad customer experience into a good one—but it can also be a trap into which well-meaning businesses fall. The mistake I’ve seen many companies make is the attempt at replacing customer service conversations with social media interactions—typing instead of talking. To give some real-life examples, I will share with you three experiences I’ve had within the last year that illustrate the range of outcomes that can exist when using social media in place of verbal customer service exchange—from cold to hot.
Cold: A transportation company
This experience was obviously the worst, given its rating of “cold.” I’d made a travel reservation with this company and needed to change it, which their policy stated I could do up to 24 hours in advance. The reservation change form didn’t appear to be working correctly, so I clicked Contact Us, gave them a call…and was informed that hold times were upward of forty minutes. What?! Looking again at their Contact Us page, I saw that they encouraged their customers to reach out to them via Twitter for additional support. I thought, “Why not?” and tweeted at them. They tweeted back with instructions to Follow them so that they would be able to send me a Direct Message. I complied and then began a twenty minute long exchange in which I received (both via DM and via email) copy-and-pasted instructions from the website, which I had already seen and tried to employ, to no avail. Eventually I tweeted, “Look, this is ridiculous. Can you please just have someone call me? I’m about to just cancel my reservation altogether,” to which I received the grand reply of “We’re sorry to hear that and we hope you’ll reconsider.”
Mistake: They encouraged their customers to reach out to them via social media to circumvent long hold times, but when that mode failed to amend the situation—both in clarity and timeliness—they failed to use other measures to correct a poor customer experience.
Takeaway: Social media is great for a feeling of instant gratification, but in the end, I would rather have just waited on hold. While a thirty-minute hold guarantees a dissatisfied customer—the longer a customer holds, the less likely they are to refer your business—it would still be better than the feeling that the company refused to call me. Sometimes your customers just want to talk! We’re social animals—when it comes to things that matter, a verbal conversation is always easier and more efficient.
Warmer: An online company that sells home furnishings
My interaction with this company started off bad but eventually turned out all right. I’d ordered a rug from the company and when it arrived, it was the wrong rug. (It was hideous. I ordered chocolate flokati and what I was given was a silver-dyed cowskin monster.) There was a phone number on the packaging, which I called, holding for twenty minutes before reaching an agent. Explaining the problem, I was transferred to another agent, to whom I repeated the problem. Then I was transferred again, and so on. Giving up, I wrote on their Facebook wall expressing my annoyance. A couple hours later I received a response apologizing for the wrong shipment and asking me to direct message them the details. I did so, providing them with the order number, etc. and they asked me question after question about dates and times. Eventually I wrote, “Wouldn’t this be easier if the right person just gave me a call? Directly?” They asked for my phone number and we were on the phone minutes later. They shipped the correct rug, and while they couldn’t offer expedited shipping, they did give me a $40 credit.
Mistake: Having a phone number your customers can call is great, but if they can’t reach the person they need, what’s the point? A couple of hours for a social media response also isn’t ideal, and rather than trying to communicate order details and shipping information through a series of messages, they could have just picked up the phone.
Takeaway: This company could have really benefited from a well-designed IVR with some sophisticated call routing. I don’t mind talking to a machine if it’s efficient, organized, and gets me to the right agent faster. This experience was certainly not ideal, but at least this company realized that calling would indeed be easier, as opposed to the previous folks, who acted like picking up the phone would have led to inevitable doom.
Hot: A fast food restaurant
I’m not big on fast food, but there’s one particular place I can’t stay away from. On one occasion, though, I questioned whether I would ever return. It was the typical fast food nightmare: I was about to take a bite of my food…when I realized there was a foreign object in it. Horror of horrors. I approached the manager on duty and notified of them of the problem, and she wordlessly gave me a complaint form to fill out …and that was it. When I got home, I decided I wasn’t satisfied with the way the situation had been handled and wanted to call a corporate office. Lo and behold…no phone number on their website. So, social media maven that I am, I again took to Twitter. Within five minutes of sending the tweet, I received a response that asked me to follow their account, enabling them to send a DM. When I did, I immediately received a message asking for my phone number so that a representative could reach out to me directly. A representative from corporate called five minutes later, apologizing profusely for the object in the food and for the way the situation was handled in the restaurant. They offered me a ton of gift cards and informed me that they would be contacting the store I had been a patron of to correct the behavior.
Mistake: Not having a phone number on their website. Many companies make this mistake, thinking they’re saving money by cutting out the calls, but when a dissatisfied customer can’t reach you, they will find a way to express their grievances elsewhere. This is the downside of social media for businesses: the whole world might see your dirty laundry if you don’t have a way for customers to reach you. Just as bad is if the method you provide is poorly designed (bad IVR) or makes the customer feel as if they’re not being heard (a contact form on a website).
Takeaway: This company made a mistake, but they recognized immediately that some issues can’t be solved by exchanging messages on a social media site. The phone call made all the difference. If you’re not going to give your customers a way to call you, at least make sure you call them…and quickly. So what have we learned about using social media as a mode of customer service? The overarching lesson I see is simple: social media is great, but it can’t bear the burden of providing excellent customer service all on its own. All of the above social media snags—snags in which I publicly discussed my dissatisfaction for the whole world to see—could have been avoided, and the companies’ dirty laundry kept private, had they provided a simple, easy, fast way for me to reach them by phone.
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