Duncan Parry

Duncan Parry, COO of STEAK, began his career in search in 1999 at Lycos, during the early days of the industry.

In 2002 he joined PPC engine Espotting and rose to the position of Agency Editorial...

... Manager, working on campaigns for some of Europe's leading brands. He left Espotting in 2004 to work as a consultant in both paid and natural search, during which time his clients included publisher VNU's portfolio of UK IT, finance and recruitment websites.

In 2005 he reunited with ex-Espotting colleagues to found STEAK. His roles at the agency have spanned PPC, SEO and Insight, as well commenting and writing in trade press for the agency, and contributing to STEAK’s social presence.

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18 May 2012 - 11:28am | posted by | 4 comments

Spare a thought for the human behind the Twitter account

Spare a thought for the human behind the Twitter account Spare a thought for the human behind the Twitter account

Admit it. Sometimes you like to complain. It's OK - we all do; it's part of human nature. Bad service is one of the most annoying things to encounter. We've all suffered variations of the same experience; it's a busy day, you need a company to just deliver what they've promised and what you've paid for. But they don't - they fail, annoy you, and you complain to friends, family, colleagues, the woman next to you on the train - or your followers on Twitter.

I'm not advocating you don't complain - companies should be called to account if they take your money and fail to deliver. Bad service isn't acceptable. But spare a thought for the person the other side of the screen - they're human, too, and just trying to do their job.

Dealing with complaints and customer services issues isn't easy, and is far from stress-free. Some people can remain calm and deal with angry customers shouting in their faces without ever reacting - but most of us cannot. Anybody entering a career in digital won't expect to have to deal with that sort of direct confrontation and outright anger - we all associate it with working in shops or, in extremes, the Police.

Web forums have offered a place to complain since the early days of the web - but those complaining were often shouting into the darkness; shouting into a crowd of people who were also shouting. All but the most switched-on brands weren't listening when web forums were at their most popular. I used to answer forum questions for a former employer - it was no fun. It was the "secret" bit of my job, with no glamour and all the stress the word secret implies.

Sometimes the most tightly written, well-crafted post would be shredded before your eyes publicly within minutes. Yes, sometimes with genuine criticism, but often by somebody whose anger at a company had blinded them to anything other than being an attack dog, even if, rationally, their cause for anger was comparatively minor, even to them. Nobody likes to talk about that shameful feeling that maybe you went too far - or admit it with a "Sorry" post. Some people are just having a bad day, and are happy to transmit that down their keyboard to you, with a few four letter words chucked in.

Social media has ended the era of shouting into the darkness on forums. Usernames, profiles, tagging and hashtags (or "bashtags") mean consumers can complain directly at brands. Many cite this as a great development for consumers. I'm not going to debate that here, but it does seem to give some individuals cart-blanche to go too far.

The other side of the screen there's somebody who is trying to do a good job - even if their colleagues elsewhere at the brand didn't do so well. They are there to be brand guardian, spokesman, customer services representative and social media expert rolled-up into one. They also need to be politically and organisationally savvy about their employer. They need to know how to get things done quickly to deal with the complaint, who to take issues to, who to suggest improvements to, who isn't open to suggestions, who is prickly and to be avoided…Being the bearer of bad news doesn't make you popular. Try knocking on a 50-something grizzled executive's door to tell them one customer has complained justifiably on this thing called "Twitter" and you won't be on their Christmas card list. Bad news is never welcome news.

Away from the individual, there are lessons here for brands and agencies. Social media guidelines need to be in place to avoid a crisis of the brands own making - like a thoughtless use of hastags by an intern. These need to detail how to deal with complaints and crises - right up to the sort of all-consuming event a brand dreads like a leak of customer details or legal action.

Search and content teams need to contribute to these, too - will PPC be used to advertise on brand and related terms to drive consumers to content telling the brands side of the story? What SEO might be necessary to push information up the listings? Are there video or image assets to create - should the CEO record an apology on video? Very quickly social media guidelines - indeed a digital crisis plan - need to become part of an overall response, directed by Senior PR/Marketing and Management personnel if the "perfect storm" should break.

Training needs to accompany these, of course - on how to use Twitter etc. technically, or how to word responses and escalate issues internally. How to deal with the pressures and stress of being the virtual punch bag (if not by name) for a brand needs considering too. The social media/complaints handling teams might not be showing obvious signs of stress, but if things never seem to improve, if the reasons so many complaints occur is never resolved, then over time their enthusiasm will tail off - and the team's retention rate might be a topic at the next HR review.

So spare a thought for the person the other side of the social media profile. Make your complaint and ask for their help to resolve it. It should be resolved - you're the customer, after all. But remember there's a human the other side of the screen, too.


18 May 2012 - 14:37
amyne50102's picture

Absolutely not - I have a job to do where I need to be courteous and tactical with clients, manage relationships with their potential consumers and put an awful lot of thought into brand perception and strategy. I do my job well, I do it effectively and I do it with a smile on my face. If your job is to respond to angry Tweets about the brand you represent then you should do the same, and accept both the good and the bad. If you don't like it, then move to a different company that receives less complaints and you can be proud to represent. It is not my responsibility to watch my tongue if your brand has failed on it's promise - I haven't failed on mine, I've paid my money.

19 May 2012 - 23:03
HaNguyen89's picture

Totally agreed with amyne50102.

If you have the cheek to get the money that most people work really hard to give you, you should give them 100% satisfaction. It's a fair deal

You should be glad that they still tell it to your face and spare their valuable time to write-up a complaint. Most people just walk away and never come back. If you ever wonder in a meeting why did your sales fall, the answer is you did not do your job properly. Customers are not happy. Most people just like to know their money were well-spent. Simple as that.

Nobody force you to sign the contract in the first place, if you cannot handle it, quit and let someone else who can do it better than you have a chance. Don't waste people's time and money. Also, if there is no complaint, you would not even have a job. So be grateful!!

25 May 2012 - 10:35
wonde10357's picture

I'm a bit taken aback by the two comments above - the article isn't suggesting you don't complain, just to avoid being abusive when you do so, which is pretty basic human decency.

Just as the person on minimum wage in the call center doesn't deserve your abuse because the accounts department got your bill wrong or the technician didn't show up to fix your boiler, the person running the corporate social media isn't the one who chucked you parcel over the wrong fence or failed to fulfil your order. They're a conduit to getting the problem fixed, and my experience is that if you're basically polite, they'll probably try to go the extra mile - so politeness is a tactic as well as being just plain good manners.

Complain by all means, because it makes businesses better and it's right that problems are dealt with. But maintaining some basic courtesy while doing so surely isn't too much to ask.

I complain, a lot, and Twitter in particular is a brilliant mechanism for getting things fixed. But even if I'm angry I try to avoid open-ended abuse because that's not about getting the problem solved, it's about making myself feel good. And that's not a good enough reason to treat another human being like that just because their job is running the corporate social media account.

And if a problem has been fixed really well, or the person who fixed it has gone well beyond my expectations in doing so, I make sure to mention it using the same medium as my original complaint. Because that helps companies improve and makes sure the individuals who are helping to advance the company's reputation are recognised for it.

9 Jun 2012 - 16:03

@wonde10357 - I have to agree with you. I have been that person in the call centre at the receiving end of unwanted abuse. My job was to address and solve the problem. The people complaining in any form to the company, whether it be to the customer service department or the social media account manager, should appreciate that the person they are ranting to have nothing to do with the original issue and are genuinely there to help. People don't tend to work in customer services unless they actually care about the customer. Complaints are very important to any company because they highlight service failures and offer the opportunity to correct the issue and prevent further occurrences. As the author writes, he is not "advocating you don't complain" but to consider that the person at the end of the line or behind the Twitter account is a human being and deserves to be treated with the same respect that anyone would themselves expect to be treated.


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