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Andrew Boulton is a copywriter with a decade of scribbling experience at places like Egg the online bank, some top agencies in the Midlands and once for a man who carved dolphins out of cheese. He...

... was nominated for the Professional Publishers Association Award for Business Media Columnist of the Year despite having little or no grasp of the semi colon. He has decent hair but a disappointing beard. You can follow him on Twitter @Boultini.

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22 January 2013 - 9:49am | posted by | 7 comments

Happy to help: are companies more responsive to social media complaints?

*Perfunctory caption for tenuous image**Perfunctory caption for tenuous image*

A funny thing happened to me this week.

No don’t worry, you’ve not accidentally stumbled into a Russ Abbott comedy routine from 1985 (or a Michael McIntyre one from 2013 come to think of it). A ‘funny’ thing (in the loosest, most Michael McIntyre sense of the word) did actually occur.

I have had a not inconsiderable falling out with a leading supermarket chain. In the interest of fairness I do not intend to name them here. Let’s just say if you’re currently eating one of their beef burgers, don’t.

They had wronged me and I had asked them, rather politely, to correct their mistake. First on the phone. Then via email. Then via another email. Then via a third email. Then I painted my complaint onto the torso of a ferocious bear and let it loose in their store, causing untold carnage and horrific injury. I didn’t do the last one. I couldn’t find a bear.

All my complaints, via telephone, email and angry mammal were ignored. No one had ever been quite as comprehensively fobbed off since Hollywood refused to make a third ‘Under Siege’ film.

So what could I do? I was but a tiny man (albeit with excellent hair and a fine collection of corduroy trousers) and they were an almighty corporation, capable of destroying a thriving high street with a single wink of their enormous, evil eye.

So I did what all self respecting modern consumers would do. I had a tantrum on Twitter.

Copying in said supermarket, I proceeded to list all the things that were less rubbish than their customer service. These included:

1. Being in a swimming pool when someone has clearly done a big wee.
2. Being stung in both eyes by a wasp.
3. Slightly damp crisps.
4. Wonky haircuts when you don’t know if they’re supposed to be wonky or something has actually gone horribly wrong.
5. Being trapped in a wheelie bin.
6. People on the bus who smell like they’ve never been off the bus.
7. Nick Grimshaw’s face, hair, voice and empty, empty soul.
8. Bad ravioli.

There were in fact plenty more to come, but before I could compare them unfavourably to the weaker episodes of ‘Quantum Leap’, some incredibly polite young chap from the supermarket got in touch and asked how he could help.

A few swift and pleasant direct messages later and the problem, which had taken me to the verge of unleashing a wild creature into a heavily populated urban supermarket, was swiftly and satisfactorily resolved.

And as happy as I was that my puerile Twitter campaign had yielded results, I couldn’t help but think that the whole thing should never been allowed to get that far.

It seems that this company is adopting a far more proactive and effective customer service policy through their social media channels than they are through their established processes.

You don’t have to be the kind of cynic who does not enjoy the ‘Under Siege’ films to suspect that the company is putting all their efforts into appearing to be ‘customer focussed’ in the most visible medium, while shamefully neglecting other, unseen customer interactions.

Earning praise for approachable and considerate social media customer relations means precisely nothing if the fundamental principles of service within the business’ traditional communication structure is being ignored.

Still, at least I got my problem sorted and I made it to the end of the blog without ever revealing that it was Tesco. Sh*t.


Andrew Boulton is a copywriter at the Together Agency. His burger tastes a bit funny.


22 Jan 2013 - 13:16
joe6's picture

Great article!

I completely agree with you about brands trying much harder on Social Media with customer service than any other means. However, I feel that these brands get so caught up in replying to complaints, they miss positive comments and happy customers.

Also, because there is so many customers having 'tantrums' on Twitter, the brands don't really give you anything but a 'We're sorry to hear about that" What reply did you get from this supermarket that satisfied you Andrew?

I ran an experiment on Twitter around this subject! Check it out... http://beeliked.com/social-media-buzz/mybrands-experiment-the-results/

22 Jan 2013 - 14:19
andrewboulton's picture

Glad you liked it Joe. I agree completely with your points about them paying more attention to negative comments than positive.

The 'unamed' supermarket in question took my email address through DM, reviewed my previous complaints and settled them within the space of an hour.

I'm going to have a look at your experiments now. Cheers for the comment! @joe6

22 Jan 2013 - 15:33
marya20492's picture

I had a recent experience with a vacation rental home company in Florida (which will remain unnamed as they resolved my issue) but it did take posting complaints on their Facebook page to get the GM to call me which is what I had asked for all along and our issues were not small in nature (no AC being the major issue and it was hot in FL). I told them I would not have posted on FB if they had taken care of the issues and responded appropriately.

22 Jan 2013 - 18:42
thedr66983's picture

Sometimes you don't have to get as far as Twitter, just the threat is enough. I was on the phone to British Airways for a long time arguing about a flight - a genuine mistake using a web order through a mobile phone - general policy is to tell me to get lost. I said ok, I can get online and Tweet that your 'fare policy' is not a 'fair policy', and that I have a lot of time to remind the world of this - they did the right thing in the end, I knew they would and had tweeted before they had confirmed the good news that BA service was good!

Running a customer service team and looking after company policies I agree it is imperative that the fair solution is available to customers up-front, or at least through normal support avenues.

For some refund situations the default policy will be no - where the company is not at fault but the customer, however if we can issue a refund at no cost and a customer escalates, then our 2nd level are authorised to help the customer.

Social media is way more than Twitter, it is encompassed within your Net Promoter Score, your customer satisfaction surveys and your fundamental business policies. By ensuring that as a business you do the right thing you prevent the need for social media to be the suck up solution. Communication is key, and 'change management' should not be a buzz word for an HR department - it works with customers as well - let them know what will happen and why, explain your policies openly and engage customers to feedback through the process. Upfront honesty is important for customer satisfaction.

By caring about the right thing we have turned my companies service fully around - yes, we still get complaints, but we now also get compliments and are working to fix the outstanding issues acting as cause for complaints. It is a hard road, and not an overnight fix - a company over 10 years old has lots of stumbling blocks - but every step in the right direction helps.

23 Jan 2013 - 09:05
mark_astle's picture

Companies are running scared of Twitter - it's the place where everyone else gets to see your complaint rather than just a bored call sales operative. Currently by far the quickest way to get a reply from someone who can actually do something about your complaint.

23 Jan 2013 - 11:32
claireodactyl's picture

Absolutely, agree with this, almost every time I've had need to complain in the past few years regardless of who the company is, having gone through the 'normal' channels to no avail. I've 'let loose' on Twitter only to have my problem resolved within a few hours. It's ridiculous that you have to resort to badmouthing a company publicly to get them to respond to you. This can't be a good marketing/PR/customer services stance to be taking.

25 Jan 2013 - 10:23
Cowdenbrummie's picture

Kind of annoying that people should have to join Twitter in order to have their complaints heard though #luddite

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