Bad customer service? Angry customers will go all social media on you

One of the most effective uses of social media – Twitter, in particular – is customer service. For customers who are frustrated after leaving voice messages that go unanswered and letters and emails that get nothing but an autoreply, telling the Twitterverse about your problem is immensely satisfying.  Even better, the well-placed tweet and viral retweets can generate a lot of attention and a response. Thanks to social media, it’s no longer one customer vs. a massive company; it’s one customer and an army of followers poised for attack.

Savvy smaller companies who are closer to their customers seem to get this. They’re nimble and responsive enough to provide speedy and specific answers to customers who take to Twitter to air their complaints or compliments. Bigger companies seem to be moving more slowly in reacting efficiently to customers via social media, but are establishing a customer service presence. All are finding their way in resolving the awesome power of digital word of mouth.

I followed a few such examples on Twitter this week. On a very local level, someone visited a popular new restaurant and gave her meal a glowing review. But she called out an overzealous waiter who made her experience less than perfect. The restaurant thanked her – but made light of her criticism of the waiter. She fired back a barrage of specifics. Her followers joined in the conversation, retweeting her complaint and commenting on their own annoying waiter experiences. Result? A popular new restaurant with nary a blemish suddenly gets pegged among local foodies as having bothersome service.  And – it is hoped – the restaurant learned a lesson and corrected its internal problem.

On a global level, consider the butt of constant consumer complaints: the airline industry. It’s very easy to broadcast your unhappiness from the gate where you’re starting hour three of waiting for your plane to board. For the airlines, it’s more challenging, but smarter, to acknowledge the problem and address it. I followed the Twitter feed of an airline that’s notorious for its lack of any customer service – Spirit Airlines – and found a steady stream of self-promotion and no customer interaction. On the other hand, Delta Airlines’ Delta Assist does nothing but help individuals. They look into specific delays, respond to complaints and compliments alike, and field questions about filthy restrooms and missed connections. Their team is identified by first name, and their tweets are in the first person. It’s a personal touch that’s been missing from airline customer service for a long time.

Whatever your company, the customer is always right, even when he or she is wrong. Social media provides the means for full expression of their experience. Make sure you harness this power, or risk the wrath of countless followers who now have a powerful means to make their voices heard, 140 characters at a time.

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