Tweeting for Attention: Customer Service and Social Media


There’s a lot of talk recently about Peerindex, Klout Scores, and weighting customer service policies to consider the social media reach and influence of your customers.  Me, I’m more interested in the marketing and legal conundrums that Twitter poses.

For instance, in Taiwan, more than two dozen people have been jailed for tweeting their complaints about businesses.  Recently, I read the news about a woman who tweeted about cockroaches scuttling across the floor in a restaurant and noodles that were too salty was sued by the restaurant owner — and was ordered to pay $5,000 in compensation because she’d only sampled one dish and wasn’t competent to make a sweeping statement about his noodles.  She also got 30 days in jail for defamation.  (The judge said it was ok to tweet about the cockroaches.)

If American courts did that, our jails would be overrun in hours.  Taking to Twitter to complain about customer service is the fastest — and most effective — way that consumers have ever found to voice their unhappiness.  According to eMarketer, 53% of social media users say that “providing feedback to a brand or retailer” is an important reason they post their complaints online. 

This is especially true to American travelers — one in 10 travelers has used a social media site to let their friends and followers in on their travel woes or problems.  I fall into that category:  my first experience using social media to complain about something was when my husband and I paid for three coach seats on an 18-hour flight to New Zealand, but were allowed to use only two.

Since we’d made this same trip before — and had explained our reasons for buying three seats for two passengers in detail to the travel agent, we cleared customs and headed straight to Air New Zealand customer service.  We wanted to change the rest of our itinerary to a higher class of service — applying the purchase price for the unused third seat to the cost of two seats on the rest of the trip.  The airline refused, because the trip had already started. 

Several social media posts later, a reporter for a major newspaper contacted the airline on our behalf — and we got the seats we needed plus a refund.

As a marketer, I know how important it is to keep customers happy, and I understand why monitoring social media is critical in engaging with customers and delivering a positive user experience.  But I wonder sometimes if we aren’t rewarding people for bad behavior.  I mean, do belligerent customers deserve better service than polite, quiet customers who don’t yell at all?

Does the customer with the highest Klout score or biggest number of Twitter followers really deserve to be treated differently than another customer who isn’t a social media maven? 

You can’t waive a policy every time someone complains about it.  And you certainly can’t set the precedent that you have a two-tier customer service structure — one for people with access to social media, and one for those without.

Or can you?  Consider this from Social Fresh

“We know from Klout that some of the companies using the data in their API are call centers. Is it your cell phone company’s customer service call center? Maybe. So far, no brands have publicly announced that they use this sort of data, but I have it on good authority that some big brand names integrate this information.
“Klout can be an extra data point for call centers to, again, add intelligence to the processing of the calls they receive. For example, customers calling it with high Klout scores might get a shorter wait time. Or maybe high Klout score customers get routed to a different set of customer service responders entirely, employees that are tech and social media savvy.”

I’m personally conflicted about this.  Listening carefully to the conversation about your brand, and weighing in with facts, information, and offers of help whenever a customer has a problem, is almost always a good idea.  And anyone who’s been in marketing and PR as long as I have know that there are always going to be people who move to the head of the line just because of who they are — and that’s true whether you run a nightclub with a velvet rope outside or a technology company making sure that your newest products get into the hands of those who can help you shape the market.

So I guess the only thing that’s changed is that the ability to become an influencer, or to shape a market, has gotten a lot more democratic in the age of social media.

Cartoon credit:  Jeff Bucchino, The Wizard of Draws.

About debmcalister

I'm a Dallas-based marketing consultant and writer, who specializes in helping start-up technology companies grow. I write (books, articles, and blogs) about marketing, technology, and social media. This blog is about all of those -- and the funny ways in which they interesect with everyday life. It's also the place where I publish general articles on topics that interest me -- including commentary about the acting and film communities, since I have both a son and grandson who are performers.
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