Turning a Customer Service #FAIL Around: The Dos and Don’ts of Customer Service on Social Media

by Affect Team on January 6, 2011

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I was checking my e-mail when it happened. The dreaded cancellation notice of an online purchase from Best Buy, just minutes before I was heading out to pick-up the new flat screen TV I ordered for in-store pick-up. I was extremely frustrated, so I went to Twitter to make it public that my TV had been canceled – and all I got from a Best Buy representative on Twitter was a note to call 1-888-BESTBUY:


While that made me cranky, I was even crankier the next night when I received an e-mail from the store’s corporate division: “Just a friendly pick-up reminder for your purchase!” Wait, a pick-up reminder for a canceled TV? Noting that the charge was still reflected on my credit card, I immediately dialed their customer service number. Patiently, I sat through selecting an option, listening to musical interludes and being assured by a recording that I was the next caller. An hour of waiting on line later, without ever being connected to a human being, I hung up. I was about to scream.

That’s when I went to Twitter, once more:

After waiting an hour on the phone with their customer service, I wasn’t expecting much from their #twelpforce. But within a few minutes, @jayysenn, a Best Buy rep, responded directly to my tweet, asking if there was anything he could help with. In the matter of just one more tweet, @jayysenn had asked me to e-mail my order details and customer service issue to him, and then he called me directly on my cell phone to troubleshoot. (Turns out the order had never been officially cancelled, resulting in the pickup reminder and the charges on my credit card.) On the phone, he officially cancelled the order, checked on my new order, and offered me a credit for my trouble. Needless to say, I was a much happier customer – and I quickly cancelled my original ban on ever shopping at the store again.

As one of our social media team members here at Affect, I completely understand how difficult it can be to deal with complaints and customer service issues on Twitter. However, there are a few tried and true tips that ensure that customer inquiries are dealt with effectively and efficiently, and that a brand’s reputation on social media is kept intact:

  • Go to the source: send an @ message to the user and ask if you can help.

Even if a Twitter complaint isn’t sent directly to your brand’s handle, it’s important to be monitoring the conversation about your brand online and to flag customer complaint. Acknowledge the user directly using an @ message, and include one simple question: “Can I help?” The answer is usually a resounding yes.

  • Don’t ask the user to go somewhere else, or contact someone else. Respond there and then.

Best Buy made a mistake here the first time by asking me to call their 1-888 number. If you’re depending on a customer to interact with you on Twitter when something good happens, you should also be equipped to answer their customer service inquiries when something bad happens. If you need to speak directly, ask for permission to call the customer.

  • After the initial tweet, take the conversation offline or to a direct message.

Always contact the user publicly, and then take the following conversation offline or to a direct message. If a user is frustrated, they’ll often tweet their initial frustration but are willing to provide contact details over a DM. This shows your Twitter following that you’ve addressed the user, and can help them without making the entire conversation public.

  • Make sure you’re following the user – so they can send you a DM!

This allows them to send you a private message, and for you to do the same. There’s nothing word than asking an angry customer to send you a DM, and then finding out they’re unable to do so.

  • Be available.

While it seems like the most straightforward of tips, we’ve seen from other experiences that Twitter accounts tend to go dormant during crisis, or during other busy times (i.e. holiday shopping season.) Best Buy’s rep got back to me within a few minutes of each tweet, which prevented me from prolonging my #FAIL diss.

Got any other Twitter best practices, or major customer service #FAILs? Add them in the comments below, or send me a tweet.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Jason 01.15.11 at 11:01 am

Is branding on twitter that important for customer service issues? Wouldn’t it have been better to just take the issue directly to a live customer service rep? Social networks are fun toys, but I don’t see them as supsituting live interaction in a service setting. Problem with a breand, call them, email them, send a letter, or even take time and talk face to face, allow the brand to make it right before publicly holding them hostage. Issues should never be in the public eye until a brand fails to make it right. Also shame on brands for allowing this to happen. Marketing their name is onething, but allowing your customer to airout their dirty laundry in a public setting is not going to turn out well for anyone.

Kate Ryan 01.19.11 at 10:54 am

Hi Jason – thanks so much for your comment. I can see how it might be easiest to communicate with some brands via traditional channels, however that was simply not the case in my experience. As I mentioned in my post, my wait was over an hour on the customer service line with no answer. In my case, social media was much more effective. Social media has empowered customers, and the rules have changed dramatically for brands looking to interact with their customers. Social media channels are now a must for companies looking to engage (regardless of whether its for customer service, or conversation) with current and potential customers on the mediums that they use everyday.

Mario Zamarron 03.05.12 at 2:07 pm

Social Media has become businesses best way to run a checks and balances system. People often turn to airing their frustrations over the internet and have been since the internet first began. Now, with Twitter and Facebook, not only are the consumers empowered, but businesses are as well. If someone makes a complaint for the world to hear, then the business correcting the issue has a chance to prove their ability to problem solve and show their customer service to a larger audience. Aside from holding the company responsible, the business can prove that they don’t want to leave it’s consumers out in the cold.

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