Does social media reward whining?

Does social media reward whining?

Summary: Don't be the screaming kid who gets coddled by his or her parents, only to grow up spoiled and dysfunctional.

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Here's a real-life scenario that most of us have encountered: You're in line at the front desk at a hotel patiently awaiting checking in. There's a couple in front of you ranting and raving about an issue they've been having. They are screaming about wanting to be upgraded to the hotel's "best room." "Wow," you think. "The hotel must've really screwed up." Yet in the end you overhear that the offensive issue was simple: there wasn't an ice bucket in the room.

Thus proven: the customer isn't always right.

Social media is great and the way that some companies are using it is innovative. With Twitter specifically, there've been some big brands who have been using the service for some time to assist with their customer service. We all know them by now -- Comcast, Zappos, Jet Blue, etc. I wonder though, in retrospect if these companies that were early on so praised for their innovative approaches were actually enabling a customer service downfall?

Jeremiah Owyang took a swing at a similar notion in a blog post the other day in which he asks if companies are training people to yell at their friends. He makes some fantastic points about how customer service organizations need to dig deeper than social technologies to solve their service problems. What I don't think a lot of people talk ahout, however, is the investment that companies need to make to manage these socail customer experiences. Many of them (the likes of Pizza Hut, for one) have had to invest in additional personnel to support their Twitter feeds. While there is not an investment made in a social technology, there is a necessary investment made in human capital. And for what? So more people can shake their fists and demand rewards.

Companies are in a tough spot. Now that so many case studies have been published, and influencers have cheered on companies who respond to angry tweets and give free services, there's not much going back. The social Web in its very nature thrives on vanity and entitlement, and it's those same people that you get stuck behind at the hotel who are most likely to bypass normal customer service channels and start beating their chests online.

Again, Owyang makes some great suggestions for companies and their service structures. I think the road these companies have to take is a slippery one -- stopping the enablement while still protecting the brand. But I want to put some of the onus on the consumers: Just because the option is there to throw a tantrum online doesn't mean that you should. I've made that mistake in the past with the kind folks at Jet Blue, but it was also only after all other customer service options were exhausted and I hadn't received a response. In the end, I'm still not sure it makes it right.

Don't be that awful couple at the hotel. Don't be the screaming kid who gets coddled by his or her parents, only to grow up spoiled and dysfunctional. Let the companies evolve and figure out how this social customer service should really grow, and stop taking advantage of them.

Topics: Enterprise Software, Software, Social Enterprise

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11 comments
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  • The worm is turning

    It's taken a while, but it's clear the social media world is waking up to the fact that companies using Twitter as a back-door customer service channel staffed by PR personnel isn't a sustainable practice.

    I think it's great that PR people (I am one) are using social channels to interact with their stakeholders directly, but they shouldn't pretend to be in the tech support or complaints department business when they're ultimately not responsible for that function.

    I've seen more than a few people (PR folks included) throw complaints about companies up on Twitter with "we'll see if they respond" snark. Then when they aren't answered in 5 minutes they go on to moan about that they should be there to deal with complaints and respond in public on Twitter. Ridiculous.

    Twitter's great for a lot of things. It's not great for an online complaints department.
    DoctorJones
    • I'm with ya

      Completely agree. I think it can be done well, i.e. Salesforce's Twitter integration through ServiceCloud. I think the Twitter management has to be handled as part of a real CRM system, as panicky marketers who hand product over to complaining customers is not a way to achieve sustainable customer service.
      Jennifer Leggio
  • RE: Does social media reward whining?

    I've had an issue with a restaurant once. I yelped my issue and the restaurant owner contacted me to correct it. I was amazed that they even read my review. I wasn't going to take it further than my review but it gave them an opportunity in front of everyone to shine, and they did.
    John Pruitt
    • But why...

      ...didn't you talk to the restaurant at the time versus Yelping it? Not that you did anything wrong, but just curious.
      Jennifer Leggio
      • possible negative outcome

        It was a bar/restaurant at closing. A patron who was walking around and talking with people was smoking a stogie. No one else seemed to mind at all and I did not believe I would get an ideal outcome if I stood up and said "Hey there, large fella with all the friends, No Smoking!"

        Terre refused to go there again. For that I reviewed them and gave it just an OK due to the smoking and them not doing anything about it and me losing a watering hole. The owner read the review and contacted me through Yelp. He apologized and promised 'never again'. His explanation of why he let it slide that evening suited us. We go back there now and subsequent reviews are back up to Super.

        We will just have to take you there one of these days ;)
        John Pruitt
  • RE: Does social media reward whining?

    Great topic...we were discussing it in the Fleishman-Hillard KC office just the other day. Do you think, by chance, that perception of these customers who "whine" is changing as use of Twitter and other social media evolve?

    Case in point...when we first heard stories about Frank at Comcast the reaction was every company should be doing what this guy is doing. Customers have been wronged and companies that don't fix those wrongs via Twitter aren't listening and don't get social media.

    Fast forward to a few months back when Doug Meacham got into a bit of a tweet war with Best Buy's CMO Barry Judge and the sentiment was still on the side of the customer, but we saw thought leaders like Scott Monty and Danny Brown stand up for Best Buy and call into question Doug's tactics (e.g. baiting the CMO with his aggressive tweets and doing so on a Saturday night).

    And less than a month ago, blogger Dooce (with more than 1 million followers) went off on Maytag via Twitter because they had sent a tech to her house a couple of times to fix a washing machine and it was still broken. Actually sounded to me like a legit complaint, but still we saw people tweet back at her scolding her for using her influence to take down a brand. And when we presented this case study to a group of PR pros this week, the majority defended Maytag and accosted Dooce.

    The tricky part is perception, right? Don't give a customer what they ask for and your brand can be dragged through the mud, especially since people don't always read past the first tweet. But I also think as Twitter becomes more mainstream, there are more "players" in the mix to surface the truth of the situation.

    IMO, there's no excuse for companies not to be listening via social media. But that doesn't mean they have to give away the farm. As a peer said this week, they should treat these customers just like any other customer. I'd take it a step further and say brands need to find creative ways to tell their side of the story when their rep is called into question over an "ice bucket."

    Does customer outreach on Twitter save your company money? Does it allow your customer care staff the ability to provide other customers better service? And do you have the resources internally to handle this new customer service outlet (I used to work in PR at Sprint and we did customer outreach via Twitter. Lack of time and resources were one of our biggest problems until we got Customer Care on board -- @sprintcare)?

    Sorry for the long comment, but I think this is an interesting evolution of Twitter that's definitely worth further discussion. Like with anything else, the companies that take time to prepare, develop a governance plan and strategize how to deal with specific Twitter customer service situations will be in the best shape.

    Plus, companies that listen and put their brands out there will develop relationships and customers who come to their defense in times of "crisis." That's what happened with Best Buy in the case above, largely because the brand had been so active and built up goodwill in the social media space.

    Thoughts?

    Justin Goldsborough
    @JGoldsborough
    JustinGoldsborough
    • Thoughts

      The example of Dooce is one that Jeremiah mentioned on his blog and one that I had in mind as well. I really do believe that consumers have become spoiled and lazy and in an age of instant gratification via the Web, that just breeds a position of entitlement that shouldn't be there. That's not to say that we need to keep our mouths shut when we have issues with brands, but we should pick our battles wisely and exhaust all other options before going to the public Web.

      I think when you get to a certain level of recognition or popularity you have a responsible to really consider what you say and how that may impact a company or even another individual. I do wonder, however, if there has ever been a case or will be a case of a tweet turning into a law suit of some sort? Where a brand felt it was damaged by an unfounded rant from an influencer.

      As I wrote, I really do think that the reactive "give customers what they want, when they complain" approach of managing Twitter set a bad tone for the customer service industry. Of course you should try to right a wrong, but too many times people don't just want an apology -- they want goods or services. And all of those early case studies show that it can be done. I am not sure who I hold more accountable: the companies or the writers who glorified it all as good.

      Thanks for your thoughtful ideas.
      Jennifer Leggio
  • Yes

    You whined in a post about not getting enough comments,
    and that post now has plenty of comments. Your three
    posts since then? A total of seven comments including
    this one.
    aep528
  • I don't think so

    So few companies and consumers are actually using Twitter as a customer service channel that I think this is a minor point.

    Are companies going to start honouring whiney claims on their customer service because they are active in social media? I highly doubt it. The claim or complaint has to be legitimate - is a legitimate complain always a whine?

    At the end of the day, a customer service effort provided via social media channels (such as Twitter) is a smokescreen or veneer unless the organisation has made a genuine organisational wide commitment to its customers, including investments in customer service. These investments should be focused not only on complaint resolution processes but also efforts to get service right in the first place. For every whine voiced by an influencer on Twitter, I'll bet there are hundreds of legitimate complaints from customers that are not active online. The real issue is why isn't everyone receiving a high level of service?
    contactdjy
    • You make good points...

      ...but you'd be surprised how many companies really are running support through Twitter. So much that Salesforce.com now has a long-awaited integration with Twitter and its Servicecloud. The good news is that most of the people trying to cause damage to a brand via Twitter in order to try and get kissed up to don't have a very wide reach. Most of the people with larger networks seem to know better. Or so I hope.
      Jennifer Leggio
  • RE: Does social media reward whining?

    It certainly does not. If a company chooses to utilize social media as a channel to connect with their customers and gain feedback on how to improve processes or provide better service then it should most effectively be treated as such. I agree, though, that the path to creating an open environment for suggestions without condoning customer complaints to gain free services is a tough one. A balance between the two is ideal, wherein accepting any and all suggestions with a sincere intent to improve outweighs any future complaints or unreasonable requests.

    -Greg Mesaros, CEO eWinWin
    gmesaros