How to Handle Social Customer Complaints

by francine Hardaway on August 13, 2010

I hear these comments from companies every day:
“Do they expect me to be on Twitter ALL the time?”
“We can’t be expected to work 24/7”
“People expect instant gratification.”
“What do they want from me? I am only one person.”

This is the verbal equivalent of sliding down the emergency chute, mad as hell and unwilling to take it anymore. You may get your fifteen minutes of fame, but you can’t build a sustainable future on that response because, for better or worse, the customer owns the social tools.

ERP and CRM may have originated in the enterprise, but social networks didn’t. Social networks are all about people, and they are pulling companies toward better customer service.

Let me tell you another personal experience of mine. In engineering parlance the following is a data point, and therefore not significant, but in larger terms, it’s a metaphor. And besides, I am the customer, and these are MY social tools.

For two years I have been trying to contact Citibank mortgage, which owns the (worthless) home equity line of credit on my house. I modified my first mortgage, which you can read about in the archives, using social media. Without blogs and LinkedIn, I would have been just another shnook who lost his house.

Citibank has the IVR system from hell. To call it interactive is a joke, because as soon as you interact with it further than accepting automated responses, it disconnects you. I have spent hours jumping from number to number, only to be put on hold and disconnected.  Citibank also doesn’t answer snail mail. And until recently didn’t have a Twitter account.

And then a miracle happened. Frank Eliason ( left Comcast to work at Citibank. And he popped up one evening in my Facebook news feed. It was as if he manifested from the sky!

If you don’t know about Frank, he started the legendary @comcastcares account on Twitter and revolutionized Comcast’s customer service by listening and following through.

I reached out to Frank, and he reached out to his team. First Mike, a member of the social media team, called me, and when I told him my story, he sent me Annette, a mortgage specialist.

In the course of an hour, Annette and I formed a “friendship” of mutual respect, and she got me all my answers. Two years of anger and frustration dissolved in a minute.

None of this would have been possible without the big 3: Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter. Now the customer can talk back, or can get help, depending on how you as a company use the tools.

For the company, things are now more complicated. On the other hand, Frank Eliason converted me first to an evangelist for Comcast and now is on the way to doing the same with Citibank. It doesn’t take much to turn a frustrated customer around– just a helpful face/voice.

As Jeremiah Owyang ( points out, social media doesn’t scale for companies unless they can convert customers into brand evangelists. So what should brands do? For those who love lists, here’s a list:
1)hire or designate a social media team
2)be careful who you put on that  team. This is an important position, not something for a kid who knows Twitter. This requires judgment and psychology
3)empower the social media team within your organization. Make sure people respond to it’s requests
4)as a C-level executive, become familiar with these tools yourself.

And yes, I consult.:-)

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

jlangford August 13, 2010 at 11:52 am

Francine, kudos for this blog post! Great example how social media can turn a frustrated customer into an evangelist. -Jacinta

hardaway August 13, 2010 at 12:02 pm

I can't tell you how many times I make this point, but the customer relations problem in the US is so huge, and the training in most cases so inept.

Francine Hardaway, Ph D

Babar Bhatti August 13, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Francine, thanks for emphasizing the value of customer service. I lived in Japan for 5 years and the level of customer service was outstanding.

While social media provides a new channel, it is important to recognize that you need the right processes, tools and a team to work on it – as Jeremiah said. Not just a solo person posting tweets. That's why we've implemented strong collaboration and workflow in MutualMind.

Co-Founder, MutualMind, Inc.

SamAbs77 August 14, 2010 at 4:41 pm

Nice and useful article. Social Media is really important and powerful. Not enough Businesses are realizing this.


SamAbs77 August 14, 2010 at 11:41 pm

Nice and useful article. Social Media is really important and powerful. Not enough Businesses are realizing this. nnThanks!n-Sam n

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: