Great customer service has always been important to brands that care about upholding an excellent reputation. But now with the global, always-on culture of social media, providing poor customer service can very quickly turn into a public PR disaster.
In 2013, cloud contact center provider Five9 produced a report examining “customer rage” and what companies can do to prevent or limit it. The report found that 85% of consumers will retaliate against a company if they feel they have received inadequate customer service, while 49% of all consumers will stop doing business with that company. Added to this, 18-34 year olds are three times as likely to vent their frustrations on social media, making their frustrations very public.
Let’s take a look at several customer service fails on social media and the resulting bad publicity, and look at some of the ways the bad PR could have been avoided.
1) British Airways
A British Airways customer known only as @HVSVN had a bad flight with British Airways and took to Twitter to complain about his poor experience and lost luggage, as many of us do. Frustrated with the lack of response, he took the more unusual step of using Twitter’s paid service to promote his Tweets to BA’s followers, as well as re-tweeting messages from other people who shared their experiences of British Airways’ poor customer service.
That’s 406,000 followers, the majority of whom will be loyal customers, who have just been told not to use that airline because of their awful customer service.
Learning point: According to Econsultancy, it took 8 hours for the company to respond to the promoted Tweets because they were sent outside their customer service hours. Social media culture is 24/7, and a brand as large as British Airways really needs to have some sort of provision for 24-hour customer care, especially as they deal in a global market.
Added to the initial long delays in a response from the customer service team, when @HVSVN did receive a reply it was to say that BA, “Couldn’t send a private Twitter message to him because he didn’t follow them on the social network—which irritated him even further when he claimed that was not true and asked if BA had bothered to check,” according to The Drum.
Here we have an unresponsive customer service team, a 9-5 customer service culture in a global market, and a social media team who haven’t gotten to grips with their social media. Having a well-trained, all-hours, reactive customer service team in place would have prevented all this negative publicity from the start.
2) Bank of America
Bank of America’s treatment of a protestor who had written an anti-foreclosure message in chalk outside the bank’s Manhattan branch and who was removed by cops quickly went viral on social media.
Digiday reported that the man tweeted “Just got chased away by #NYPD 4 ‘obstructing sidewalk’.” under his handle @darthmarkh.
Other activists quickly got annoyed at Bank of America’s impersonal responses—which many assumed were created by an automated bot.
But in a statement to Digiday, the bank claimed that, “All of our interactions are personal and handled by a team of over 100 social-media servicing representatives. We respond to mentions of the bank to help identify underlying customer issues in addition to direct requests for help.”
The bank’s faceless approach to such an emotive subject as foreclosures caused a social media outcry, with the robotic responses quickly being shared across platforms.
Learning point: If the bank really did have 100 social media servicing representatives, then more comprehensive training to ensure a sensitive response could have gone a long way towards toning down the pitch of the outrage on social media.
3) British Gas
Last year, British Gas announced an 11% rise in energy prices to its domestic consumers. To deal with customers’ concerns, the company scheduled an official Q&A the same day on Twitter.
On the face of it, this could have been a good approach to ensure transparency and provide resources and reassurance to customers. But Econsultancy reported that the Q&A was deluged by over 16,000 angry tweeters, and that “145 contained the word ‘death’, 88 ‘greedy’ and 72… a word not fit to print in a family newspaper.”
Rather than deflating a Twitter storm, the Q&A had only fuelled the fury.
Learning point: While Twitter can be an excellent first contact point to direct customers to the appropriate channel of communication or to provide links and contact numbers, it is definitely not a place for complex discussions around emotional topics. Being limited to 140 characters means that even heartfelt responses can feel inhuman.
Brands need a comprehensive approach to customer service
These three situations could have been handled better with a more appropriate social media response. Better training for social media representatives, backed up by a comprehensive website to direct customers towards as well as better customer service teamwork to help agents respond to more serious complaints could have all helped diffuse these situations before they went viral. In short, social media is only one plank in a customer service strategy: you need a connected culture with appropriate and integrated support to ensure excellence, and to help prevent the sorts of PR nightmares we’ve seen here.
What other advice can you share with companies to help them avoid a social media disaster of their own?
Originally published Jan 21, 2015, updated Dec 30, 2022