Is this how to handle customer complaints on social media? Really?

There’s an old adage about how

“a happy customer tells one friend, and unhappy customer tells everybody”

I have a bad habit of telling the world (well, 1500-odd people on Twitter and a few thousand more via my blog) when something doesn’t work out for me and, over the weekend, it was Three UK (3) whose inability to supply me with a password to access my account online resulted in this tweet:

Ineptitude just cost @ a customer. Can't view bill except over 3G on iPad; can't set password for web access without visiting store
@markwilsonit
Mark Wilson

I’m certainly no celebrity and I don’t expect every company to roll over when I act like a petulant teenager, but they could at least try to address my issue. Couldn’t they?

To be fair to Three, their online team @ThreeUK (which is clear about its online hours: Monday-Friday, 9am to 5.30pm) responded but their response simply bounced me to another Twitter account operated by the company:

@ We have a CS team on Twitter too, @ - it may be worth a tweet.
@ThreeUK
ThreeUK

They also responded to another tweet of mine arising from a discussion about the issue with one of my Twitter contacts:

@ We do care! I hope are CS tweeters can assist you.
@ThreeUK
ThreeUK

Ignoring the grammar, if you care about customer service, what happened to owning the customer’s problem and managing it to resolution?

Clearly Three have (at least) two Twitter accounts operated by two teams: marketing and customer service. That’s OK, but they don’t seem to be able to take a problem inside the organisation to work out the best approach – they simply bounce me from one to the other. Oh dear.

So I got in touch with @ThreeUKSupport

.@ Would be interesting to see your comments on http://t.co/22WmvbWe (@ seem to be marketing-focused)
@markwilsonit
Mark Wilson

and a reply came back soon enough but it merely repeated what I already know – that their process is broken…

@ I'm afraid currently you can either view My3 via your iPad or you need to put your sim in a phone that takes a micro-sim to...
@ThreeUKSupport
ThreeUKSupport
@ ...be able to receive the text message
@ThreeUKSupport
ThreeUKSupport

…absolutely no response to my issues:

“My issues here are: having to pay to speak to a customer service agent and being kept on hold for a while; getting poor advice from the agent (unless Three can tell me how to drag and drop my bill from their portal to my email, on an iPad); and not getting an answer to my problem. Visiting a store is simply not worth the effort (20-odd mile drive, pay for parking, an hour of my time) – but could well lose Three a customer.”

I even threw them a lifeline:

@ Thank you for responding... even if both you and @ have failed on the customer service front...
@markwilsonit
Mark Wilson

Nothing from @ThreeUK, and a “yeah, whatever” (I paraphrase) from @ThreeUKSupport:

@ You're welcome. I'm sorry you feel we've failed you.
@ThreeUKSupport
ThreeUKSupport

Now, I know that implementing social media for large corporates is bloody hard. I tried – and there is a lot that we can do better where I work too… people in glass houses and all that… but this is me, responding as an individual, not as an employee, so hear me out, please.

  • Firstly, if you want to operate a corporate Twitter account (or any other “social” account), be ready to deal with complaints. For support, be ready to direct people to official channels but for customer service issues, then a little more tact and diplomacy might be required.
  • Secondly, if a customer outlines multiple issues to which they would like a response, it’s OK to ask them to supply some contact details so that you can get in touch and investigate further.
  • Finally, if all you do is provide stock answers then you’ll annoy a customer who is already unhappy with your company’s service.

For whomever is responsible for social media at Three, there’s a really good book I can recommend: it’s called “Empowered” and it’s written by Forrester analysts Josh Bernoff (@jbernoff) and Ted Schadler (@TedSchadler). The book talks about groundswell customer service and provides real-world examples of how innovative leaders and their teams use technology to solve customer problems… it’s definitely worth a read. And Forrester released a report yesterday entitled “Twitter: the public forum for your brand”. If you don’t have access to the report, it’s author, Melissa Parrish (@melissarparrish) has some great blog posts about the use of Twitter too.

Incidentally, Sainsbury’s, another company that recently incurred my wrath on Twitter after failing to follow up on a customer service email about the quality of the groceries they had delivered a few days previously deserves mention for fixing my issue. Their social media team took action to get my enquiry dealt with and compensated me for the problems I had experienced. Arguably, that is how to respond… Three’s example is how not to…

I started this post with a quote, so I’ll finish with another:

“Customers don’t expect you to be perfect. They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong.”

[Donald Porter, British Airways]

[Update 16 January 2012: Three have been in touch and would like to make it clear that they do care about their customers on Twitter. I’m still disappointed about how my calls and social media follow-up were handled, but it is good to know that they are at least attempting to improve the experience that their customers receive via social media.]

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