Oh, the power of social media! Where once we might have been limited to telling 15 of our closest friends about our negative experience with BrandX, we now have the bully-pulpit of blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and a host of other channels by which to trash our least-favorite brand of the moment. Using social media to complain can be very effective, or it can just trash a brand’s reputation to no good end.
Admittedly, sometimes, it feels like they deserve it.
On the other hand, saying “You SUCK, BrandX! You are the WORST people on the planet!” is kind of a waste of everybody’s time. You know – be very specific. “You suck” is hardly an actionable complaint. Maybe you think you don’t care, and you’re vengefully hoping they never figure out how to make it better, because there’s a sucking black hole for companies like BrandX and you’d be delighted to see them buried in it, under 16 tons of elephant poop. You’re righteously angry, and you have the faceless Internet Horde on your side. You’ve got Brands A, B, and C gleefully courting your business now and offering you competitive discounts. BrandX made you feel like a nobody, but its competitors know just how important and valuable you are. They’ll treat you right.
Did you bully the other kids on the school playground? Did that get you “in” with the popular kids?
I’m willing to bet money that somewhere down the line, BrandA, BrandB, and BrandC all suck – for someone. Maybe even for you, once they’ve courted you and won your business. How disappointing is that? And if all you do is shout, “YOU SUCK!!” in all caps, they still won’t know what they can do to make your life any happier. Sure, they’d all like for you to like them (believe it or not, no company has on its annual goals, “Get 70% of our customers pissed off at us, for one reason or another”), but if you bully them and don’t say anything but “You suck! Everybody go tell BrandX how bad they suck!” and start swearing at and about them, they’ll give up trying and focus on the nice people. Because, really, you’ve just told them that there’s no reasonable thing they can do to make you a happy customer. They’re not going to chain you up and make you keep buying BrandX when you’ve just announced to 5 billion people that you will never do that again.
On the other hand, if you go through the proper, normal channels to get redress for your grievances with BrandX, and still get no satisfaction, you’re not wrong to vent, or to use social media to communicate with the brand. In fact, if you tweet out, “Hey, @BrandXSocialMedia, I got put on hold for 16 hours, fell asleep, and came back to find my support ticket was closed without a fix!” you may get help from higher up and maybe they can prevent the problem from happening to other customers. Everyone’s happy. The larger brands probably have millions – if not billions – of products out there. Honestly, if only .01% of a million customers are unhappy, that’s still 100 unhappy people. It’s not like they’re trying to screw you over, personally.
Now imagine there are only 100 customer service reps trying to respond to everything from “How do I turn this thing on?” to “I’m getting an error code 666666 – does that mean my digital display toaster’s now possessed by the devil? Why the frig didn’t I just stick with the old one where I just pushed the damned bread down with my jam knife?” You can imagine how a generalized “You suck” just sinks right to the bottom of the to-do list, even as it demoralizes real human beings who probably don’t suck and had nothing to do with whatever pissed you off in the first place.
I’m not here to judge – I’m just here to offer some tips on more effectively using social media to communicate what you want and need from brands. They’re usually quite sincere when they say they want to “engage” with you, but you have to help by meeting them halfway. A few things they will always need from you: contact info (and a way to get that privately, unless you want it blasted all over the ever-lovin’ Internet), specifics of the problem or suggestions, and assurance from you that it really is worth their time to make it right. That’s “assurance,” not “threats.”
Look, Twitter may be great for getting a brand’s attention, but it’s hard to provide a really good description of the problem, let alone a resolution, in 140 characters. First of all, if you’re going to approach a brand’s customer service Twitter account, it’s a good idea to Follow that account first, so that they can Follow you and send you a private, direct message to get more information. Unless you just want to blast your phone number and/or email to them in a public tweet: “Hey, @BrandXSupport, call me at 555-555-5555 so I can tell you you suck to your face!”
Seriously, whoever’s manning that account probably doesn’t suck and doesn’t want to lose you as a customer. They may or may not be able to resolve your issue in a couple of Tweets. Help them to help you. Try a pleasant Tweet, first. Try to make sure you’re Tweeting to the right account, first. How do you know? Does it have a little “Verified” checkmark in a blue circle? Does it contain some variant of the word “Support” or “Service” or “Help” in the handle or bio? Is it active? Look at the Tweet stream to see if anyone’s minding the store. If it hasn’t Tweeted at all in 473 days, is it fair of you to complain that it didn’t respond to you in two?
If that doesn’t do the trick, maybe write a simple blog post about exactly what’s going on – make it very clear, so that anyone can understand exactly what the problem is and what you’d like to see BrandX do about it. Then Tweet something like: “Hey, @BrandX, you suck and here’s why: bit.ly/why-brandx-sucks ” You get to vent, and BrandX has another chance to make it right for you.
Facebook & Google+
It really helps to make sure, when venting to BrandX, that you’re actually on a real BrandX page, and not one of numerous fake BrandX pages. Because the fake ones are probably run by FlyByNight. FlyByNight probably isn’t a competitor of BrandX – they’re working all sides of the street and trying to sell whatever they can sell. Or they were set up by another disgruntled customer who got there, first, and now you’re just commiserating – but BrandX may not even realize it. Make sure that when you say “BrandX you suck,” your complaints aren’t falling on deaf ears.
If you want BrandX to lower its prices, don’t go yelling at it in some far-flung, remote, nobody-ever-goes-here site. They may eventually find your complaint, but it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack and that means they have to hire more hands to reach into the haystack – raising costs for everybody. Serious complaints left on BrandX’s doorstep will likely be reviewed before the “Hah! Tag, you’re it! Betcha can’t find me!” complaints.
Also, make sure that you spell BrandX and its products’ names correctly – just like what you see on the packaging for their thing you bought. You’d be amazed at how much this helps those folks searching through the haystack. Odds are, Coca-Cola™ won’t find an obscure reference to “koca koola.”
Obviously, a verified purchaser’s review will be taken more seriously than someone who may or may not own anything by BrandX. With so many paid reviewers out there, it’s only fair to the actual customers. And speaking of fair, my Grandfather used to say, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” Okay, so who the hell wants to attract a bunch of flies? No one. But if you write a fair and balanced review, including whatever positive points you can sincerely say about BrandX without gagging or feeling the flames of eternal damnation licking at your feet for lying, your opinions and experiences will be taken much more seriously than if you appear to hold a personal grudge against BrandX.
The existence of paid reviews also makes photos (preferably of you, holding your BrandX lemon) and video (wherein you get on your webcam and show off your BrandX lemon or talk about your personal experiences with BrandX) much more valuable than mere text and pretty pictures pulled from BrandX’s own site.
Paid reviewers may fool the search engines, sometimes, but they rarely fool a brand.
Blogs & The Open Letter
All of the tips above apply to blogs, as well. The nice thing about blogs is that it gives BrandX a chance to compose a thoughtful reply and engage with you. If they can find your post. You know the whole argument about which is king: content or marketing? Yeah – if BrandX can’t find your blog, let alone your post, drowning in the sea of 200 billion other blogs out there, you’re going to get mad at them for ignoring you, aren’t you? Play fair – see the Twitter section of this post, above. Go directly to BrandX and say, “Hey, I’ve got a problem. I describe it here – bit.ly/why-brandx-sucks – can you share this with someone at BrandX who can fix this for me?” At this point, you may consider including other active BrandX Twitter accounts, assuming the support account hasn’t helped, yet.
I had two great experiences with 24 Hour Fitness and their social media customer service. One involved empowering employees to make the customer experience better, and the other involved a weird experience with billing. To be fair, after complaining about them, I made sure to give them well-deserved kudos for how they handled my grievances. I’d like to encourage them, and other brands, to keep up the good work. Aren’t you more motivated by praise than by being bashed over the head with a virtual 2×4?
I once had a horrendous experience on a particular airline that’s based in Philadelphia. I mean, seriously – if they were the last airline on the planet and I had to get from Maine to southern California, I’d seriously consider walking. It would probably take me five years, but I’m pretty sure the whole experience would be much more pleasant. I tried complaining to the desk agent. I filled out a comment card and left it with a flight attendant. I filled out a second comment card and mailed it. I wrote a lovely snail mail letter to the head of Customer Service. I wrote a not-so-nice snail mail letter to the head of Customer Service. And finally, I posted that same letter as an open letter on the Internet. I mean, I was angry and they didn’t respond to me at all. But some of their pilots and flight crews did. They logged in and created accounts on the platform I was using for blogging at the time, just so they could leave comments on my post. They wanted me to know they shared my pain. They expressed their frustration with customers’ attitudes, and I agreed they had some legitimate gripes. They wanted me to understand that the things that went wrong that trip were way beyond their control. And I assured them that I knew all these things – that the pilots and flight crews had been the only saving grace for this airline. But I never got any official response at all from the airline about my specific complaints.
When a customer goes to this much effort to reach a brand, odds are, they don’t want to hate the brand. They want restitution, not retribution. When the employees start commiserating with the unhappy customers, there’s an even bigger problem. Sadly, I’d still walk, if this were the last airline on the planet.
But to be fair, they are (amazingly) still in business, and my daughter recently had a much more positive experience with the same airline and for that, I’m glad. It has not been a good month for air safety, and I will admit that I held my breath and said a special prayer for her and this airline till she was safely home. Yeah, I still hold a grudge, six years later – but getting my child safely from here to there is how you start to chip away at it.
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