It’s rare that I complain to a company via social, but when I do, like many people, I expect a quick and effective response.

We’re so used to immediacy through social media that it’s very easy for brands to trip up and fail to meet customer expectations. 

Dealing with customer service queries and complaints is a challenge for many brands, calling into question response times, how many staff hours should be dedicated to social, what the company tone will be, and how to answer within a 140 character limit.

The public setting also allows complainers an equal a platform as brand advocates, and managing brand image on social can be a tricky process.

Complaining via social

Despite my infrequent social complaining, a couple of weeks ago I moaned at two popular food chains within about a week. 

Let me start by saying I’m a massive fan of both chains I’m about to talk about, and have tweeted positively about them on multiple occasions.

However, on this particular week, my complaining mode went into overdrive.

The positive experience

I gave Pizza Express the dreaded ‘#thumbsdown’ the morning after a pretty rubbish experience, which is unusual in its restaurants, so the next morning I tweeted about it and got a response asking for more details:

After an immediate automated response to my email, saying someone would be in touch within a couple of days, I then did receive a reply. 

The reply was more than expected; it was friendly, personable, responded to every point I had made, and told me how Pizza Express would be following it up.

It also offered a little towards my next dinner at Pizza Express, which was unexpected and put a spring in my step. 

The negative experience

Then came my Wahaca experience.

Having been to the Covent Garden branch multiple times, I went to the Oxford Circus branch and ordered my favourite...

The next morning, I received a response, and emailed Wahaca with pretty extensive details of what had happened.

Almost two weeks later, I followed up with the tweet below, slightly frustrated, and received an apologetic response. But have the email team got back to me? Nope.

Of course, that response has still not come. How is this person going to attach my tweet to an email sent two weeks ago?

Even though my Twitter handle and email address both contain my full name, I’m assuming it’s not quite as easy as this one individual personally searching their inbox to find Sophie’s elusive email.

Lessons learned

This brings me to my main point: it’s all very well deferring customer complaints to another channel, but there must be follow-through.

Having dealt with customer queries and complaints through Twitter and Facebook in a previous role, we were taught to ‘get complaints off social as soon as possible’, moving the conversation onto the phone, or emails, or private messages. 

This is what happened immediately in both cases here, but only one was able to carry on dealing with my complaint on this second channel.

Customer conclusions

The Pizza Express experience left me feeling positive about the restaurant, forgetting about the one bad experience, and happy that I had been treated like a valued customer.

The Wahaca experience has left me pretty fed up. I think the restaurant is fantastic, the staff have been friendly, and the food is great, but one bad experience, followed by the poor handling of this situation, has left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

What needs to change?

We're faced with so much choice nowadays that it's easy for people to be fickle, so it’s important that brands don’t undermine customer loyalty by letting people down in this way.

A strategy needs to be in place for dealing with customer service over social media.

If the accepted route is to defer complaints to emails or phone lines, there needs to be a clear journey through which the customer is taken. This is just like a sales journey, in which they are treated as a valued customer, and shown their complaint matters.

In fact, some of the companies I feel most positively about are places I’ve had a particular issue or experience with, and have then been impressed with how these were resolved.

The key is delivering consistency, and valuing each customer.

For more on this topic read:

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Published 16 October, 2015 by Sophie Hawker

Sophie is a Research Analyst at Econsultancy.

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