Consumers Want To Be Heard
Back in 2012 a study found that 36% of people had used social media to contact a big company (Wallis, 2014), while it doesn’t tell us what they were contacting them about (a complaint, a compliment, a question or a suggestion, for example) it does tell us that customers want to be heard by businesses (Nitescu, 2014). Content shared on social media has the potential to be seen by millions of people throughout the whole world and because people are more likely to place more value on the opinions and messages shared by their friends and contacts (Nitescu, 2014), this means any opinion shared on social media about a businesses has the potential to hugely affect them. As Barlow & Stewart (2004, p.50) claim, ‘a single negative incident can be multiplied and dispensed rapidly to send a company’s stock and brand name plummeting’.
The Case Of The Damaged Guitar
As extreme as this may sound, it has happened and continues to happen; back in 2009, Dave Carroll’s guitar was damaged by United Airlines’ baggage handlers. After unsuccessfully attempting to get compensation he retaliated by posting a scathing song criticising the airline on Youtube where it immediately went viral and racked up over 4 million views (Tran, 2009), and has over 15 million today.
United Airlines finally offered compensation but it was too late, the damage had already been done; their share price dropped and their reputation was severely damaged (Tran, 2009). This example proves that for a business it is essential to pay attention and respond quickly to customer complaints because ‘by not listening, you’re not leveraging potential opportunities for growth, damage control, or both’ (Kerpen, 2011, p.18). If United Airlines had responded to Dave Carroll’s complaints in a timely manner and satisfied his needs when the problem arose his anti-United Airlines video would never have gone viral.
Make Social Media Work For You
However, social media isn’t just a tool to be used against businesses; it can be used by them to aid in service recovery too because it allows companies to identify problems, respond quickly and publicly generate conversation and a relationship with the customer which can increase brand loyalty (Barlow & Stewart, 2004). If a business isn’t using social media they risk missing out on seeing what customers are saying about them and can’t implement service recovery actions, or as Micek & Whitlock put it, ‘their brand could be getting trashed and they wouldn’t know it’ (2008, p.90).
When service recovery is successful it will often minimise the negative effects of the initial problem, however, there are also occasions where the response to a complaint is so successful that the consumer who initially complained becomes even happier and more satisfied than if they had just received good service from the start; this phenomenon is known as the Service Recovery Paradox (Pranic & Roehl, 2012). Adamson states that ‘The best brands do look at negative online discourse as the positive opportunity it is’ (2008, p.153). This works because it links back to Wallis’ idea that customers want companies to see them and treat them as people, not just order numbers or transactions or money-making opportunities (Wallis, 2014).
Responding over Twitter or Facebook can be a lot more informal and personal, take the Argos tweet that used the same colloquial language as the consumer (Wallis, 2014), the person who responded wasn’t just being helpful but showed they were genuinely listening to the customer and treating them as an individual. There are few things complaining customers hate more than getting an obviously scripted response (Barlow & Stewart, 2004) because it makes them feel unappreciated and not listened to, which is why personalised responses can exceed customers’ expectations and make them even happier and more satisfied with the results.
I experienced another example of the service recovery paradox when I was working as head of marketing for AwesomeBooks; a glitch on our system meant we didn’t have the books a customer ordered in stock; they were offered a refund which they weren’t happy with and responded setting up a Twitter account specifically to tweet criticisms about our company. Within 20 minutes I spotted it and responded expressing our regret and asked how he would like the problem resolved.
After calming him down, I identified his order on our system, explained exactly what had happened, checked our database and found in the last couple of day we’d got new copies of his books in stock. I personally went down to the warehouse and picked his books, tweeted a photograph of them, offered a full refund anyway as a gesture of good-will and told him I would personally ensure they were shipped out within the hour. His response changed completely and he ended up being a regular customer.
In this case, social media was essential to service recovery because it meant I saw the complaints almost immediately and was able to respond in the way suggested by Kerpen (2011, p.14) by ‘listen[ing], understand[ing] the issue, and respond[ing] appropriately’ instead of just sending generic email templates like the customer service team had been. Back in the 90’s Hart et al suggested that ‘Companies known for excellent service will go the extra yard’ (1990, p.150), today this is still relevant and it’s what I tried to do here; I could easily have given him the ‘well it was a computer error, sorry’ line and left him but instead I felt it was important to explain to him exactly why the problem happened, how we would ensure it wouldn’t happen again and keep talking to him until he was fully satisfied with the service he received from us.
Barlow & Stewart claim that ‘Loyalty is behaviour that grows out of an ongoing relationship’ (2004, p.57) and in that one afternoon I managed to foster the beginnings of a relationship with a customer which ended up being incredibly profitable for the company in the long-term because as Hart et al suggested ‘a good recovery can turn angry, frustrated customers into loyal ones’ (1990, p.148). Furthermore, responding to him publically gained an interesting response; as I worked to help resolve this customer’s issue, other customers started tweeting to us telling us how they’d received great customer service from us in the past and to keep it up which supports Kerpen’s suggestion that ‘By responding quickly and publicly [to complaints], you not only respond to someone’s complaint or concern, but you also send a message to the world at large that you’re the kind of company that listens to its customers and fixes problems promptly’ (Kerpen, 2011, p.79).
Part 3: The Weaknesses of Social Media for Service Recovery (coming soon!)
Sources & Further Reading
- Adamson, A.P. (2008) BrandDigital: Simple Ways Top Brands Succeed in the Digital World, New York: Palgrave Macmillan
- Barlow, J. & Stewart, P. (2004) Branded Customer Service: The New Competitive Edge. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers
- Hart, C., Heskett, J., & Sasser Jr., W. (1990) The Profitable Art of Service Recovery, Harvard Business Review, 68, 4, pp. 148-156
- Kerpen, D. (2011) likable social media: How to Delight Your Customers, Create an Irresistable Brand, and Be Generally Amazing on Facebook (and other social networks). USA: McGraw-Hill
- Nitescu, D.C. (2015) Banking Business and Social Media – A Strategic Partnership, Theoretical & Applied Economics, 22, 4, pp. 121-132
- Micek, D. & Whitlock, W. (2008) twitter Revolution: How Social Media and Mobile Marketing Is Changing The Way We Do Business and Market Online, Las Vegas, NV: Xeno Press
- Pranic, L. & Roehl, W. (2012) Rethinking Service Recovery: A Customer Empowerment (CE) Perspective, Journal Of Business Economics And Management, 13, 2, pp. 242-260
- Tran, M. (2009) Singer gets his revenge on United Airlines and soars to fame. The Guardian [online] 23 July 2009. Available at: <http://www.theguardian.com/news/blog/2009/jul/23/youtube-united-breaks-guitars-video> [Accessed: 19/04/2016]
- Wallis, L. (2014) Why it pays to complain via Twitter. BBC News [online] 21 May 2014. Available at: <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-27381699> [Date Accessed: – 15/03/2016]