Social Media Is The Best Way To Get Good Customer Service — But Be Careful

When Annie Gudorf, a VP at a communications company, realized the tickets she purchased for a Cincinnati Bengals football game in London via a company called Vivid Seats were lost in the mail, she tried calling and emailing the ticket broker to no avail. “They wouldn't acknowledge my messages or complaints,” she says. “So I took to Twitter to reach out to the brand to see if I could get a response.”
Unfortunately, on Twitter, Vivid Seats was dismissive, failing to offer what she thought was an appropriate resolution to the situation. But then something unexpected happened: Stubhub, a competitor, responded to Gudorf’s tweet and offered to give her a free credit to buy the tickets using their platform. “It's worth pointing out this was my first time using Vivid Seats and they blew it. Now, I'm loyal to Stubhub,” she says. It was an over-the-top amazing thing for a company to do, something that Gudorf, not to mention people who know (or follow) her aren’t likely to forget. 
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If this interaction surprises you, it’s probably because above-and-beyond customer service was long ago eulogized, at least by those of an older generation. Personally, I can remember going on shopping trips with my mom as a kid, during which she would lament that the deferential customer service of yesteryear — where store associates would do things like bring you shoes to try on while you dined at the in-store cafe — was gone forever. That may have felt true ten or 15 years ago, but these days, it’s alive and well. Assuming that you’re willing to openly badger companies on social media. 
Rachel Sklar, a lawyer and political commentator (who has previously written for Refinery29), has a similar story to Gudorf’s. On a JetBlue flight from New York to Austin, she accidentally left her passport on the plane. She tried calling both the airline and the airport and didn’t get anywhere. “So I hit them up on Twitter, and someone directed me to actual people who worked there, and they were able to get it when the plane got back to NY and flew it back to Austin for me. I had it by midnight,” she recalls. 
Sklar has a hunch that part of the reason she got such great service is because she has a “goodly number of followers” — 60.7k to be exact — and says that in the past, she’s leveraged that following to help friends in similar situations. “I feel like the amplification helps, partly because social teams are now trained to nip these complaints in the bud,” she explains.
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It’s hard to tell whether people started contacting companies on social media because they get better service there, or whether they started getting better service simply by virtue of the fact that it’s a public platform. But one thing is clear: it works. And it’s become so commonplace that companies like Rent the Runway, H&M, Nike, Xbox, and UPS all have dedicated customer service handles on Twitter. 
Clothing rental service Rent The Runway, for example, started @rtrhelp on Twitter in June 2019 after going through a high-growth period during which some shipments were delayed and there were technical issues with in-store return scanners. RTR is in a uniquely complex position in that, because of their subscription-based model, customers are constantly interacting with the company. Unlimited subscribers are almost always in a state of either waiting for a shipment, returning one, or picking out a new item on the app, so any kind of glitch or problem is likely to impact a large swath of the customer base. Plus, subscriptions cost upwards of $150 a month for
something that for most people can’t exactly be described as a necessity, meaning users have high expectations and are quick to complain.
Even with the Twitter account, RTR’s Instagram and Facebook comments are still often littered with customer questions and concerns responded to by associates who attempt to swiftly move things into DMs. While Rent the Runway did not respond to a request for comment for this story, as a longtime user myself, I can say that contacting the company on social media works. In fact, it will often beget apology perks like free slots and discounts on your monthly subscription rate. Social media managers and other associates have clearly been trained to go out of their way to be helpful: Once, when I placed an order for a bag only to see one I wanted way more become available almost immediately after (ugh), I decided to tweet at @rtrhelp to see if they could cancel my order and open up the slot so I could get the other. They did, I carried it non-stop for two months, and then eventually decided to purchase it. 
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Most companies would probably deny that the reason they give faster, better service on social media is because of its inherently public nature. (None of the companies we approached were willing to go on the record about this subject.) But it’s kind of hard to fathom why else it would work so well. “It's particularly awkward or downright embarrassing to have a complaint or concern hanging out there on Twitter unanswered,” explains Micah Solomon, a customer service consultant who has worked with companies like Walmart, Microsoft, and Six Flags. “But a good customer service-focused company will be just as concerned about other queries that come in, as they know handling these poorly can also lead to bad publicity on social, even if that's not where the interaction took place.”
“It’s kind of like the old-fashioned high school peer pressure,” adds Jeanne Bliss, who runs CustomerBliss, a customer service consulting firm. “More people see your tweet or comment to a company and they also see the company’s response.  Customers can use that power and do use it now to get companies to respond quicker and more responsively because they can show others in their audience what is happening.”
While social media clout may get you a more favourable response from the person behind a company’s social account, it can also make you look like kind of an asshole. Take, for example, Lizzo’s gaffe last year when she publicly accused a Postmates driver of stealing her food. After finding out that the delivery person did not, in fact, make off with her meal, but rather left when the singer failed to respond within the standard five minute window, she issued an apology. 
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“I understand I have a large following and that there were so many variables that could’ve put her in danger. Imma really be more responsible with my use of social media and check my petty and my pride at the door,” she wrote
Even if you’re not a famous person, it’s worth considering how constantly complaining to companies on social media makes you look. A few tweets about a cancelled flight or a late meal delivery? You tell ‘em. A litany of grievances regarding everything from overcooked burgers to overly chatty Uber drivers? Well, that could be a red flag for potential employers, partners, and friends. Recently, a Twitter user went viral-in-a-bad-way for posting a video of a UPS delivery worker barely knocking on her door for a package pick-up before walking away. The Twittersphere was initially sympathetic… until it was discovered that her feed was basically made up of similarly “Can I Speak To Your Manager?”-esque comments. The takeaway is that there’s a fine line between self-advocacy and being a complainer. 
Plus, it’s worth remembering the people answering your salty tweets don’t exactly have it easy, even if they do work for seemingly cool companies — remember that viral Away story, which outlined the grueling work hours and impossible metrics for customer service employees at the start-up? Obviously, it’s up to companies to treat their employees like human beings, but there’s no reason for us as consumers to make it harder for them to do that by clogging up their inboxes all day with minutia. There's also no excuse for bombarding an individual employee online, or IRL.
That being said, next time an organization — especially a big, wealthy, hard-to-reach one — screws you over, the fix may be lying right there in your purse or pocket. 
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