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“If your boarding pass says A 1 through 60 please line up in numerical order next to the posts. Please only line up if you are in the A group.” I typically avoid Southwest Airlines like the plague. Holding my head between my hands in a display of utter disgrace while observing people trying to figure out if 47 is before or after 48 is an experience I will only endure when succumbing to the temptation of a low fare for a quick escape (and even then, the day is laced with fleeting moments of regret).
On this particular occurrence, I was banished from my prime boarding position of A24 because I was traveling with my child who had a B boarding pass. Yep – the gate agent kicked me out of line because I tried to board with my six-year-old who was supposed to board in the B group. Outraged at the expectation that I would leave him in line to board with a bunch of people that can’t even count, or worse, that I would forfeit the small perk of being A-list, I decided to let Customer Service know how I felt.
Maximizing each keystroke in the 2,500 character limit submission form, I summarized the incident over email. Not feeling satisfied, I took to social media for the first time ever expecting that I’d get a faster response – and I did! Within 15 minutes on Easter Sunday, someone replied to my tweet encouraging me to “DM” (Direct Message) them to clarify the incident.
It was a full 24 hours later when I received an email from Customer Service indicating that it could take them up to thirty days to issue a written response to the complaint I submitted through the Contact Us email form! Astonishing!
The service I received from the… Tweeter? Twitter Agent? Southwest Twitter Fairy?… was surely fast, but what’s the victory here?
As a business with a social media presence, it shouldn’t take pulling a United (being dragged off of a plane bloodied and disoriented) for consumers to draw your attention to ways to improve their interactions with you or the experience they have with the products and services you offer.
Whether it was part of your social media strategy or not, your Facebook and Twitter pages have turned into next-gen customer service. And, arguably, the way it’s done now is making your already upset customers feel even worse.
Customer service on 24/7/365 global networks can be daunting, but here are a few key principles to guide you (and your fans/followers) to more victories:
Don’t sacrifice quality for speed.
My problem wasn’t solved – not even close. The response I received was generic, yet specifically designed to make me go away, which just added another layer of frustration. Even worse, because I took to social media for a quick answer, my email will remain unanswered since Southwest linked my Twitter interaction to my email – case closed! Don’t do this!
Do this: Listen. Give a genuine (i.e. non-copy/paste) response! The volume of social inquiries can be overwhelming, but you offered this channel to your consumers, so you’ve got to be present in the conversation. There’s a limit to what you can do on social media, so be clear with your social media team on where those lines are. For instance, if you can’t satisfy the issue on the first response, have your team respond by letting the consumer know you’ll be sending them a direct message. Taking the first step is better than asking the consumer to initiate the process and allows your team to provide more personal service.
Here’s a famous example of truly personal service by Morton’s Steakhouse:
This tweet actually resulted in the hand-delivery of a porterhouse by a Morton’s employee in a full-on tuxedo… internet stalking at its finest… wow! By no means am I suggesting that this scale of listening is achievable with every digital provocation, but – accept the challenge every now and then. It’s these opportunities where you have the chance to demonstrate a quality response by going the extra-long-mile!
And here’s the double-edged sword…
Beware: you are now subject to the most stringent SLA’s on the planet.
Gone are the good old days of standard Service Level Agreements for the traditional phone, chat and email customer service channels. Your social media team is now a virtual customer service center.
Ok that’s a little dramatic, but a more immediate response time is implied and that means there’s a need for you to manage these expectations. This expectation also raises the issue of staffing for your digital team. If your social media team is comprised of one body – it’s important to reconsider this approach. Largely, social media teams are multi-tasking across managing social channels as well as other digital programs (i.e. website, loyalty, etc.). Focusing on quality of your interactions with other tasks to balance isn’t setting you up for success.
In the interim, do this: Make it clear to your fans and followers that you respond within business hours (in case they actually believe in the Twitter Fairy that monitors your social media pages at all hours). This can help buy you some time to make sure you’re responding genuinely but also cover for the staffing shortage.
In the long-term, do this: Build up your digital team – make sure that you are prepared to manage the expectations of today’s digital consumer. It WILL take more than one person to do that!
Give the people what they want!
Airing my frustration with Southwest for all the world to see allowed me to vent, but literally, nothing happened as a result of my tweet. I didn’t ignite a viral uproar. A community of virtual activists didn’t crank out a catchy hashtag to support my public display of outrage. This is what’s supposed to happen, right?
Fact is, the rarities of a United-scale incident dictate consumer expectations. People expect to be able to influence big business as social media now lends a very public voice to the consumer.
In the days since the social-media-fueled PR nightmare that was #Bumpgate, major airlines have publicized some major changes. Delta immediately adjusted their compensation tactics for flight overbookings, Southwest said it will be the first US airline to discontinue overbooking altogether and, late to their own party, United followed Delta’s lead on upping their compensation for voluntarily giving up your seat on overbooked flights to up to $10,000.
Yes! Do more of this! The premise of social media for businesses is to provide a forum by which companies can have a two-way dialogue with their most loyal, engaged customers. What better way to demonstrate that their voices are heard by showing how their feedback leads to tangible change!
Consider highlighting an issue that was raised by consumer feedback by creating a content piece to show how you’ve addressed it – surely you’ve gotten more than one good idea from comments posted to your social media channels. Show your followers what you’re doing about it – even better, drop the actual source of the change a direct message to prove you’ve heard them.
As expected, Starbucks has done this right too. In 2008, they setup a forum to crowdsource consumer ideas called My Starbucks Idea. Using My Starbucks Idea, consumers were given a tool to submit ideas, view ideas already submitted and, most importantly, see which ideas are making their way to implementation. For those of you that enjoy a cake pop or free wifi while indulging in your caffeine fix, you can thank My Starbucks Idea.
When all else fails, sweeten the deal. Small gestures – a little giveaway or a freebie here or there – can go a long way for someone who had a bad experience.
The idea of social media customer service for lotteries actually makes a lot of sense. It’s in these direct to consumer interactions that lotteries can evoke what their brands represent – fun, entertainment and a little surprise and delight.