Playing Out Customer Service Woes via Social Media

BlogHer Original Post

I'll admit that I thought it.  We were dealing for the ninetieth time with the department store where we purchased our ant-infested dishwasher.  They were refusing to give us a new non-ant-infested dishwasher and said unfortunately they couldn't do anything for us because there were no parts to fix.  It was on the tip of my tongue as the man told us that the warranty didn't cover things such as the dishwasher becoming infested with ants while at the warehouse: I am so going to blog this and name your big store and ask everyone to spread word across social media that your popular department store sells nasty dishwashers.

Ooooh, I so wanted the Internet to rise up against them.

Instead we just took our business elsewhere.  Since they didn't fix the one appliance, they lost thousands of dollars in business while we re-did our kitchen.  I know that they don't know that they lost our business or that we've steered all our friends away from giving their business to the store.  But I know that I've gone to a business that seems to care whether or not we're satisfied.

Is that enough?

We have so many choices on how to vent our ire nowadays.  A long time ago, we could only shout our disgust with a business to our neighbours and write the business itself a nasty letter.  We could maybe organize a boycott if our experience was indicative of a larger problem with the store.  But our own personal frustrations were our own personal frustrations for the most part.  We voted with our feet and didn't give that business our money in the future.

But now, we can tweet about airline mishaps and Facebook our sub-par purchases.  We can punish bad customer service by organizing people in our social media streams to publicly shame the company.  We can go write our opinions on Yelp, which are seen by thousands and used in their decision-making process.  We can blog about our experiences with a store and influence future spending of people we would never meet otherwise.

Social media has put a lot of power in the hands of the consumer, and stores are hoping that we use it wisely; at least in regards to negative publicity.

customer service

Photo: Customer Service via Shutterstock

It's Fitting had a great post recently on what she calls customer service bullying, this ability to air our grievances with a company publicly and sometimes get them to jump (whereas they wouldn't have otherwise) because they know a lot of eyes are watching.  She asks,

Was I right to air my grievances out in public on Twitter? Did my soapbox complaining “bully” Shutterfly into righting their wrong? Is the customer always right – even when she’s yelling her complaints to more than 1,000 people at a time?

It's an interesting question. There have been times when people have cheered on the customer taking on the big company and having their voice heard. But I could see the other side of it too: shit happens and we're not giving companies the time or space to right a wrong before we take it public.

Moreover, she asks another important question: if publicly shaming a company is wrong, is publicly praising a company wrong too?

But is shouting on Twitter about a problem with a product going too far? If you think the answer is yes, then I would ask you… is praising a product on Twitter going too far? Because I do that too.

With whole sites such as Consumerist, Yelp, and Amazon reviews out there for people to voice their opinion, not to mention the power we have on Twitter, Facebook, and our blogs, we can apply tremendous pressure to companies to do the right thing.  And sometimes it's wonderful as the customer to have that outlet and balance the post-purchase power dynamic.  And sometimes it's a dangerous thing when we use it as a first line of defense.

Have you ever taken your customer service woes to social media?  Where do you think the line is between great tool and bullying?

Melissa writes Stirrup Queens and Lost and Found. Her novel about blogging is Life from Scratch.

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