What do you do when the airline that’s supposed to be flying you to your vacation spot strands you instead? Or your car mechanic stalls on your repair and won’t tell you when you’ll be able to drive again? The traditional routes for consumer complaints have been the Better Business Bureau, the state District Attorney’s office, the local Department of Consumer Affairs or even the local TV station. Not any more. Those avenues are very 20th century and except for TV coverage, which is a crapshoot unless you have a telegenic problem, they rarely produce results.
What’s the most productive way to complain today? The internet, and especially social media. Companies don’t like bad publicity, and they get it through a megaphone when people start complaining on Twitter and Facebook.
I discovered the power of internet complaints when my trusty 2007 Ford Focus died twice on the road. I had it towed to the local Ford dealer, whose service rep reassured me on the phone that the dealership’s mechanics could fix it quickly. I had no idea of the runaround I was in for.
After three days of repeated phone calls and reassurances that they were “working on” the problem, and “electrical problems can be very complicated,” I showed up at the dealership and found that my car was still sitting on the lot in the same place where the tow truck had left it. When I confronted him, the service rep, he gave me a runaround. I asked to speak to the service manager who backed up his employee’s ludicrous explanation with a totally straight face.
Furious—and carless—I went home, accessed the dealership’s website and found the name and email address of the manager under the “Meet our Staff” link, along with the twitter handle for Ford: @Fordservice. I emailed the manager and tweeted Ford Service. The dealership manager called me the next morning, apologized profusely and offered to repair the car for free. @Fordservice also responded and offered to help, but by that time I’d already gotten satisfaction. Chalk one up for the power of the internet.
Social media customer service reps agree that Twitter is the fastest way to get results, whether you’re President Trump or Ms. Disgruntled Consumer. But Facebook and even email are also effective. Many companies have full-time social media employees whose sole job is to monitor Twitter and Facebook and respond as needed so that negative comments are not left hanging where everyone can see them.
My favorite Twitter success story is from a journalist friend who was stuck on an endless security line at the airport and was about to miss her flight to her niece’s wedding. She tweeted the airline and was immediately plucked off the line and hustled through security onto the plane. It helped, of course that she has 12,000 followers, but customer service experts say you don’t need a lot of followers to get results from Twitter. Airlines are particularly responsive to Tweets.
Here are some tips on how to get action by using the internet to your advantage.
If you don’t have a Twitter account, here’s a good reason to set one up. (Click here to read about how to get started on Twitter.) Alec Sears, a communications specialist at Frontier Business who helps oversee company issues through social media, says top brands are increasingly using Twitter to address concerns that their consumers might have. His tips:
Don’t be rude
If you are rude, your complaints are more likely to fall on deaf ears. “Our customer service reps on Twitter have a lot to handle, and they’re not as likely to spend time working with a ‘hater’ who’s more interested in being angry on social media than actually receiving help. (A recent Delta Airlines incident with Ann Coulter is a good example!)
Flesh out your Twitter handle
Sears says workers will often do a quick screen assessment of the consumer before responding. They want to know: Is the content on your Twitter handle well-rounded? Have you included a photo and some biographical details such as where you live and what your interests are? Have you ever tweeted before? If it looks like you’re a real person with a real concern, you’re more likely to get help. If it looks like a fake account or if your account is filled with angry tweets of no value, a customer service rep is more likely to pass.
Be short and sweet
Remember that tweets are only 144 characters. My tweet to @Fordservice read: Getting terrible service from Pompano Ford in FL. Would like to talk to someone about it.
Tweet the right handle
Make sure you’re including the right handle, i.e. the customer care department, such as @Fordservice, not just @Ford. Look at all the handles for a company and pick the one that’s the most relevant to your complaint. (You can look on the company’s website, but a Twitter search is usually best. enter @ and the name of the company in the Twitter search bar, and select the result that indicates it’s a customer service handle.)
Post on Facebook
Alyssa Jeffers, digital marketing coordinator for LRG Marketing Communications who personally answers customer complaints, has some Facebook tips.
Write more than one message
Go directly to the company’s Facebook page. You’ll see a box labeled “write something on this page” and/or “leave a message.” Write your complaint in the box and also send a private message (look for the blue”Send a Message” button) if that option is also available—but don’t stop there.
Leave a Review
If the company has a review option on Facebook (some don’t) write a review. Facebook reviews can’t be removed by company staff.
Leave a comment
You should also leave a comment under any post that has comments, whether or not the post is related to your complaint. Your comment will be seen by the public, so the customer service department’s social media team is more likely to respond quickly.
Jeffers offers the example of a camera company’s customer who was furious after waiting on hold for over two hours. The customer went to the company’s Facebook page and commented about her experience under the post nearest the top of the page. Jeffers was on the company’s social media team—she replied to the comment quickly so that anyone else who came to the page could see that the company is responsive to its customers. Then she sent the customer a private message asking for information about the issue so she could put her in touch with the right person. The customer was so happy with the response, she eventually went back to Facebook and commented about how great the company’s customer service is. It was a win-win for both the company and the customer.
Consider tweeting, too
That said, Jeffers recommends Twitter as the best avenue for reaching a company quickly. She follows her own advice. “I recently tweeted about a food delivery that didn’t go through, and the company got back to me in five minutes.”
She says you don’t need a ton of followers to get results on Twitter. “Businesses don’t want you talking about them in a bad way.”
Send an Email
For a local company or branch, visit the website and see if you can find the email address for the manager, like I did, and email them. Look under Staff or About in the website’s top menu for the name of the head honcho.
If you are hitting a brick wall with a national brand, Google the name of the company plus “CEO,” and if you find an email address, write to that person. Nine times out of ten you will get a response. It’s worked for me. Comcast, which customers have voted #1 in bad customer service on the planet, responds to emails sent directly to the CEO. When I emailed Comcast’s CEO, I was sent the phone number of my local “customer service escalation manager” who was more responsive that the women in the company’s customer service department who had hung up on me numerous times.
If All Else Fails…
Some companies are going to give you the runaround no matter what you do. I tweeted T-Mobile recently after frustrations with their Phillipines-based customer support. I got a series of clueless reps on Twitter who kept asking me the same questions over and over again. The experience was just like my phone customer service support experience with the company—it seemed as if I was being passed from one person to the next. I finally gave up and went to the local store, where I did get help from an actual human being.
Have you used the internet to complain about bad customer service? Tell us about it in the comments section.