Social media and the power of the consumer

Twitter came to my rescue today and turned a bad customer experience into a good one, underlining the power that social media gives us as consumers.

It’s commonly said in business that the most satisfied customers are those who have had complaints resolved quickly and effectively. All too often though, companies are slow to respond and take insufficient action – although it has to be said things are a lot better now than they were, say, 25-30 years ago.

However, in my experience, where many companies fall down is in their approach to social media. Too many use their Twitter and Facebook accounts primarily to push marketing messages out. Too few appreciate it as a channel for customers to interact with them.

In times gone by, if you wrote a letter of complaint you would be happy if someone wrote back to you within a week. With email, a response within 24 hours is generally acceptable. With social media, however, that window shrinks to as little as one or two hours. There is an immediacy to Twitter and Facebook that raises our expectations of a prompt response. But too few companies allocate someone to monitor social media on a regular basis and if they do it is often someone junior who doesn’t have the authority to act.

Some companies, however, get it right.

I have a credit card with Tesco Bank. This afternoon an issue arose with my account which prompted me to phone them seeking resolution. As usual, I was put in the dreaded automated queue. I waited. And waited. And waited some more.

25 minutes later, with my frustration mounting, I fired out this tweet.

I hung up in a huff five minutes later.

No more than 15 minutes passed before I received a polite tweet back from a named contact (nice touch, that) asking if my query had been resolved. I replied that it hadn’t and explained I would now have to call again later.

A couple of helpful tweets later I received a call directly from the same contact, who efficiently dealt with my query, removing the pain of having to go through the whole rigmarole of having to listen repeatedly to a pre-recorded voice telling me how important my call is to them.

Having complained initially via tweet, I was only too happy to acknowledge Tesco’s excellent resolution of my problem the same way.

As a result, I now feel more rather than less positive about Tesco as my credit card provider than I did before. Things will always go wrong in any customer relationship but it is how these ‘moments of truth’ are dealt with that can be pivotal in building or destroying customer loyalty. (And a loyal customer is a profitable customer.)

It’s also testament to the power of social media. Gone are the days when I might have griped about my experience to a handful of people. Nowadays, thanks to Twitter, any of my 2,000-plus followers might have read my initial tweet of complaint. And then there’s the potential of it being retweeted to an even wider audience.

In some instances, relatively small corporate gaffes have gone viral around social media, reaching millions of people, and been picked up by mainstream media. That’s quite the multiplier effect!

Equally, having had my issue sorted out quickly, my subsequent tweet of praise will also have reached a wide audience. All it took was for Tesco to have one of their customer service reps dedicated to look out for and deal decisively with a small problem before it became a potentially bigger problem. Chapeau.

People who don’t use social media often dismiss it as frivolous and insubstantial, and sometimes they’re right. But when it comes to the power of consumers to demand the level of service they deserve, it’s a game-changer. Social media gives little consumers a big voice. Power to the people!


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