If you have read any of my previous blog posts, you know that I have a weakness for online shopping. One of my favorite shopping sites is Rue La La (I actually write about the company here). I have spent an embarrassingly large sum of money on clothes, shoes, accessories, and home goods, and I am always satisfied with the products and the service I receive from Rue. However, I recently bought a pair of shoes (some pretty styling leather slingback pumps), and after two brief wearings, found that the shoes were noticeably damaged. I sent a message to Rue La La customer service via the website, explaining the situation and hoping for credit, or if a customer service rep was feeling generous, a refund. I figured this was wishful thinking, as I had already worn the shoes.
However, less than two hours after sending my message, I received a response from a Rue La La rep apologizing and instructing me to send the pumps back for a refund.
This personal email is, to me, the quintessence of good customer service.
Earlier today, I was perusing the Rue La La Facebook page, and I noticed that many people used Rue’s Facebook wall to praise the site for high-quality merchandise they received, ask questions, or voice a complaint. Rue La La responded to nearly every post in a timely manner, and they directly addressed disillusioned customers by offering them a specific solution.
Now, I chose to seek customer service directly through Rue’s website, but other people used social media to solicit a response. I actually thought about posting on the Rue La La wall, but I figured that I would have a better chance of receiving a response through the comment form on the site. But, clearly Rue La La doesn’t discriminate when it comes to customer-service-related inquiries: they address all comments and complaints quickly and efficiently, regardless of where these comments originated. This actually surprises me, because I have witnessed numerous times companies outright ignore wall posts.
So, I started thinking about companies that deliver customer service through social media. Was I right in believing that businesses are more apt to address complaints via email than via Facebook or Twitter? Also, what specific businesses skillfully integrate customer service into their social media campaigns—and which ones fail at attending to their disgruntled, displeased, Tweet-happy, Facebook-happy consumers? I think that providing customer service through social media channels is kind of like communism or McKayla Maroney on vault: it’s great in theory, but easy to slip up on the execution. Is this viewpoint accurate?
Summer 2012, Steinbeck Style
Apparently, the summer of 2012 is the Summer of Our Discontent (shout out to all you literature nerds who understand this Steinbeck reference!) when it comes to brand-consumer interaction via social media. While gathering research for this post, I Googled “social media customer service.” Here are a few of the results on the first page of Google News:
It looks like social media screw-ups by major brands are more common than “Call Me Maybe” covers, and news of these social media gaffes spreads faster than the People magazine’s presumably frantic attempts to get all the details on Jennifer Aniston’s engagement, find some way to tie Angelina Jolie into the mix, and get the story to press by Wednesday.
These Google search results make it seem that brands still don’t have a handle on social media, but these are only one part of the picture. To get the whole picture, I sought out some research.
The Research on Social Media Customer Service
Who’s Offering Social Media Customer Service:
- A recent survey looked at 400 companies in the U.S. and the U.K. and found that 59% of companies use Twitter for customer service.
- 60% use Facebook.
- 56% of companies implemented services in response to customer requests. (Source)
Who’s Using Social Media Customer Service:
- One in five customers (17%) have used social media once in the past year to get a customer service response. (Source)
Now while it seems that only a minority of people use social media for customer service, this number is actually deceiving, because social-media-savvy consumers are very vocal and engaged.
The general population is willing to pay 13% more at companies that provide great service. Social-media-savvy individuals are willing to spend 21% more. They’re also invaluable when it comes to word-of-mouth marketing: they tell 3x as many people about their positive experiences compared to the general population.
However, the engagement of social media savvy customers can also work against companies. These customers are vocal about positive experiences, and they’re outspoken about negative ones as well. 55% of the general population has walked away from a purchase because of poor customer service. 80% of social-media-savvy consumers have abandoned purchases because of a bad customer service experience. Also, they tell 2x as many people about negative experiences compared to the general population.
Clearly, people who use social media are valuable customers, not only because of the money they spend but also because of their tendency to broadcast their experiences—both the good and the bad. I would argue that courting the favor of these consumers is a wise investment. The problem is that many companies fail to meet the expectations of consumers.
- 25% of people who complain about brands through Facebook or Twitter expect a response within an hour. (Source)
- Only 44% of top retailers respond to customer service questions within 24 hours! (Source)
Now, Rue La La might be an exception to this, as they respond to all of the comments on their Facebook wall very quickly. Maybe I could have posted on the company’s Facebook wall instead of submitting a form on the website and been pleasantly surprised at the timely, friendly response. But, I think the fact that I’m skeptical of companies’ ability to readily deal with any type of feedback (whether positive or negative) addressed to them through a social media outlet is well-founded. Actually, when companies like Rue La La respond to people, I’m shocked because I expect virtually nothing from businesses on Facebook and Twitter. How did I become such a social-media cynic? Through occurrences such as these:
A Serious Social Media Faux Pas by Progressive
The family of a woman killed in a car crash wrote a blog post (and sent out some tweets) that criticized Progressive for fighting to avoid paying a claim. After the blog post went viral, Progressive tried to address complaints through Twitter. This is the problem:
Image Courtesy of NBC News
Progressive sent out automated responses; consequently their sympathy and/or respect for the “tragic case” seems completely non-genuine. They claim to care about the case, but this claim appears to be disingenuous and insincere due to the fact that they sent out completely generic, copy-and-paste tweets. They took a bad situation and made it worse. Now, this isn’t customer service per se; however, part of being able to deliver customer service through social media is knowing how to converse with consumers. Progressive either doesn’t know how to engage in a company-consumer dialogue, or they seriously faltered in this case. Now, I know this is just one example, but I think it’s part of a larger trend.
Consider this: CNBC recently talked about the world’s most “liked” brands on Facebook, so I decided to look at the 15 most-liked brands and see how engaged they are with customers and if they provide any sort of customer service. 12 out of these 15 brands closed their walls, so fans don’t even have the option of voicing a complaint or asking a question (unless they choose to do so by commenting on a post). Only two brands responded to comments/questions/complaints (nice job, Victoria’s Secret and Target).
Going Viral and Cramping Companies’ Styles
As I was writing this post, I considered the following: why should companies offer social media customer service? McDonald’s doesn’t; Starbucks doesn’t; Coca Cola doesn’t. All of these companies are doing well financially (obviously), and all of these companies have closed their wall to Facebook comments. A company’s success is not dependent on its ability to deliver customer service through Facebook or Twitter. However, in our social-media-saturated society, I think a company has to be meticulous about delivering quality service because of the concept of virality. Because of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and blogs, content spreads faster than Liz Lemon inhaling a sandwich while in line at Airport Security. This can be great when businesses do something right: a man recently addressed a Facebook post to Panera, thanking Panera for providing his grandmother with her last meal. The post went viral, and it currently has 731,654 likes. This kind of attention is like free positive publicity.
However, virality can also be free negative publicity. Progressive’s Twitter gaffe is one example. United Airlines received a whirlwind of negative press when news broke that the airline “lost” a 10-year-old passenger. United also gained some not-so-desirable attention when someone had his guitar destroyed by United’s baggage handlers. The airline repeatedly refused to pay for the damages, so the passenger wrote a song called “United Breaks Guitars.” It has been viewed over 12 million times on YouTube.
And I can’t forget to mention the oh-so-popular video of a FedEx delivery man throwing a package that contained customer’s computer monitor over the gate of the customer’s home.
My Ode to Rue La La
To bring this blog post full circle, I’ll return to the topic of Rue La La. Given the fact that many brands do not yet have a handle on social media customer service, the fact that Rue La La addresses complaints posted on their Facebook wall is impressive.
Perhaps I’ll take a cue from “United Breaks Guitars” and make a video praising Rue La La. To maximize the chances of it going viral, I’ll need one guitar and some cats.
Or maybe just one cat—the Nyan Cat.