Promoted complaint isn’t a sign of a social media problem. It’s a customer service problem.2013-09-03
Hasan Syed’s tweet has gotten a lot of attention since Mashable first reported it Monday afternoon. There’s a larger story that isn’t being told, though, as the focus narrows on this first-ever use of a pay-for-play technique to amplify a customer complaint.
Using social media as an avenue for getting companies to pay attention is nothing new. I’ve done it myself on more than one occasion in the hopes that seeing my tweet—visible to my 15,000-plus followers—would spur a company to action. In every case so far, it has. So there’s no surprise that Syed took to Twitter to complain that British Airways had lost his father’s bag. What grabbed so much attention was his decision to spend money promoting the tweet—and several that followed—to the 302,000 people who follow British Airways on Twitter.
Syed isn’t disclosing how much he spent, but clicks on a promoted tweet can run anywhere from $.50 cents to $2.20; you can set total and a a daily maximum so you don’t spend more than, say, $10 per day and $100 total. According to Twitter, engagement rates on promoted tweets run from 1 to 3 percent.
Syed didn’t need much engagement. If 10 percent of the 300,000-plus followers of the British Airways account saw the tweet, it was enough.
Between views and engagement, he strategy worked for Syed, assuming his goal was to get British Airways to sit up and take notice. The promoted tweet led to more than 25,000 impressions on Twitter within six hours. It has also garnered a respectable amount of media coverage. A Google News search found 445 results.
There’s no way of knowing how many of those who saw or engaged with the tweet have decided to follow Syed’s advice and choose another airline. One hopes that, from British Airways’ perspective, one is too many. The airline is now in damage control mode while Syed is interviewed by the likes of CNN, spreading his message even further.
The many analyses of the tale of Syed’s promoted tweet point to two broad conclusions, both of which are true:
- It’s likely other customers will follow suit in their attempts to get satisfaction from companies
- British Airways needs to rethink its social media strategy, since it took eight hours from the time Syed promoted his first tweet to the time the airline responded
The focus on Twitter’s promoted tweet product in this story is interesting, but it’s a sideshow. While it’s in the best interest of every company to have a solid plan for addressing complaints issued via social media, it’s even more important to set up the processes to ensure customer dissatisfaction never rises to the level where they’re motivated to take to the Net, no less dig into their own pockets for money to amplify their messages.
It’s surprising, when you think about it, that nobody has promoted a complaining tweet before this. In the early days of social media, a complaint issued over Twitter, Facebook or a blog captured attention almost immediately. Now that social media has become a go-to channel for customer service, unhappy customers face the same challenge they did before: how to raise their voice to a level that will be heard above all the other complaints.
In the various accounts I’ve read, I haven’t seen much about what Syed tried before resorting to paying to promote his tweet. It’s not hard to imagine, though, that he went through all the usual customer service channels, including baggage services at the airport and several escalating levels of phone-based customer support. (If you’re curious about the number of layers of airline support, refer back to Dave Carroll’s United Breaks Guitars YouTube video, a much earlier example of a dissatisfied customer drawing unwelcome attention to an airline’s inability to take care of a legitimately unhappy customer.)
The problem is that customer service in almost any company is a cost center. The goal is to spend as little as possible. Call center personnel are evaluated on how quickly they can get a customer off the phone and how many calls they handle in a day. Back in 2008, I wrote a piece for Brandweek (no longer available on Adweek, into which Brandweek was eventually folded) suggesting that customer service needed to be part of PR. After all, the real definition of PR has more to do with building and maintaining strong relationships with key stakeholders than it does with earning press coverage. Wherever it reports, customer service needs to focus on the quality of the relationship, as it does at Zappos, where a rep can stay on the phone all day with one customer, as long as the customer is happy when she finally hangs up.
There are, of course, customers who will take a minor problem and blow it up in an effort to extort something from the company, and those who want to make an insubstantial company mistake into an activist cause. Addressing social media blackmail is a real problem (and there are ways companies can use social media to deal with them. But these are not British Airways’ problem.
Nor is the problem that Syed caused the company grief with a promoted tweet. The problem is that British Airways’ frontline customer service channels failed so grievously that Syed believed paying to promote a tweet was the best course left him. With customers able to literally (by which I mean literally, not figuratively) advertise their displeasure, businesses need to consider customer service as an investment in great customer relations. When they do, they earn the kind of publicity shown at right. When they don’t, they’ll increasingly get the kind of escalation of a complaint with which British Airways finds itself coping today.