The Customer Service Divide: Social Media vs Telephone

I had two experiences this year that has left me concerned about the ethical operations of companies and how they approach customer service. Mainly the type of customer service it seems you receive if you go by the proper channels, and that you receive when you go via a social media channels and start throwing your toys out of the pram.

I’ve not been one to get stung by bad customer service often to have to deal with it; it has mainly been something I have read about, rather than had a personal experience of. I understand there are genuine slip-ups; mistakes happen, things are overlooked or forgotten about. They shouldn’t happen, but they do, and businesses/employees learn by their mistakes.

Both of the following incidents were first dealt with by my girlfriend (who made the orders) using the telephone numbers for customer services, which then led to me complaining via Twitter about their failures, i.e., I started throwing my toys out of the pram.

I don’t want to make a habit of complaining about companies on Twitter, but it frustrates me seeing a company give poor customer service via telephone, and yet suddenly take action when I mention their shortcomings on Twitter. I know social media is a good leveraging tool when a company fails to provide customer service, though it shouldn’t have to be that way.

The Delivery Company

We had ordered some dog food and my girlfriend was at home until the reasonable hour of 4pm waiting for its delivery. Later she received an Email saying that they had tried to deliver but no one was at home. Fair enough, sods law, stay in all day nearly and then they (supposedly) attempt delivery – no calling card was left, just an email. The problem was the email gave an incorrect 8 digit reference number made up completely of zeros. This was, as you can guess, not being accepted when entered into the automated telephone system or on their website.

With no direct easy way to get hold of the delivery company my girlfriend fired off an email to the dog food supplier. They reported that the delivery company said that one of the two parcels was ‘stuck’ (their words not mine) and the other one would be delivered the next day – whilst no one was at home.

So I made my tweet complaining about the error, tagging the delivery company name, and sure enough I had a response asking for details. There was no way to directly communicate with anyone when my girlfriend called by phone, but here was another real human being willing to help out in some form just because I was making a statement on Twitter.

The Florist Company

The girlfriend had ordered flowers for a friend who had an operation soon after giving birth to a baby boy. Thankfully it wasn’t long till she was back home and my girlfriend thought some flowers as a surprise would be nice. We enquired with her partner if the flowers arrived after not hearing from her after a few days and sure enough they hadn’t been delivered.

When my girlfriend rang the company, they confirmed they had not been delivered, and offered her a complementary redelivery or a refund. When she enquired about the ‘complementary redelivery’ it turned out that they wouldn’t refund her and redeliver, but simply deliver the flowers late that she had paid for! So my girlfriend requested a refund after pointing out that the redelivery was not exactly complementary, and there was my second statement via Twitter of rubbish customer service.

This time I was given a URL by the flower delivery company’s Twitter profile to fill out a form. So I passed the details on even though my girlfriend had already organised a refund. For her troubles they called her and offered to deliver the flowers for free and got back to me on Twitter saying it had been resolved.
Here is what my girlfriend had to say when I forwarded the tweet to her:

“Ha ha that was quick. She was nice on the phone and are going to send flowers to [friend’s name] yay. That is what should have happened in first place though. Twitter complaining is weird.”

Customer service via social media

Yes, complaining on Twitter is weird. Surely a company should always try and do its best to resolve things before it gets to the stage of anyone complaining on Twitter to make things right. By telephoning customer services the issues should have been resolved in the first place.

It’s not like I have a big following of people on Twitter who are interested in flowers, but meanwhile my girlfriend works alongside many women in a NHS laboratory, the exact demographic that they would love to be targeting on social networks. Do they think my girlfriend is recommending their service after they forgot to deliver the flowers, and then offered to just deliver them late without a refund?

Why do companies have this divide between how they treat their customers on the phone and on social media? Having worked a number of years face-to-face in retail with customers, I believe companies should do their best every time so there are no second choices.

Maybe it’s a financial thing; don’t bend over backwards for all customers due to costs of compensating them? That’s a false economy in itself, especially when the business is in the wrong.

Pay attention to social media complaints

What happened about our dog food delivery? We ended up driving to the depot and demanding our box (which they had sat there) because no one rang back to follow-up what was happening – even after speaking to a person on Twitter. I hazard a guess that they have a major customer service problem that can’t be fixed by social media alone.

Yes, it’s good that your company may be paying attention to social media channels for customer service issues, but it’s only as good as the customer service that you provide in the first place. You need to make sure that you have a system to follow-up that the issue is resolved so it does not slip through the cracks again.

Have you had poor customer service that was then resolved by social media channels? Please leave out using brand names to protect innocent employees who actually do a great job for their employers.