Don’t be a social media tattle-tale

6 Nov

Customer service is a tricky business for companies these days.

Thanks to social media, it’s never been easier for customers to gripe to a huge audience, and never been more important for businesses to respond to those complaints pronto.

The problem is many customers don’t take their complaints to the business first. They launch off on their platform of choice – YouTube, Facebook, Trip Advisor, Twitter etc. – rather than give the business a chance to hear them out and respond.

By the time a company picks up an online grumble and responds, a lot of damage to their reputation can be done. Sometimes they respond magnificently, and likely would also have done so given the chance through a direct, 1-to-1 channel.

But people can’t resist going public.

In fairness to businesses, and as a responsible code of conduct, sounding off in social media spaces should only happen when sincere direct attempts have failed to resolve the problem. In which case, have at ‘em.

Do you think that sounds fair?


30 Responses to “Don’t be a social media tattle-tale”

  1. Amy November 6, 2010 at 12:08 pm #

    Completely fair! I think that consumers tend to have an “us against them” attitude with it comes to businesses. The bigger the business, the more this feeling manifests. People think that if they have a complaint, the company won’t care because they are just one person and are powerless. So, the person vents in the arena where they feel they do have power – Facebook, twitter, blogs, etc. Maybe companies need to make sure that they have a dedicated complaint handling department who returns emails or calls in a timely manner and market this to customers.
    Don’t know if you have Domino’s pizza up there, but their recent ad campaign addresses this very thing. They air actual complaints from customers and show how they are trying to improve their product accordingly. I think this show of humility is very effective. I still don’t like their pizza, but I appreciate their effort.

  2. David November 6, 2010 at 12:17 pm #


    Btw – Was this post motivated by some incident in particular? Did you mention it to them before writing this? Lol

  3. dougbrowncreative November 6, 2010 at 2:00 pm #

    > Amy I haven’t seen the Domino’s ad you’re talking about but I’ve heard of it: asking the customers what they think of the the one you’re talking about an extension of that? I think that’s a fallout from the employees stuffing cheese up their noses, putting it on the pizzas and then posting that as a video to YouTube. They have had to learn some new rules to the whole social media engagement. Plus the ad agency (Crispin Porter) told them their pizzas were crap.

    > David, I am guilty of moaning about The Bay’s new interest rate for their credit card. It got me thinking which is what led to this post.

    Did you write “Lol” for real? Is this really David Walker?

  4. Reg November 6, 2010 at 3:37 pm #

    Totally agree, Doug, but it’s an interesting phenomenon of the “Consumer-is-King” culture that has been created — and accelerated — with the internet, blogs, mobile, and social media in general.

    I think one accelerant that goes unnoticed/unspoken is that, to a lot of consumers, venting via ‘known’/easily-accessible channels like blogs, Facebook, YouTube, etc., is sometimes “easier” (or at least perceived to be easier) than figuring out how to complain to (some) companies. For companies that don’t make the complaint process easy (e.g. obvious/clear and multiple channels and methods, coupled with good, quick response times), they only encourage that behaviour in their customers, so they get what they asked for; for other companies that are doing it right, it must be very frustrating and dismaying (not to mention expensive) to have to manage the ‘rogue consumers’ out there.

    Further, and irrespective if a company does get it right with ease of access to “the complaint department”, some consumers actually like the ‘power’ of having a soapbox from which to broadcast — it’s really a part of the whole cultural shift and mentality of consumers with the power they now have. So yeah, that’s where a social responsibility code for consumers is a good idea, but likely extremely difficult to manage or even encourage. It’d be nice to see a few examples where irresponsible consumer complaints backfire on the consumer — provided the company in question can/does offer good means — and follow-through — to complain.

    Still, in large measure, I think it’s been a net positive effect, i.e. making companies more accountable — but it definitely costs money and time to do it, much less do it well/right.

  5. David November 6, 2010 at 7:47 pm #

    Lmao! Doug! If you have an issue with me dropping the lol bomb – talk to me directly – don’t publish it! Egads!

  6. dougbrowncreative November 6, 2010 at 8:37 pm #

    > Interesting take on that Reg. I think that griping in social media will always be easier than going to the company, and sometimes more effective. The squeaky wheel getting the grease and all. But I too would like to see companies winning a few of these too. The customer is not always right.

    > David, I will let you have the last word on that one!

  7. westcoastthoughts November 8, 2010 at 5:12 pm #

    It’s a toss up whether or not to dump on them on the net or go directly to them and bitch.

  8. dougbrowncreative November 8, 2010 at 5:23 pm #

    Not to me it isn’t. Ask yourself which you’d prefer if you were the owner of the company.

  9. Anonymous November 8, 2010 at 6:46 pm #

    Doug, I agree that going directly to the company is a much better solution, however, some people feel uncomfortable having a face-to-face confrontational discussion with the owner, and that’s where Social Media comes into play. I do think that if consumers want to voice their complaints on Social Media that they should direct message the company first (via Facebook, Twitter or Email) using these mediums.

    On the other hand, studies say that 9/10 dissatisfied customers are silent which also hurts companies because they have no way to counteract the negative experience or win-back the customer. So in a way, isn’t voicing concerns on Social Media a good thing? Perhaps these customers wouldn’t have said anything at all otherwise.

  10. dougbrowncreative November 9, 2010 at 8:18 am #

    Anonymous, valid point. The silent majority can deprive companies of useful insight into their business. And I sure agree with you that contacting them via social media directly is a great solution. I did just that this morning. Saw something I might have been tempted to share on Twitter and then, remembering my Code of Conduct, I got in touch with the company via email and will now wait to hear how they would like to address the issue first.

    Thanks for the great comment.

  11. Brian November 9, 2010 at 8:33 am #

    If a company is dumb enough to screw themselves and their paying costumer around then I see it only fit to trash them, but if it was a honest mistake, I’ll forgive them once, but if it happens twice, my feet and dollar go another route.

    Take for example downtown Vic. First day I was in Vic I got the customary “Welcome To Victoria” parking ticket. It cost me #50.00 to pay off, but it has cost the downtown merchants a lot more than that since I refuse to shop where I have to pay for parking. I have only once bought anything in Vic main and guess what, another $50.00 ticket.

    Victoria is screwing themselves.

  12. Paul H. November 9, 2010 at 9:03 am #

    I agree with Brian. Companies have been pulling it over on their customers for years. The only reason they now even bother to talk to you is because they’re afraid of getting slammed in the bigger digital forums. Now they’re trying to get in on the action there too. Used to be just for us and now all you can see is the social media selling out to the advertisers. When they start seeing how powerful their buyers (or ex-buyers) can be, they will be forced to change the way they do business. That’s the power we now have. All together now….

  13. dougbrowncreative November 9, 2010 at 9:19 am #

    > Brian, while a $50 parking ticket is irritating, I would suggest that it’s not the fault of businesses in downtown Victoria. They can’t all provide parking. The DVBA works with the City to create opportunities for easier parking in the area, but we’re a small downtown core and space is limited. Penalizing the businesses might make you feel good but it limits the places where you can shop and hurts small businesses. What’s needed are solutions. Most cities face this issue.

    > Paul there are good and bad companies, as there are good and bad customers. And everything else along the parabola. The revolution you hope to see happen in the relationship between seller and buyer is happening already but I think the best that consumers can do is aim to be great customers, and influence change based on that, rather than rise up with pitchforks and try to bring companies to their knees. Thanks for the comment.

  14. brainstormingconsultants November 9, 2010 at 9:37 am #

    It does’nt make me feel good Doug, but from what I gather this problem has been on the back burner at the city since hell thawed out and nothing has been done about it. Just like a costumer in a store that get shitty service, the costumer has that choice to take his or her dollar someplace else until either the merchant (City of Victoria) smartens the hell up or more businesses move out of the downtown core where parking is either more plentiful or free.

  15. dougbrowncreative November 9, 2010 at 9:47 am #

    I can understand your frustration Brian and I get your strategy of applying pressure where it hurts. I would guess that creating more parking in the downtown core will only increase the number of cars here and this town was not built for congestion, with its narrow avenues, quirky one-way streets and irregular flows. Tough time to be a business downtown.

  16. brainstormingconsultants November 9, 2010 at 9:53 am #

    The only way the C of V are going to create any more parking is vertical which really does’nt appeal to a earthquake prone area.

    The keep approving building permits that creates higher density but at the same time they don’t increase parking. Seems like their approach is just alittle backwards, but that could be a spill over effect from the people in the “ledge”.

  17. hitgirl November 9, 2010 at 10:01 am #

    Doug, I’m speaking as a small business owner. I got into business because I had a vision of bringing an excellent and needed product into the community. I am committed every day to do my best and as the owner of my business I understand that the buck stops with me.

    I am disheartened that my reputation could be challenged by someone who may have a negative experience with us and reports that to the web before coming to me. It seems that on this front, the scales of power have tipped in the consumers favor. We all have bad days – myself, my staff, and my clients included. I hope that we as a business are developing the kind of mutual trust and respect with our clients where they will come to us first in case of a problem.

    I’m sure I speak on behalf of all small business owners. We are doing our best and face innumerable challenges just to survive. We make mistakes but we want to learn from them. Please let us try to make things right before you make your complaints public.

  18. Matt Dixon November 9, 2010 at 10:48 am #


    This is a great post and brings up valid points about the position that companies need to take regarding handling the new communication channels that allow consumers to voice opinions to the greater masses with relative anonymity. I agree with Paul H. in saying that companies are taking a reactive stance to feedback, and it baffles me that more companies are not using social media as a proactive tool to gather opinions and reactions to service.

    If social media is where the people are, then why not set up a response center on multiple networking platforms, encouraging feedback both positive and negative, and have consumers voice opinions about your product/service? This eliminates the behind the scenes griping; why bitch to a friend when the company page is asking you for your opinion. So what if it creates a firestorm of negative feedback, at least you know how you can improve.

  19. A.J. November 9, 2010 at 11:17 am #

    Matt Dixon nailed it – rather than be upset at customers for lashing out via social media, businesses should instead seize the opportunity that S.M. brings to engage those same customers. It’s called being proactive vs. reactive.

    If you make it as absolutely easy as possible for your customer to bring their concerns/comments to your attention, you win on every single front. That consumer feels like they’ve been acknowledged and in this day and age, that carries a tremendous amount of value. Also, a business that commits to full service like that is more likely to keep customers coming back and therefore, keep negative comments out of the socia media arena.

    My two cents.

  20. dougbrowncreative November 9, 2010 at 11:32 am #

    > Sandy, your point is well appreciated and it’s great to have the small business voice on here. Especially when you have so much riding on your reputation in the market. Have you ever been on the receiving end of social media tattle-taling?

    Matt and A.J. > You are both spot on. I hope businesses will read this and come to their own conclusions about how important it is to have a social media presence: not simply to hawk their wares, but to listen, create value and be engaged in the conversations.

    Thank you all for those excellent comments.

  21. hitgirl November 9, 2010 at 12:00 pm #

    No, I haven’t been on the receiving end, but let me share a tale of a friend who has been.

    A person I follow on twitter had a bad experience with a local Yoga studio. He called them out on twitter for their customer service. I called my friend to let her know. He had named both the instructor and the studio, and when I told her who the instructor was, she said “so-and-so” doesn’t work here. She works at “such and such” – another studio with a somewhat similar name. So her studio was targeted for someone else’s error. Oops and double ouch.

    I appreciate Matt and Aj’s opinion and work on ensuring our lines of communication are wide open.

    Thanks, Sandy

  22. A.J. November 9, 2010 at 12:27 pm #

    I follow Sandy @hittofit on Twitter because as a small business owner, she gets it – social media is not simply a medium to sell your product, it’s an incredible way to engage people. But that’s the key – you have to engage and interact and be willing to spend the time doing that. The sooner businesses small and large understand and implement that, I believe the further ahead they’ll be.

  23. dougbrowncreative November 9, 2010 at 12:40 pm #

    > Damn Sandy, the dangers for getting it wrong are even greater in the bang-it-out world of social media, especially when emotions are running high. Hard to pull things back to make corrections when it’s already out there. Thanks for sharing that cautionary tale.

    > A.J. you are preaching to the choir regarding Sandy and how she’s going about social media. She obviously enjoys engaging in it, which takes me back to something Jay Baer said to us last week: If you don’t enjoy social media, you suck at it.

  24. hitgirl November 9, 2010 at 1:32 pm #

    AJ and Doug – thanks for the kind words. I do enjoy social media and I am working on “getting it”. It takes awhile and posts like this help a great deal. I appreciate the thoughtful discussion.

  25. Scribbler9 November 9, 2010 at 4:36 pm #

    I think you’ve got very valid points. Platforms like Twitter and FB, unfortunately, give us the opportunity to vent and hit submit without thinking twice. In my current frustrations with Staples, the guy handling the Twitter account has been great in corresponding with me. But even he admits that his hands are tied and he’s using these media platforms as an example to take to his higher ups regarding customer service.

    Today especially I have vented more on Staples because I have yet to hear from anyone ‘officially’ despite leaving messages (yesterday and today) and despite being told I’d be called back “within the hour” (yesterday).

    That said, I am holding off, giving them a chance to contact me and hopefully rectify the situation before taking my social platform up a notch. I am trying to be calm and reasonable, but that is a huge undertaking considering I am a true red head.

    To close, it’s always been my opinion to approach customer service departments with a smile and calm manner, but when concerns aren’t addressed or taken seriously…or (in this case) completely lacking communication, a little fire is called for.


  26. dougbrowncreative November 9, 2010 at 6:37 pm #

    Yes. Absolutely correct Melanie. Social media gives customers leverage. If a company doesn’t care enough to be monitoring the conversations about them that take place there, they’ll pay the price. Interesting that it can be just as bad for a company to fail to acknowledge kudos within these platforms. People like to compliment good service too, but if that is unrecognized, they can do a quick about-face. Thanks – great comment.

  27. Yukari Peerless November 10, 2010 at 11:22 am #

    I agree with Matt and AJ. As a consumer, I am the person who will not confront the business(especially if it’s a big company-if it’s a small business I will talk to them directly, absolutely), but do you know why so many consumers bitch on social media? Because it’s easier. They are not going out of their way to find the customer service phone number and wait on hold for 5 minutes to complain. Social media made it that much easier and it might be a bad news for businesses, that’s where people go. They don’t care if it’s a ethical thing to do or not. Just like social media itself. People are not sure and some are afraid of this big change called social media, but that’s where the change is,and if you don’t like it, too bad. More and more people complain on social media, (and I know it is not fair to many businesses to just vent there and not to go to business directly-I totally get that, but) and all you can do it to adapt to the change.

  28. dougbrowncreative November 10, 2010 at 11:29 am #

    It’s fair comment Yukari. Social media makes it easier, no question about it. But I think many people DO care if it’s ethical. Like you for instance. Ethics has to play a part in the equation or else we all just become selfish animals, taking what we can and screw everybody else except me and mine. You can do that by bitching to the world in social media but what’s the larger community implication?

  29. HeatherWatters November 10, 2010 at 2:25 pm #

    It’s interesting to juxtapose the accessibility of online conversations between consumers and businesses.

    As easy as it is for consumers to rant or rave online (as mentioned previously), there is an equally level difficulty or unpreparedness on the part of many businesses who are not present or proactive in their response. For most companies, I think there is a gap that stems from time and/or expertise to manage their online reputation.

    Does anyone else see the phenomenon as primarily a resource and knowledge issue? Or, is it just a head-in-the-sand approach?

  30. dougbrowncreative November 10, 2010 at 2:47 pm #

    That’s a great question Heather. I think it’s still both. Not knowing, and not wanting to know. The companies that are all over it are to be commended. The rest cannot really afford to wait much longer. The risks are too great. If one bad review online can torpedo your business, you better be listening.

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