Social media: the new Complaints Department

Once upon a time, companies entered the social media universe hoping to talk about their terrific products and to find thousands of new customers.

They placed their shiny new social media channels in the hands of eager (and perhaps nervous) marketing and communications teams. And they started working on lots of happy content to share.

What they failed to recognise – and this is still evolving – is that many members of the public didn’t see social media engagement in the same way.

For many consumers, social media is the new complaints department.

And no matter what type of good news you share, your organisation may find that some responses you get from the community are negative, critical, angry, aggressive and off topic.

Related reading: PR and social media – cousins in conscience

In Australia, perhaps one of the sectors which has rolled with this more than others is the telecommunications industry. After all, it is one of those industries which historically “can’t please all of the people all of the time” and has long devoted substantial resources to its customer service centres.

So we see now that companies like Vodafone and Telstra have spent some years in Facebook and Twitter and are taking a somewhat more mature and measured approach to social media than many.

I was interested to see that both Vodafone and Telstra have a ‘customer service’  Twitter account and a separate company Twitter account that provides news and product updates. So in this way, they’ve separated customer service and marketing (though of course both accounts will get varying interactions from the community). This separates the tweeters who are interested only in ‘online help’ and those who want to be in touch with company news and marketing. (I searched the Optus presence on Twitter and it would appear it only maintains one Twitter account. Correct me if you find another.)

@telstra_news on Twitter
@telstra_news on Twitter

If you’re a newcomer to social media, you might look at the telcos Twitter accounts and be aghast at the tweets they’re receiving. After all, it looks like a long list of frustrated complaints and bad publicity. But if you consider that this is occurring for all major telcos you realise they’re on a level playing field.

And after all, we know that telcos get complaints. As do the banks. As do airlines.

What matters is how these companies respond – and this is where they can set themselves apart and even ‘win back’ disgruntled customers.

@vodafoneau_help Twitter account
@vodafoneau_help Twitter account

(Additionally, when a customer complains about a telco online publicly, it provides an opportunity for a competitor to step in and tweet an offer to entice that customer away).

These complaints used to be billed as ‘social media crises’ but we’re growing up now and recognise that they’re not the end of the world. Today, they’re a business reality.

Related reading: Coles and other social media crises I’ve met

This post is focusing on your day-to-day service complaints. But we know that corporations experience much more than this online today. Many public posts demand that corporations make a change to the way they behave. I’ll be writing about this – and Corporate Social Responsibility – in my next post.

This post is based on a section of the presentation I gave to Marketing Week #MICON in Adelaide last week. You can find the Storify summary here.

Footnote: I had a chat with Jason from the Optus social media team and I really appreciated his time. Optus does in fact also have an @optusbusiness and @optus_careers Twitter account, but the main community interaction is via @Optus as I outlined above. Jason says they put a lot of time and effort into the social environment and what they do is always evolving, but the focus is very firmly on support and help.

@Optus on Twitter
@Optus on Twitter

7 Comments Add yours

  1. I had a great experience with Radio Rentals earlier this week – our fridge needs repair and after 3 phone calls to service dept and being on hold for 10 mins each time without getting through I vented on both their Facebook and Twitter pages and got resolution straight away

  2. Prakky says:

    Did you think it a bit poor, David, that you had to resort to public venting before they handled the situation adequately?

  3. robynverrall says:

    I had a terrible experience going into a Telstra shop (driving 300km) to have my new phone fixed, I vented my anger on twitter and Telstra twittered me back, direct messaged me and emailed me all the information the shop (where I purchased the phone) had denied existed. I had also spent over an hour on the phone before going to the store which in itself is terribly frustrating and as I say to them they are the only ones getting paid for the time wasting, I am self employed so while I am on the phone to them no one pays me..I now direct any service Q & A’s on twitter to specific providers and found this by far a more friendlier, faster and customer satisfying experience. Customer service is not like it use to be, they appear not to be taught any.

  4. Prakky says:

    Thanks for sharing that story Robyn. I think the other useful thing about platforms like Twitter is that you can check them first to see if perhaps your query / issue has been answered for somebody else already.

  5. Telstra has been active on Twitter since July 2009. Over 400 days ago we took our digital services 24×7 because our customers expect us to be available where they are online, when they need us. You’ll find us at:

    Facebook –
    Twitter –
    CrowdSupport –
    Google+ –

    See you online soon,
    Monty H, Telstra

    1. Prakky says:

      Thanks for contributing Monty, nice to have your input.

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