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HOW TO HANDLE IRRITATING CUSTOMERS - A MASTERCLASS

BY ROB MCGOWAN, STRATEGY DIRECTOR

Like most Twitter users, my interaction with brands on there (when it happens) is about 90% me being annoyed at them. Actually make that 99%.

There is probably one positive brand-focussed tweet in my timeline but it might be tricky to find amidst the ire I am currently reserving for GWR (seriously…have you used the “app” – and I use the term in the loosest possible sense – recently?).

Social definitely has a role to play for the marketer, maybe not the game-changing organic conversation that was initially hoped for, but a role nonetheless.

However, the problem with giving the public a voice to converse directly with you, particularly one that is hidden behind a keyboard, is that a lot of the time the public wants nothing more than to hurl abuse.

For those that man the social channels for lots of brands the job must feel fairly thankless. Maybe that’s to blame for the often unimaginative responses handed back to irritated customers by frazzled employees who thought their role as social media co-ordinator was genuinely an opportunity to create an ongoing conversation with an engaged consumer who loves the brand.  

So, when brands get their response to the hordes of pissed-off Tweeters right it deserves to be praised.

No-one would have expected it, but Southern Rail managed to garner a bit of positive PR recently when Eddie their 15 year old work experience student took over their Twitter feed.

A long-time the poster child for consumer rage, Southern Rail got a brief reprieve from the vitriol thanks to Eddie’s naïve charm and witty responses to the random questions suddenly flung his way by a newly-engaged Twitter following.

He did such a good job Scotrail offered him further work experience and the British Transport Police described him as “smashing it!”. Rumours he’s a chatbot are as yet unconfirmed.

So, to me.

On a Saturday morning a few weeks ago I was in my local café/bar, The Velo Lounge. Having ordered a cappuccino, I was settling down with The Guardian Saturday edition and wondering if it was possible to be more middle class.

My smugness was shattered however when a genuine first-world problem was placed in front of me. The cappuccino I ordered had turned in to a latte. This is always guaranteed to raise a completely irrational level of rage in me. Being British I decided against speaking to them in person and instead took a video of me stirring hot milk and tweeted it to the Loungers complaining that it wasn’t going to cut the mustard thank you very much.

Ha! I thought. That’s got them.

About 3 minutes later I got a reply from their Operations Director who agreed with my assessment completely and said he would look into what he could do right away.

As I was still in the café, in-front of the people he may well be taking it up with currently I started to feel uncomfortable and decided it might be time to leave. The speedy response and the fact there was an apology along with a promise to look in to it impressed me and I decided that actually the level of rage the latte had induced in me said more about me than it did anything else.

The following morning at around 8am I got another direct message from the Operations Director, containing a short video of him training the staff on how to make a proper cappuccino.

On a Sunday.

At 8am.

It’s fair to say I now felt a mixture of shame and guilt, and began researching how to delete tweets from the timeline.

Then came the next tweet which contained a voucher for free coffee for a month.

Bravo. If that isn’t an example of a phenomenal response to a slightly irritating customer then I don’t know what is.

So, Eddie I salute you. To The Loungers, I have to say I am impressed (and a bit embarrassed).

And to everyone who mans the frontline social channels for unloved brands – chin up, we know (most of the time) it isn’t you, it’s us.