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9/11/2013
04:05 PM
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3 Lessons From British Airways Twitter Flap

Does your business know how to handle disgruntled customers who air grievances on social media? Here's how to nip bad PR in the bud.



10 Twitter Power Tips
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10 Twitter Power Tips
Earlier this summer, a video showing a FedEx driver throwing packages into a delivery vehicle surfaced, sparking outrage on the Internet. Just two days after the video was posted, the company's SVP of human resources, Shannon Brown, took to YouTube to admonish that driver's actions and assert that he is "no longer working for FedEx." That quick response drew praise from around the Web -- an example of good customer service.

But an example of bad customer service caught the eye of many last week. Twitter user Hasan Syed, who uses the handle @HVSVN, spent $1,000 to promote a tweet in New York City and the United Kingdom slamming British Airways. The tweet, which was seen by nearly 77,000 people, according to a screen shot Syed posted, read: "Don't fly @BritishAirways. Their customer service is horrendous." Syed was frustrated over British Airways' inaction after losing his father's luggage, he later said.

When British Airways finally did reply to Syed's tweets, it apologized for the delay and informed him that the company's "Twitter feed is open 0900-1700 GMT." Syed's reply: "How does a billion dollar corp only have 9-5 social media support for a business that operates 24/7?"

[ How is Twitter eating Facebook's lunch? Read: 4 Ways Twitter Is Beating Facebook. ]

Mark Grindeland, chief marketing officer at customer experience solution provider TeleTech, said that social media has changed the way companies do business. To be successful, businesses need to adjust their mindset and practices.

"Social media has challenged everything -- businesses are being disrupted and transformed," he said. "Customers play a huge role in actively shaping how products are made, how companies operate and how the truth is told, all thanks to social media. This blurs the lines of customer service, and businesses need to change."

Here's a look at three strategies businesses should adopt to promote better customer service using social media.

1. Be Present

One of British Airways' main faults in the situation with Syed is that the company was not available around the clock to field customer complaints, Grindeland said.

"They were treating social media like it was a retail store, and as a result it took them a long time for the tweets to hit their radar," he said. "People on the social Web don't have hours. A company has to understand that they need to be able to respond to customers 24/7."

Grindeland said that many businesses turn to social listening software that picks up on negative comments and messages and alerts businesses when there might be a situation they need to address.

2. Be Proactive

The worst thing a company can do with negative posts -- whether on Facebook, Twitter or elsewhere -- is ignore them, Grindeland said. "With British Airways, they didn't respond to the ad or the messages right away, and it made the company look stupid and callous by ignoring the customer, Grindeland said. "That created bad PR for them."

Once Syed's ad started popping up in users' feeds, others replied to him to share their British Airways nightmare story, whether it was a cancelled flight, lost luggage or a downgraded seat due to overbooking. Nipping a situation in the bud helps ensure it doesn't get bigger than necessary, Grindeland said. He commended FedEx for its quick response to a situation, which ensured that the problem not only didn't get out of hand, but was resolved as well.

3. Be Empathetic

In the FedEx video that addressed the package handling incident, Brown stated that the company was disappointed, that the situation was unacceptable, and that it apologizes to its customers for the actions of the individual. Grindeland says that when businesses address a situation on social media, it's important to do so empathetically.

Grindeland described another situation in which a customer was disappointed with a business's customer service. The customer posted a rant on Twitter expressing his frustration and describing his bad customer service experience. Within minutes, the company replied to the customer, apologized to him and invited him to talk offline so they could resolve the problem. Grindeland said that after their offline conversation, the customer went back to Twitter to post about how great his experience was.

"This company used the platform to show concern and not get defensive about the situation or start a fight in the social sphere," he said. "By taking the time to connect with them offline, they were rewarded with an unsolicited post about how great the company was."

Grindeland said that being present, empathetic and proactive will help businesses adjust to the new ways social media is being used for customer service. "Companies really need to understand that social media is part of the business landscape now. They need to have a strategy, escalation and community guidelines, and tell their community managers what to do and what not to do," he said. "Businesses also need to understand the etiquette of social media, and behave within that etiquette. Use the medium themselves as it's being used by their customers."

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