By the time you’re done reading this post, you’re going to have a whole new outlook on Twitter. It is, as you know, both a great way to let people know what’s happening in your life as well as an excellent place to discover what’s happening in the world around you. As incredibly useful as those functions are, I’ve discovered that Twitter is also a powerful platform for something else: complaining. I’m being totally serious here. More specifically, Twitter is great for consumers who want to air their grievances with large corporations who wouldn’t normally be able to get their message across. In fact, I think customers complaining about brands on Twitter is good for all parties involved (I’ll get to that later). Thanks to Twitter, the proverbial “little guy” isn’t quite so little any more.
The Internet essentially slaps a digital version of one of those “how’s my driving” bumper stickers you see on semi trucks on the back of every company in the world. These days, businesses receive public feedback whether they want it or not and different companies deal with this reality in different ways. The smart ones have brand ambassadors and social media liaisons trained to field customer feedback and who proactively do what they can to turn customer frowns upside down. Dumb companies do exactly the opposite, ignoring the conversation that is happening around them instead of participating. I’d find it pretty hard to believe that any major company these days is ignorant of the impact social media can have on their bottom line. Sometimes by saying nothing you’re actually saying quite a lot.
The following is not only a case study in digital customer service and a wake-up call for large brands, but also a tutorial for consumers who want to take part in the customer service revolution happening on Twitter in real-time even as you read this. After describing for you a situation in which I used Twitter to complain about an experience with a major hotel chain and the outcome thereof, I’ll share with you why I think complaining on Twitter is a good thing for everyone and follow up with some best practices for both consumers and companies dealing with this issue.
How Twitter Landed Me in the Executive Suite
Last October I was in Chicago for a few days attending a communications seminar. The venue was pretty nice and I was happy to be staying at the fairly plush Westin Lombard which is just west of the city. I checked in to my room feeling pretty happy. It was clean, had a good view and I pictured myself being able to get a good night’s sleep. Alas, that was not to be.
As the clock neared midnight, and with a full business schedule on my plate the next day, the room next to me erupted with disturbing sounds from a group of 6-7 early teens. It literally sounded like they were playing some kind of game with a golf ball that kept hitting the wall. Clearly these kids had been turned loose without parental supervision to live it up for the night in their own private room (it turns out they were participating in a hockey tournament). Over the next few hours they ran down the hall knocking on doors and running off, shouting about getting drunk and yelling about who should make out with who.
Obviously, I wasn’t happy and I did what any guest would do. I called the front desk and they sent up their “security guy” who simply knocked on the door, befriended the kids, told them to keep it down and left. That didn’t work. After another 30 minutes of noise I called the desk again to complain and they promised to send up their security guy to take control of the situation. This time, apparently trying to remain on good terms with his new buddies, he blamed the “people next door” for trying to ruin their fun (I could hear his words through the thin walls) and again simply asked them to keep quiet. Needless to say, I didn’t get to sleep for another 2 hours or so. All I had to go on was the fact that the desk clerks would notify the manager on duty in the morning… not even a complimentary breakfast voucher.
Since I had had a pretty miserable night, I decided to let the world know, via Twitter. Here’s what I tweeted:
@StarwoodBuzz staying at Westin Lombard. NOISY kids next door – took 2 calls and a desk visit to quiet. Losing sleep. Terrible. AVOID!!!!!!!
Starwood is actually Westin’s parent company. The first thing they did was ask for a confirmation number, which I gave them while filling them in on a new development:
@StarwoodBuzz confirm num XXXXXXXXX. Slept terrible last night (see last tweet). Then, the alarm went off at 3:50! Thanks Westin Lombard
I went on (rather crankily):
@StarwoodBuzz if the point of staying at the Westin Lombard is to sleep, that did not happen and I am not happy. Could barely wake up
But I wasn’t done yet:
@StarwoodBuzz took video of noise coming through paper thin walls past midnight at Westin Lombard. Will post on YouTube for all to see soon
Finally, to top it all off I added:
@StarwoodBuzz Thanks to lack of sleep at Westin Lombard, now missing the first event of my conference today. Super 6 would’ve been better
As you can imagine, these statements are just about the last things an executive wants to have blasted out to thousands of Twitter followers (just under 2,000 at the time). The next thing I knew, the manager of the Westin Lombard was on the phone with me telling me that a manager from the New York office had called and wanted her to do whatever she could to fix the situation. Apparently, the desk clerks had not even alerted her to the situation the night before as they had promised to do.
Before complaining on Twitter, the desk clerks did the bare minimum probably because they thought I was just “a little nobody” and they didn’t think anyone would know the difference no matter how my issue was resolved. After the parent company found out that I was telling a significant amount of people about my unpleasant stay via Twitter, the locals were suddenly compelled to gear up for action.
Before I knew it my stay had been completely comped, I was being moved into the Executive Suite for the remainder of my time at the hotel and was offered a free hot breakfast (which would not have been cheap and I made good use of). I also gained access to the private lounge at the top of the building (ahhh finally, some peace and quiet). The Executive Suite was very spacious and included in-room workout equipment. When I came in for the first time I was greeted by a nice Westin-branded nature presentation on the TV and my bags had been transferred from the old room having been neatly and carefully arranged on the floor.
Question: Is there any way this would ever, ever have happened had I not complained on Twitter? Answer: Not a chance since I wasn’t (and still am not) a celebrity and since I didn’t look like a VIP customer (having rented a regular room). After I had the attention of the management (and their management) the rest of my stay was a breeze. I made sure to let my Twitter followers know that the Westin had finally kicked into gear and had fixed the situation in a way I felt satisfied with. Here’s what I said:
@StarwoodBuzz Weston Lombard went out of their way to help us get a better nights sleep last night (still extra tired tho). Thx Kelly/Julie
Complaining on Twitter Benefits Everyone
The story above is a perfect illustration of how Twitter enabled me to interact with a major brand on a whole new level and make a bad situation better by complaining publically. While it obviously worked out well for me in the end, I’d say Starwood came out looking better to the public as well. Consumers are generally smart enough to realize that the world isn’t perfect and therefore companies, even ones known for being luxurious, will have snafus. It’s how companies respond to those less-than-perfect situations that make them shine or decline. Is it an opportunity or a nuisance? In the story above, Starwood took the opportunity to become a shining example of how a large company can effectively engage customers in a positive way using social media.
I imagine there have been many similar situations that have popped up in hotels around the world where customers checked out feeling highly displeased instead of feeling like the company made a serious effort to make things right. If more people would use their social currency to expose bad experiences with large companies I think the world would be a better place. Ironically, most big brands probably won’t go out of their way to fix a problem for you until you become a problem for them (in this case on the public relations front).
Best Practices for Consumers Complaining on Twitter
- Be responsible and don’t overdo it. Only complain about legitimate issues.
- Express genuine frustration but don’t use foul language (you won’t need it).
- @Mention the corporate Twitter account (assuming there is one to mention).
- Go as high up the corporate food chain as possible (i.e. parent company).
- Don’t be a jerk (don’t mention specific people unless it’s in a positive light).
- Include photos or video (if applicable) to prove your point.
- When an issue is resolved, thank the company publicly.
Best Practices for Brands Fielding Complaints on Twitter
- Employ social media monitoring software to tap into brand conversations.
- Respond to complaints in a timely manner (catch it while it’s happening if possible).
- Verify that a person is a real customer before taking action (DM).
- Go above and beyond the call of duty–even if a person has a small following, people can easily search keywords related to your brand.
- Once an issue as been resolved, ask the customer if they were satisfied and if they would mind tweeting about it.
I’ve been talking up the pros of Twitter complaining for both consumers and companies but what are the cons? For one thing, it’s a possibility that a person’s followers could become disenchanted by too much complaining and hit the unfollow button. Actually, I like to see someone I follow complain if it’s for a good enough cause. It’s good to see someone sticking it to the man. In fact, if it’s someone I know in person or even a Twitter celebrity I’m all the more interested in the complaint. Now if all that person is doing is complaining, then yes, I’d get very sick of it (hence consumer rule #1 above).
It’s also possible that complaining on Twitter using a non-personal account (ie corporate account) or even a personal account would likely be looked upon in a negative light by your supervisors since you are a defacto extension of your company. As a general rule, just use common sense (hey, I’m not a lawyer). What other pros/cons am I missing? I’m sure you’ll leave a comment to let me know.
If you’re a major company you absolutely must take advantage of the myriad professional social media tools available today. Why miss any free opportunities to create new brand champions and convert bad publicity into good? If you’re a consumer and you have a Twitter account, don’t be afraid to do a little public complaining from time to time using the rules I’ve outlined above. You really have nothing to lose.
How do you feel about complaining on Twitter?