Customer experience the social media era

Social Media gives power to the people. Nowadays everybody can say whatever they want online and it could potentially reach a lot of people. United Airlines experienced this when they broke a guitar and didn’t compensate the musician for this (if you don’t know this story, make sure you check it out).

Social media dramatically changed how companies should deal with customer service.  Research (1) shows that people are more likely to share bad experiences than good ones. On the flip side 71% of consumers who have had a good social media service experience with a brand are likely to recommend it to others (2). And that’s worth a lot, because 75% of people who talk with peers about brands make decisions or overcome concerns based on those conversations (3). This makes word-of-mouth more powerful than most marketing campaigns (and guess what the ROI is of a recommendation by a friend…). 

I’m not the person who immediately posts an angry public social media post when I don’t agree with the service I receive. The main reason for this is that i know that behind every social media page is a person, or group of people, who truly want to help you. So, why don’t we all try to contact companies privately before we shout it off the rooftops?

Well, sometimes it seems the only way to get things done after trying it the ‘normal’ way. For example: I had a to buy a new phone mid July. I ordered it online via the Verizon website ($850) and could pick it up in the store 4 hours later. For some security reason, the phone didn’t arrive that day or the day after, which I found out after going to the store twice. The solution was simple though: the store employee canceled the online order (by phone) and I bought my new device there on the spot and just inserted my current sim-card. A good solution! 

A week later I checked my credit card statement and saw that Verizon processed the amount for the online order as well as my in-store purchase, so that was 2x $850… I contacted their customer service via the chat functionality on the website and explained the situation. They told me that I would get a refund. All good. When I checked my credit card statement a month later, I noticed that they still had not processed the refund. I had another chat and the customer service rep told me that I had to go to the store for the refund. At the store, the manager explained to me that they could not process these kind of refunds, as it was an online purchase, and that I had to call Verizon. I decided to make the phone call from the store (just in case) and was helped by a very friendly lady (Diane). I explained the situation again and Diane tried everything, including speaking with the store manager. After 50 minutes on the phone (yes, 50 minutes…) Diane told me she couldn’t solve it right away, but she would call back. Long story short: she left me a message the next day to say she was working on it. The day I received a text message with the same news (working on it). Then I didn’t hear anything anymore for the rest of September.

I decided to try the only channel I didn’t use yet: social media. I sent a PRIVATE message via Twitter, where I explained the situation again, indicating that the customer service group from the website, on the phone, and in store hadn’t been able to help me. This was on October 18th. I received a tweet back quickly, in which they showed empathy and promised that I would be called by someone from the store, because they had to solve it. The next day I got a Twitter message to check if the store manager contacted me. “No, I missed a call, but nobody left a message,” I wrote. They replied that someone would reach out about the progress and leave a message  in case I couldn’t pick up. On October 22, I sent another DM on Twitter that I had not heard from anyone yet. In this Twitter conversation, I shared a copy of the bank statement that showed that they charged 2 x $850. The day after they wrote back: “What we are experiencing seems to be a true glitch in our order processing system. We have submitted a ticket with our IT Team for assistance. As soon as I receive a response, I’ll follow up with you.”

It is now November and I haven’t heard anything since (and don’t have the $850 back either).

How could Verizon improve their customer experience?

1. Align departments and systems
If you have an online store, a physical point-of-sales, and separate customer service teams for chats, phone calls and social media, make sure they have the tools (a decent CRM will do) to share information with each other, so the customer doesn’t need to explain the same story over and over again.

2. Be quick
While figuring out internal processes, solve the issue for the customer within a decent amount of time. If I would have been Verizon, I would have given my customer the $850 back and figured it out internally later. Three months is not acceptable.

3. Give people a decent compensation
Compensate people when you screw up. A $50 discount on a bill is not a lot if you are holding $850 for more than three months, having your customer go the store three times and having them spend more than 3 hours with several customer service representatives (without solving the issue).

I’m the first one to admit that things can go wrong and that you should give companies time to solve issues before posting about it online. However, there are limits (especially when there is a lot of money involved). By the way, Mary Meeker’s Internet Report 2016 shows that 82% of customers stopped doing business with a company after bad experience (4). That’s an increase of 6%  since 2014, and will keep growing is my guess.

Do you have a cross-channel customer service process? Please share your best practices in the comments! 


  1. Zendesk: The good, the bad, and the ugly: the impact of customer service.
  2. Ambassador: Social Customer Service (Infographic) 
  3. Edelman: Edelman Trust Barometer 2016
  4. KPBC - Mary Meeker: Internet Trends Report 2016