Customer Services RepImage: Andy Newson /

Customer service“, pretty much the number one key factor for any business, but so often just the words displayed on a sign above a shop counter where you typically go to get refunds or exchanges. The customer has, and always will be, king. As consumers we can vote with our feet when we’re unhappy and choose another provider. There are plenty of reports that’ll highlight that an unhappy consumer is more likely to tell ten of their friends or family than a happy experience. With the advent of the online age, more and more people are sharing their dissatisfaction via electronic means. Correctly channelled this can be a powerful tool and you should learn to embrace it and use it to your advantage.

An example situation

My mobile phone contract has very recently come to an end. This doesn’t mean my service has been terminated, but that I’m now no longer bound to my operator, Vodafone. A service (as per the tariff I signed up to originally) continues to be provided to me, but I’m free to leave with 30 days notice. I’m currently holding out for the 4th generation iPhone to be released. I haven’t looked for a new contract because I know my negotiating power to get the new iPhone either free, or at the very least a price that’s more acceptable to me, is greater if I have no existing long term contract in place. In the period between my currently lapsed contract and the new iPhone coming available I don’t want to pay more than I have to for my mobile tariff, so I spent time researching available tariffs on my operator’s web-site, and after finding a suitable tariff I picked up the phone and got in touch with Vodafone.

The service I received wasn’t terrible, but well below an acceptable standard. The call agent who handled my query didn’t appear to be very interested and whilst they answered my questions, the information they gave me just didn’t seem to stack up. Whilst under contract I was paying £45pcm. Times change, as do the available plans and their prices. For essentially the same provision (with just a third less minutes) I’d identified a 30 day rolling contract option for just £20pcm. When the Vodafone representative told me I wasn’t allowed to downgrade my tariff by anything more than £5 per calendar month (whilst I held out for the new iPhone) I was both shocked and frustrated.

Under the circumstances outlined to me, I had three choices:

  1. Remain as I was, paying £45pcm until such time as the new handset is available.
  2. Choose a new plan for £5pcm less, but with significantly less services.
  3. Cancel my provision, get a “Pay as you go” sim (and a new number) and then when the new iPhone is released, get a new contract (and therefore yet another new number).

Naturally, I moaned to my work colleagues about how I felt I was getting a raw deal. I also mentioned it to a couple of my friends. Remember, the unhappy customer is more likely to spread bad news than good. None of the three options were viable for me, so it was at this point that I put into play my alternative strategy.

Put your issue in the public domain

Facebook is a huge social platform. This said, it can also be quite a closed platform. Most people communicate within their own groups, but businesses are starting to create their own pages. General users often become “Fans” of such pages since the businesses operating them promote their products and services often using the special offers to hook people in. Once connected, the business is in a position wohereby they have an open communication line with their consumer (and the consumer to the business).

Twitter, for me, has significantly more impact as a social platform. It’s openness means anything you publish can be read by anyone else, be they registered with Twitter or not. Many businesses are recognising this and are putting in place web relations teams. These teams set up filters to alert them (by keywords) to people mentioning their products and services. By keeping their eyes open to this very public forum, they are able to react and response to their consumers quickly and effectively.

I was already aware of Vodafone having a web relations team in place, so rather than just tweeting my negative experiences, I decided to contact them directly, but in a very public manner.

Tweet to Vodafone

Within a very short period of time I received a reply. It was empathetic, reassuring and provided a different medium by which to get in touch o that my concerns could be addressed. I composed a short message outlining the key details, why I felt my options were unreasonable and what I was hoping could be achieved Within a short period of time I received a phone call from Vodafone – the agent was professional, apologetic and extremely helpful. I’d been given incorrect information and they wanted to address it as well as solve my query. By the end of the call I’d been moved to a plan exactly as I wanted, with the options I desired in place for later.

Keeping the balance in your favour

This is not the only time I’ve used Twitter to resolve a situation. There are several other examples I could give, but in all cases the process remains the same. Put your dissatisfaction out there clearly and in a non-confrontational manner. Wherever possible identify and target the business you’re affected by directly. If, like me, you choose to use Twitter, make your reply public (put a . before the @username) so that all of your followers can see your issue. Some may retweet it and the last thing a business wants is for bad service to be heard about widely.

Be clear in your communications. Summarise your key points, and try as much as possible to keep detail relevant – it’s all too easy to go off on unnecessary tangents that can either confuse or dilute the gravity of what you want to convey.

Give feedback

It’s important to remember that once your situation has been resolved that you feedback just as publicly as your initial unhappy self. Not only does this ensure those following can see your situation has been rectified, it’s only fair on the business you had beef with in the first place. We all know you shouldn’t have had to resort to these methods in the first place; however all business, despite their best intentions, end up employing bad eggs from time to time. It’s only through our feedback they become aware of the problem areas of their business and are in a position to do something about it.

Traditional means

Of course, not every business has a online presence. It’s a growing phenomenon and this can only mean a better deal for us consumers. If you don’t get a response to your social networking comments then you might need to resort to the more traditional methods of complaint. Most people are aware of these and experience varying levels of success depending upon those they encounter whilst using them; typically, in-person, by telephone or in writing. In my personal experience I’ve found the online encounters tend to be conducted more professionally and with less effort on my part than via the traditional methods. I, sadly, feel that this is in part due to those traditional methods being conducted behind closed doors. I hope that with time, the more savvy staff whom work on web relations teams will start to have influence over some of the more starched personnel I’ve had the displeasure of communicating with in the traditional customer service path. My success ratio online far exceeds that of encounters of the traditional path. I hope that I’ve inspired you to enjoy the same.

Questions and comments

If you’ve any questions about the processes I use, or any comments surrounding them, perhaps a situation or two of your own you’d like to share, then please feel free to leave a message in the comment box below.

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