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Companies That Need to Improve Their Customer Service

Nearly a third of brands responded to tweets I sent them over a six-month period, a large increase from the paltry 6% in my previous unscientific study.  But that number is still surprisingly low, considering that most brands have a Customer Service department that responds in other channels. Why does it continue to be OK to ignore customer comments and complaints on Twitter when it would not be considered OK to do so on the phone or via e-mail?
Let’s look at the 13 brands that did not respond in my most recent study; the 6 brands that did are chronicled here

1. Hilton Hotels: When I asked both American Airlines and Hilton Hotels about a confusing co-branded e-mail offer I received, only American responded. Furthermore, Hilton has not responded to more than a half dozen other Twitter comments from me.  I have since learned that Hilton has a separate handle for service-related inquiries, but therein lies a danger: How is the customer supposed to know which handle to mention? I always default to the main brand handle and assume the company will figure it out. Only some companies do.

2. Degree Deodorant & Unilever: I thought I’d mention the clever advertising I saw in my local supermarket to both Degree and their parent company, Unilever. While their packaging says to “Buy 2 & Save”, the price of two is exactly double the price of one. Sadly, neither Degree nor Unilever responded to my tweet.
3. Gillette: Staying in the Personal Care department, I contacted Gillette after noticing a confusing ad for a competing product on the razor blades I purchased. No response.

4. Walmart: After a particularly infuriating experience at my local Walmart, I vented my frustration on Twitter to no avail.
5. Sam’s Club: Apparently Sam’s Club, which is owned by Walmart, follows the same Twitter rules. In this instance, I acknowledge that the tweet is a little tongue-in-cheek, but it was indeed very timely as CVS had just announced that it was stopping sales of tobacco products in its stores.


6-10.  Sometimes you just have a simple question that requires a simple answer, but you’re not sure where to turn. There has been much discussion as to whether Twitter is the customer service of last resort, or perhaps that of first resort. For me, it is often the channel of first resort because it’s quick and easy, and doesn’t require me to hunt through a brand’s website for contact information. Though I’ve highlighted Facebook and Yahoo below, similarly simple questions to BMW, ExxonMobil, and Diamondback (a bicycle company) went unanswered as well.
11. 5 Gum (Wrigley): It’s always disappointing when one of your favorite brands ignores your cry for help. In this case, 5 Gum did just that – a surprising move given their noteworthy Facebook marketing campaigns. While I didn’t ask a direct question, I purposely left an opening for a response with the praise at the beginning of the tweet.


12. Sports Illustrated: I’ve noticed that newspapers and magazines, while adept at posting tweets, don’t appear to employ anyone to respond to them. Should they be held to a different standard than other brands because they are in the publishing business? I don’t think so, because they are just as dependent on customer loyalty as any other industry. In this particular instance, a simple retweet would have sufficed; a thank you would have been even better. Note too that the Chicago Cubs ignored the tweet too.
13. McDonald’s: The only repeat offender on the list, McDonald’s has made headlines recently with an excellent video series in Canada that answers customer inquiries (like “Why does the food in commercials look so much better than in real life?”) in a transparent and honest way. I just wish they’d pay more attention  to their Twitter feed, especially if they are going to make a big promise in a major magazine advertisement. As a massive international company they must get thousands of tweets a day, but that doesn’t lessen their obligation to interact with their customers and address questions and complaints.

The first step to succeeding in customer service on Twitter is to actually respond to your customers. Nothing is more frustrating for a loyal customer than to have their question, complaint or compliment ignored – the equivalent of letting the phone ring for hours on end. Each type of interaction is important in its own way: 

  • Questions: Twitter is a fast and easy way to get questions answered, but only if both sides are communicating effectively. Those who don’t get answers to their questions must seek alternate channels or never have their situation resolved.
  • Compliments: These are the easiest responses; a simple thank-you or even just a Favorite or retweet will do. Remember that these are customers that have made a conscious decision to say something nice about your brand to their followers. That’s better than any paid advertising.
  • Complaints: Most brands fear complaints, but they shouldn’t. Many complainers are looking for attention and/or problem resolution, and when you give one or both to them, you can often convert a negative situation into a positive one. I’ve seen countless instances of angry customers later tweeting about the same brand’s amazing customer service.

I remember as a kid writing letters to companies  and beaming  with excitement when I’d receive a letter back (usually with a coupon), even if it was just a form letter. It was confirmation that someone was on the other end listening. It’s that same basic communication that is required on Twitter, only faster and more frequent.  Companies that understand this will have loyal customers for life. Those that continue to ignore it do so at their own risk, especially in industries where switching costs are low.

Join The Conversation

  • Mar 26 Posted 3 years ago two2_tango

    Dan - you can't have it both ways - you can't tout the results of an admittedly flawed, unscientific study, especially when most of the "questions" you ask are not legitimate customer service issues, and then report this as a study. Why not just title this piece "why won't anyone talk to me?"

    Surely you know the difference between someone venting about a brand, a product or just trying to be witty on Twitter versus and actual customer service inquiry or complaint?

    Asking Giellette why they make a new product when the very picture you're posting TELLS you why they made the new product is not a customer service inquiry. It's snark. If you wanted an answer, you might have asked them directly - "What's the difference between the Fusion and Mach 3 razors?"

    5Gum - you basically just complained about one of their flavors. That's not a customer service inquiry or issue - sure, 5Gum could reply "try one of our flavors instead", but why should they respond to your statement that you don't like pineapple? You didn't ask about any other flavors, you just announced to the world that you don't like pineapple. What is 5Gum supposed to help you with there?

    Walmart - you'd love to meet the person who made a policy that you can't get change for $1. Again, not a customer service issue. Were you expecting an introduction to someone?

    Degree - again, not a customer service issue. It's a snarky comment about a price error you saw at a local store.

    Sam's Club - again, not a real customer service issue - it's a snarky comment about signage in a store.

    McDonald's - almost a legitimate customer service issue bordering on a snarky comment. If you really wanted help, you might have given a store location and ask why they are habitually out of skim milk there, but I'm pretty sure it's not a system-wide problem about getting skim milk with your coffee.

    In none of these cases did you ask what a reasonable person would consider a customer service question that indicated you had an issue and needed assistance to solve. Twitter is full of snark and people taking pot shots at brands trying to gain attention for themselves.

    In any of these cases, sure, a brand could go above and beyond and engage with you, but in most cases, why would they engage with someone who is just making fun of them? The fact that they didn't engage with you doesn't mean that THEY need to improve their customer service - it means that they looked at your tweets and determined that you didn't have an actual problem that they could help you with.

    Calling this a customer service survey is a misnomer, and not fair to any of the brands represented. You ambush them with vague, often snarky comments and then expect them to treat you like a customer with a problem, when in none of these cases do you actually present a problem you need their help with.

    Here are a few customer service "issues" by your definition on the Discover site that went unaddressed - I guess Discover should be added to this list too?

    Seriously ? First the CSR thinks Seoul, Korea is in Japan, then looks up NORTH Korea?

    I have one of the most annoying credit card companies. If I get one more call asking to pay my card thats due 04/04

  • Mar 25 Posted 3 years ago jnoche

    Some good examples, but several of them we're open ended and did not ask a direct question. For brands that is very grey and that is where deciding to engage or not comes into play. I would like to see this with direct questions and then see if they answer. For praise or a positive comments, brands see them and are happy to receive them but based on their overall volume and sentiment it may not be appropriate to retweet or share because that just creates frustration for those that still have unresolved issue. the very least of an acknowledgement should be done, I agree with that.

  • MJ Wesner's picture
    Mar 24 Posted 3 years ago MJ Wesner

    Sorry about that, Ryan - that article will be published tomorrow, so stay tuned!

  • Ryan Amirault's picture
    Mar 24 Posted 3 years ago Ryan Amirault

    The link to the companies doing social customer service well is not working:

    Can you repost? 

  • Lisapatb's picture
    Mar 24 Posted 3 years ago Lisapatb

    Hi Dan, I have had McDonald's tweet to me a few times, mostly from check-ins via Foursquare. Lowe's is the best at it from what I've experienced. 

    You would think they would have someone at these companies monoriting mentions 24/7. Why have a Twitter account if you are not going to answer questions from customers? It is the quickest way to get answers when a company responds there. Much better than waiting on the phone after going through many messages and push this and that button.

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