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Invasive Social Media or Great Customer Service?
Posted on January 17th 2011
Last Friday the Living Social Daily Deal for Detroit featured a Concealed Weapon License. My immediate reaction was hilarity, tweeting about the deal with thoughts of the 'state of Detroit.' I've visited and lived in the Metro Detroit area several times over the years and my impression of the city, post-government bailouts for the auto and banking industry, quietly provokes images of the stage set for RoboCop. My remarks were intended to be a reflection my perception of the deteriorating economy and situation in Detroit. Oblivious and without consideration to the recent violence that took place in Tucson, Arizona.
Since I spend a lot of time on LinkedIn and opt-in for features such as detailed tracking of who's viewed my profile, I was able to see that a pair of Living Social Consumer Advocates had been checking out my profile. I didn't make any connection between my tweet and Twitter profile (which lists my LinkedIn profile as my website) and the random occurance of Living Social folks.
About 8 hours after my cynical Tweet I received an email from a Living Social Customer Advocate:
Living Social's customer service department monitored and noted my tweet, interpreted it as a negative remark against their brand, reacted quickly to find an off-Twitter or non-public means of contacting me (the consumer) and rectifying the situation. This all happened within 8 hours of my content, at least 4 of which were not standard business hours (local time). Given the popularity of Living Social I am amazed at this response time and the individual attention given by their 'consumer advocate' staff.
Just a quick and light technical explanation why this whole event was even an issue: Several social coupon sites are actual businesses, not just some bootstrapped daily-updated application. There's a schedule, queued deals for given regions, emails, tweets and other social communication around a deal for a given city. A lot of these processes are automated once the business relationship between Living Social and the company offering a deal are struck. Like any other communication on- or offline, the course of current events is not predicted when setting up an automated process. The notification I received at 3a-ish about the new deal was also automated. If a social coupon site like Living Social was obligated (by law or user expectations) to update the availability of their daily specials for every region depending on current events around the world, the business couldn't function. A cupcake offer in New York City may be useless or offend a diabetic in Portland. It's not anyone's fault - the offers are targeted at a region for a given time period days if not weeks in advance.
I think this customer service process is stellar. The desire to serve the customer Living Social has gone above and beyond to ensure my happiness and satisfaction with their brand. However my initial reaction was frustration and worry that this communication was a violation of my privacy.
Where do we draw the line on using social media to service your brand's reputation and your customer's needs? Should the handling or defusing of a situation around a brand remain public? What other brands (whether you manage them or not) are reaching directly to users, taking issues out of public view to be addressed?
My initial reaction (lasted 2-3 seconds tops) when I received this email was "Wait, how'd they get my email address?" There was a doubt in my mind that I had provided any information to Living Social or opted-in for any communication from them via email. What I am describing (and advocating) as a great customer service experience could come across as an invasion of privacy.
What about privacy? Let's try and play devil's advocate for a moment. Did Living Social have the right to send me email? If they were concerned about a Tweet, should their brand managers addressed me through that media channel instead of directly through another? I've provided details of myself on LinkedIn for people interested in contacting me for professional reasons - the B2B channel to Nick, if you will. If Twitter users want to talk to me, shouldn't they talk to me on Twitter (and no where else, regardless of what links, APIs, third party applications and content I link to and from Twitter)?
If you post information online, you accept that it will be visible. Depending on the application, platform, means/methods and privacy settings of where you've posted information, it will be visible to the internet or just a defined circle of connections and contacts. My wonderful customer experience from Living Social didn't ask I buy anything, didn't solicit me to try some service they offer and it didn't even address whether I was a Living Social customer or not. The Living Social Consumer Advocate simply said sorry and wanted to be sure everything between me and the brand was cool. And we are, cool.