How (Not) to Handle an Upset Customer Using Social Media

Sep 30th, 2012No Comments

Social media is a megaphone for irate and disgruntled customers. The good news – it also gives businesses the opportunity to find those angry customers and make them happy again, then reap the rewards of goodwill and positive word of mouth afterwards.

I was one of those disgruntled people sounding off on social media earlier this summer. I missed my first flight ever, departing from Austin on Southwest Airlines on an early morning flight.  There were hordes of people in line and only two TSA ID checkers – I’ve never before or since seen lines that long at the airport.

Right after I missed my flight (and got rebooked on another much later one), I tweeted my frustration.  The response from Southwest Airlines and the Austin Airport is a study in contrasts – of how to effectively handle a complaining customer and how NOT to.

First, both Southwest and the airport were “listening” or monitoring over Twitter, and both responded quickly. Those are the first key steps of handling a disgruntled customer.

But the kudos stop there for the Austin airport. Instead of acknowledging the double-barreled inconvenience of both the missed flight and of waiting in a security line for over an hour, the airport pretty much blamed me for not arriving early enough. As this New York Times article advises, don’t blame the customer, even if you think they are wrong.

The screenshot above also shows another irate customer, who saw my complaint on Twitter and accused the airport of lying about the TSA staffing situation.  My guess is that the airport didn’t handle his complaint very well either.

By contrast, Southwest Airlines employee Verity Kugelmann tweeted “Sorry to hear about your experience! Can you DM me more information?”  What a relief and breath of fresh air. Why? First of all, Verity was an actual person, not a big company or its logo. Secondly, she used the word “sorry” and seemed sincerely interested in helping me.

The bulk of our Direct Message conversation is below:

I gave her the information she asked for, and she followed up with the triple crown of customer complaint turnaround: apology, remedy and improvement.  Well, maybe not instant improvement, but Verity said she’d share my concerns with the airport, which I appreciate.

The Austin airport and in fact, any business, can learn more about turning complaints into positive word of mouth by following the advice of Andy Sernovitz in his Social Media Examiner article “10 Ways to Deal With Upset Customers Using Social Media“.

As for Verity and Southwest, yes, I received my discount and I’ve used it already.  I love Southwest and fly it whenever I can.  I just wish they flew to more destinations.

Have you ever complained over social media about a business?  How did they respond?



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