How Social Media Has Changed the Way Customers Demand Service

In a previous post, I talked about how social media can be a very effective tool for improving customer service as it allows for direct customer engagement. While this aspect social media is usually very beneficial for most businesses, it can also turn ugly when it’s not handled correctly. Social media gives people to ability to become broadcasters of information to the rest of society at literally the click of a button. Lately, people have been discovering that social media is one of the most effective ways to capture the attention of businesses whose traditional channels of customer service have proved unsuccessful. These companies really get the point when this information starts to go viral. Ironically, both of my examples have to do with airline companies, but the same principle applies to businesses in all industries.

Example #1—United Airlines and the viral YouTube video.

Back in 2009, David Carroll created a music video on YouTube with his fellow band members detailing the story of his unsuccessful attempt to get compensated by United Airlines for his pricey guitar that was broken by baggage handlers. After nine months of failed attempts, Carroll turned to social media to tell everyone else about his story—and it definitely worked. Within the first day, his video “United Breaks Guitars” got more than 150,000 views and today it has more than 10 million views.

United Airlines contacted Carroll within the first day of the video’s release to try and make things right; however, it did little to dissipate the major PR crises caused by this video. United Airlines learned a lot from this situation, and other businesses can too. Go the extra mile to provide customers with the service they are asking for or they will find another way to get your attention—potentially involving millions of other people in the process. Whether they use YouTube, blogs, Facebook, or Twitter to blast the information, one way or another, it could end up producing more negative perceptions of your business than you would ever want. So don’t take the chance—doing the right thing in the first place is always a better move than trying to repair the damage after it’s too late.

Example #2 – Southwest Airlines and the Weight Loss Blogger

While Southwest Airlines responded much faster in this situation than United Airlines did in the previous example, it still shows how even one negative situation can be brought to the attention of millions of people with the use of social media. Popular weight loss blogger, Kenlie Tiggeman, was about to board a return flight on Southwest Airlines when gate agents caused a scene in front of dozens of people about their weight making them unfit to fly. When asked about specific weight policies, the airline employees couldn’t give a straight answer that would back up their claims. Just like any clever blogger would do, Tiggeman started recording the incident on her cell phone and subsequently wrote about the incident on her blog. Soon after, the story was picked up by the mainstream media and was spread through CNN, MSNBC, CBS News New York, and others. Southwest did provide her with free flight vouchers soon after the incident, however, the airline still did get a bad wrap for the way their employees acted towards their customers.

So what can we learn from these two examples? Don’t ever assume that ignoring customers or treating them with less than they expect will make the problem go away. As we can see from both of these situations, the problem escalated to something bigger than these Airline companies every though they would. However, if an incident happens to arise, act quickly to make amends. One way or another, frustrated customers will find a way to get the service they’re looking for. So instead of letting social media become your business’s worst enemy with viral news, use it as a proactive tool to keep your customers satisfied in the first place.