Barb Staigerwald got an unexpected email one Saturday morning. Her hotel reservation in San Diego had been canceled without any explanation.
This wasn’t just any hotel room; it was a weekend at the Hotel Solamar during a large convention. Replacing it would be impossible.
After getting nowhere by phone, she fired up her PC and found the president and chief operating officer of the hotel chain that owned the Solamar, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, on Twitter.
A few polite tweets to @Niki_Leondakis later, Staigerwald had her room back, and an apology for the inconvenience.
A phone call or email may not be the best way of getting better customer service. Sometimes, social media like Facebook, Google+, Twitter or LinkedIn can do the trick.
Before I review each of the major social networks and see how they can help you extract better service from a company, a quick word or two about search. While many social networks are easily searchable through one of your favorite search engines, the sand shifts by the day.
What do I mean by that? Well, one day Twitter may be searchable on Google, the next day, it might not. Ditto with Facebook and LinkedIn.
I’ve found the best way to search for something on the network is while you’re on it (that’s especially true for Facebook). But there are other ways to find your way around, including search engines like Followerwonk, which searches Twitter.
Everyone is on Facebook, at least for now. That includes companies and individuals – among them, numerous customer service managers and CEOs. “Friending” a manager may be tricky. If you’re trying to contact someone for the express purpose of complaining, it might be difficult to persuade that person to accept your friend request. However, there are no such restrictions on a company page – and once you “like” a company page, you’re often free to post whatever you want on its wall. (Companies keep a close watch on their walls, so don’t be surprised if the post is scrubbed and you’re contacted by a representative.)
It’s only a matter of time before this social network becomes one of the first places customers go to when they have a customer service problem. Why? Again, every business will be there, as well as millions of customers. Google’s business profiles are still emerging as I write this, but the way you can interact with other customers through video conferencing, chat and its “circles” is already proven. It could be a powerful way to pressure a company to do the right thing, particularly if you have a lot of friends. Finding an individual manager through Google+ may be hard if they’re not available through search, but the good news is that if you can’t find a profile, it probably doesn’t exist. Google in mid-2011 eliminated “private” profiles.
For real-time resolutions of problems that can be solved through normal means, like asking a manager for help, Twitter really excels. You don’t have to follow anyone; just know the Twitter handle of the manager and the company. So, for example, adding @Niki_Leondakis and @KimptonHotels to the end of Staigerwald’s tweet would have been enough to get their attention. No need to establish a friendship, unless you want to send a direct message, in which you have to follow each other. Having a lot of followers can give your complaint some weight, but it’s not absolutely essential. On Twitter, a call-out (using the “@” in front of a handle) is a call-out, and good companies pay attention to all of them.
This is your secret weapon for better service. Why? Because almost every business is on this network. (If you haven’t heard of LinkedIn, it’s one of the oldest social networks, and it caters to professionals.) It costs nothing to sign up, and once you’re on board, you can get “introduced” to anyone from a company by way of a mutual friend. I find managers and CEOs on LinkedIn all the time, and approaching them is fairly easy in comparison to the other, more crowded social networks. There’s an assumption – not always correct – that anyone on LinkedIn is a professional and wants to conduct business. Don’t give them a reason to think otherwise.
These four social networks should be able to connect you quickly with a manager of a business.
Of course, there’s nothing as effective as making your case in person. I’ll tell you how to do that next week.
Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions by email.