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Why Twitter Is The New Better Business Bureau

Finally, a use for social media I can wrap my head around: If you have a consumer complaint, just put it out on Twitter. Twitter, for all intents and purposes, is the new Better Business Bureau. The ability to publicly shame a company for its bad service is a weapon in the consumer arsenal that shouldn't be overlooked. An unfavorable tweet can ding a company's reputation, something that major businesses have become aware of.

I got clued in to the power of Twitter as it relates to customer service a few years ago when customer-service consultant Peter Shankman tweeted from an airplane how he was Jonesing for a Morton's steak. "Wish Morton's delivered to Newark Airport," he tweeted. What happened next was a social media history milestone.

What was Shankman's reaction? He tweeted a photo with the waiter and shared his profuse thanks and surprise with the world. Within 48 hours, the story had gone viral and was featured on The Today Show. For the cost of a steak and delivery, the restaurant got itself some massive publicity and forevermore it was known across the marketing land just how powerful a single tweet could be. Well done Morton's, and I don't mean the steak.

Anyway, Shankman's story has been living in my brain for some time now. And I recently used it as inspiration in dealing with an airline and a big box electronics store -- albeit with decidedly mixed results. But one thing is clear: Big companies are absolutely monitoring Twitter trying to avoid public humiliation -- which opens the door nice and wide for an unhappy customer. Here's my story:

In the case of the airline, I had paid to upgrade to a seat with extra legroom on a coast-to-coast trip. Somewhere over Des Moines, it dawned on me that I was in fact seated in a regular coach seat, not one with the extra legroom. I tweeted my displeasure at the airline from the plane and in lightning speed, got a response. So far, so good, right?

Only it was a stupid response. The customer rep on Twitter insisted that I had only paid for the privilege of early boarding, not extra legroom. The privilege of spending more time on board a plane? Are they serious? People do that? Sane people?

So I tweeted at them again, this time attaching my receipt and showing the whole Twitterverse that I should have been in Legroom City but in fact was a human pretzel who paid extra and had been thusly ripped off. The airline's tweeted response was equally fast and equally uninformed: According to my new Twitter airline BFF, I WAS in an extra legroom seat because all their 737s had extra legroom in my row number. So I must just be the crazy lady in seat 12D, right?

Except I was on board a 738, not a 737 -- something that the Twitter customer rep should have known. As our little back-and-forth drama unfolded, my follower base expanded and others for whom flying this airline was a less-than-satisfactory experience joined the conversation.

The Twitter rep for the airline continued to dig her hole deeper and in what was clearly a brush-off, sent me a link to an online complaint form and wished me a nice day. Do you know how infuriating it is to be told to have a nice day when your kneecaps are being pulverized by the passenger in the seat in front of you and all you can think of is how dearly you paid to avoid this precise thing from happening?

Many tweets later, I was still getting nowhere. I took to the phone, waited an hour on hold, and was told that I wasn't entitled to a refund because, after all, I did actually sit in the seat, didn't I? Yes, but the wing looked risky, I argued back. I had been sold a more expensive seat with extra legroom and been put in a seat without it. Why was that so hard to understand?

Eventually, an email succeeded in getting through. Apology accepted, although I am still waiting for a refund of my upgrade money.

Next up was the big box store that sells electronics. In this case, it was an opened box smartphone that my daughter bought after the salesman assured her that previous buyers returning new phones after a few days because they don't like the color is a very common practice. My teenage daughter plopped down her money and bought a "new" iPhone that was perhaps not so new. Within days, it was back at the store because it just stopped working. A second visit occurred a week later for the same thing. Finally, a few weeks after the "this is not our problem after 14 days" warranty period, the phone died a full and undramatic death. Kaput. Nothing.

We visited the big box electronic store and got nowhere. We called corporate headquarters and got less than nowhere. I took to Twitter. And we got somewhere -- fast.

After a few tweets of apologies, the customer service rep personally called the store. The store manager called me and within an hour, a brand new phone in an unopened box was given in exchange for the faulty one. Boom! And I tweeted out my pleasure because, after all, the power of the tweet had again been proven.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

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