We came across this interaction on twitter this morning:

And it brought home to us, something that we talk about all the time at freestak. That when your business responds to a tweet, you are in fact talking to a real person. There is, of course, a phenomenon in social media where people curate their lives to present an image of themselves that may or may not be a true reflection of who they are all the time. But that should not allow companies to forget the golden rules of customer service.

In this case, there is an obvious opportunity to turn a disgruntled customer into at the very least a satisfied customer and potentially into a brand advocate. The tweet that was sent was entirely the wrong way to go about that.

Think about it this way: if an obviously unhappy customer walked into a shop and told the assistant or the manager that they were dissatisfied with the product or service they had received, would the conversation go like this?

Customer: “I’m really frustrated with your rubbish customer service

Manager: “That’s a bit harsh”…

We would hope that the answer to that question is obvious. So why did someone think it was right to react to Andi Peters in the way that O2 did?

The difference that social media makes

The question of whether a customer would be talked to in the way that Andi Peters was, if he was in an O2 shop rather than on twitter is also bigger than just good manner and customer service. The twittersphere is not one of your shops.

There was an opportunity to make Andi Peters happy (or at least happier) or a risk that he would become less happy. In a shop, making a customer less happy should be considered a failure. But the fall-out from making a customer less happy is likely to be limited – he or she might tell some friends and even post on social media, but the very nature of people talking face to face means that even an angry customer will temper their response.

On twitter, however, the conversation you are having with the customer is being broadcast to everyone who cares to listen. In this case, Andi Peters has 332,000 followers (yes, you read that right – 332,000 followers). That is a huge audience that is now listening in on a conversation where the customer is not happy and getting angrier by the minute. As people started adding their own stories of poor customer service from O2, you started to see the equivalent of a social media riot. Can you imagine if that started happening in a shop – if an angry customer attracted more angry customers and they all started pouring through the door and venting their frustration?

And the irony here is that O2 has 203,000 followers – nearly 30% less than Peters, so you would have thought that making him a happier customer would be something of a priority ‘moment’ (sorry, in joke for O2 customers there).

The golden rules

There are a few simple golden rules here:

  • Behind every social media interaction is a human being – react and respond to them as if you were standing talking to them face-to-face.
  • Try to understand the context of the interaction you are having – Andi Peters had tweeted about his dissatisfaction with O2 three times before O2 intervened, so it should have been obvious that he was not just a little bit angry. Kid gloves were called for.
  • Every social media interaction is an opportunity to delight your customer and turn them into a brand advocate who wants to tell their friends (or their 330,000 followers) about what a great company you are.

Get ready now for what is coming

The future for social media is that people will increasingly have the power to tell other people about your brand, your products and your services. All the advertising in the world will not drown out the sound of unhappy customers and it will be impossible to stem the flow, because it will be coming from everywhere.

On the other hand, if you get it right, the outpouring of positive sentiment from happy customers will do all of your marketing for you. Your job will simply be to tell all the brand advocates that you have created about your new products or your improved services and they will tell their friends and they will tell their friends…


  • November 21, 2013, 8:38 pm  Reply

    Don’t agree – it was pretty clear that whoever had been tweeting from O2 has been trying to help him – him getting ratty about it gets him nowhere – O2 has 25 million customers and so you’re bound to be getting scare stories and one sided tales of woe, whereas how many happy customers are there, who don’t stamp heir feet like a petulant child when it might just as easily be the case that they aren’t getting their own way.

    Saying O2 or any other company are rubbish and worthy of hatred shows a complete lack of perspective and is rather pathetic, if you don’t mind me saying so.

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