This morning I caught the tail end of a Twitter conversation that stopped me in my tracks and fired up my keyboard.  It was the creative use of the F-bomb by the ever-fabulous Erika Napoletano aka @RedHeadWriting that initially caught my attention, but the conversation is what got my fingers flying to write this post.  Take a look at this stream and then we'll chat about it. (I've *bleeped* the bombs out for those more sensitive in our audience.)

Poor customer service examples on Twitter, social media for customer service, how to use social for customer service. brand management

Because we manage the social marketing and customer service on social media duties for many brands, I was beyond disbelief with the response by United Airline's community managers here (and there are two that are identified in this conversation for some reason, as noted by the two sets of initials after each mindless tweet). I found myself wondering if it was some eager summer intern that just wanted to impress his manager by quickly responding and now is asking people if they'd like fries or apple slices with that Happy Meal!  Surely it wasn't a professional on duty.

These responses show that someone replied to a single mention without seeming to look at the context in which the mention of @United was made, and then there was a spammy undertone to the initial response as they randomly tell Erika to check out their enhancements when she does go to one of their airports. Bad response on so many levels!

So let's identify a few take-aways you can benefit from, outside of the pure entertainment we tend to get knowing big brands screw up too.

  1. Set up a listening command center.

    To be effective managing customer service on social media sites, you need to make sure you are paying attention when someone mentions your brand (The only thing these community managers did right in this situation). If you aren't paying attention, and you simply log into social media accounts to blast your own content out to the world, you are missing the SOCIAL part of these tools. (check out this post on How To Set Up A Social Media Command Center)

  2. Do a bit of investigative work BEFORE you stick your nose in the beehive.

    Twitter allows you to click on “View Conversation” to see a bit of the context before you reply.  Scanning a person's profile, just a bit, will also give you a little insight that could help you know what you are getting into.  Some third-party tools like, SproutSocial, maintain the history a person has had with your brand to see if they have had conversations with you in the past (especially helpful when you have more than one person managing your account), which can prove extremely valuable.

  3. Apologize fast.

    In this case, Thing 2 (JH) came on the scene and made matters worse with the “Hard to get tone of your tweet. You're saying… what?”  Basically, Thing 1 (JD) butted in a conversation at a very awkward place and should have kept quiet. You don't have to join every conversation where your brand is mentioned.  Thing 2 should have simply apologized for their team misinterpreting the message and left quietly.

  4. Never, Never, NEVER, try and sell someone something or offer a discount when they hate you more than black olives!

    It's like having a waiter offer you free dessert after you tell him you have waited 3 hours for your meal and then hated every cold item that ended up coming to the table.  The last thing you want is to stay longer for more of their crappy food.  Clueless customer service people will try and sell or give something away when they don't know how to fix a problem. Offering anything promotional at a time when someone is already talking bad about you is like getting a pedicure with salt scrub right after shaving your legs (guys, trust me on this one…it makes people scream).

Do you have other lessons that you have gleaned from this horrible customer service example? We'd love to be schooled by you! Share your thoughts in the comments.

Connect with me on Twitter @GinaSchreck

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