Customer Service in Social Media: The Good and the Bad

One of the great things about social media is that it allows brands to talk directly to their customers – they can cut out the middleman of placing ads in print or on tv. But it also means that customers expect the same level of access to their brands.  So while we can instantly let hundreds of followers know in an instant when our favourite band announces new gig dates, we also expect our big brands to be responsive when we have problems.

I thought I’d share a couple of examples of when brands have managed social media interactions with customers well, and when they’ve caused more harm than good…

The Good

I’ve had an old pair of Reebok trainers for years. So long in fact, that they’re beyond battered. The bottoms are worn through and you end up with wet feet when it rains, but I couldn’t find replacements in any store I visited. Eventually, one Thursday recently when I was waiting for my feet to dry off after a rainy commute, I tweeted Reebok in desperation…

Reebok fix my trainer woes via social media

In less than 15 minutes, Reebok had replied. Half an hour after that, I placed an order for new shoes and 3 days later I was wearing them and praising the sportswear brand to anyone who’d stop and listen!

What did Reebok do right?

1) They gave an initial response quickly. 

I’m not unreasonable – I know I’m not the centre of everyone’s world and that people are busy. I also appreciate that not every problem can be fixed immediately. But what I do want is an acknowledgement that I’m there, they’ve seen/heard me and want to help.

2) They took ownership of the issue.

Instead of immediately giving out the standard customer service telephone number or directing me to a faceless website, the person managing the Reebok Twitter account engaged with me directly. This creates a sense of engagement and trust you just don’t get with a webpage – a “they have 1000s of followers and they’re still taking time out to deal with my problem” good feeling.

3) They asked questions to get to the heart of the problem.

What kind of trainers was I looking for? How would I use them? Did I have a set budget or colour preference? By asking these questions, they were able to narrow down the problem to find the right solution.

4) They offered an option for follow up.

Reebok were able to recommend a pair of trainers within a few minutes due to their well-placed questions. But they also made it clear that if I wanted more recommendations or had any further queries, they were there and happy to talk it through until I was happy. This makes a massive difference and is probably the main reason I’d want to buy from them again because you don’t just feel like a unit to be processed, but like a real person, and because it’s clear that they want to find a real solution, not just to make the problem go away as quickly as possible.

Reebok SubDuo Lite running shoes

My new trainers!

The Bad

In contrast, my recent interactions with WH Smith showed how a bad social media customer experience can cast a negative impact over what might otherwise been a positive transaction.

I ordered a Kobo mini for my husband’s birthday from the WH Smith website. It was on special offer, but when I placed the order and asked for express delivery on the Tuesday, everything seemed fine. By the Friday afternoon, there was still no sign of the Kobo and my husbands birthday was the next day. Concerned, I tweeted WH Smith to ask if there were any problems…

WH Smith ignored kobo tweet 1

I waited… and waited… and waited for a response. By 9pm that evening, I realised I was unlikely to get a same day reply and reluctantly confessed to my husband that his birthday present was going to be late.

Half an hour later, I was checking my emails, only to find a message from WH Smith, mysteriously and ‘coincidentally’ sent an hour or so after my tweet to them, informing me my parcel had been shipped. The Kobo duly turned up the following morning in the post. Bemused, I went back to Twitter to see if WH Smith had explained, or even responded to my query. I waited… and waited… this was becoming a familiar activity and looking at the last response on their Twitter page, I wasn’t the only one.

By Monday, I sent them a final tweet trying to at least get some acknowledgement of how annoying it is to be ignored:

Wh Smith ignored twice

I admit that I namechecked O2 there to try and spur them into action, but, predictably, since then there’s been nothing but radio silence. And also predictably, I won’t be buying anything from WH Smith again – why would I want to reward them with my money when they consider me below the courtesy of an answer to a query?

What did WH Smith do wrong?

1) Ignore the customer.

There’s really no excuse for this as it’s in the basics of customer service training. Whether you’re interacting with customers in your store, on the phone or online, there’s never an excuse to simply ignore them. If you’ve established social media channels but can’t provide a level of response (for example if your community manager is on holiday) then at least post a message explaining this and how to get in touch in the meantime.

2) Sneakily resolve an issue without acknowledging the problem overtly.

It might have been coincidence that my order suddenly arrived after I contacted them. Or they might have tried to shut me up by dispatching my order – because they never responded, I’ll never know. But it does seem extremely well-timed and I would struggle to trust their brand integrity as a result. Just one simple response could have resolved that.

3) No general updates to customers.

In the course of googling for more information, it transpired that I wasn’t the only one struggling to get my hands on a Kobo mini as part of the special offer – people were having trouble completing purchases on the online store too, and were frustrated. A general statement issued on the WH Smith website, with a link to it on their social media channels would have gone a long way to explaining the situation to customers. Once again, WH Smith chose to ignore the customers.

I’d be interested to know if anyone else has had particularly good or bad experiences with brands online – do my experiences match up with yours?


I love all things fantasy, from fiction to films to games. Mostly books though. I also love cooking and plus size fashion. Find recommendations for great fantasy reads and general fangirling here! If you want to get in touch with me, the quickest way is by Twitter @dorristheloris

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