Will Social Media Help Kill Bad Customer Service?

Photo by nicointokio.
Photo by nicointokio.

This post was originally published by HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes on the LinkedIn Influencer blog.
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“Don’t fly with @British_Airways. They can’t keep track of your luggage,” read the angry 60-character Tweet that marked the beginning of a Chicago-based businessman’s two-day Twitter tirade against the major airline early last week. His actions, it turns out, were pretty revolutionary—a blast of fuel to the fire under a corporate world that isn’t adapting quickly enough to new trends in customer service.


What was so remarkable about Hasad Syed’s now-famous Twitter rant against British Airways wasn’t that it involved a frustrated customer calling out a big corporation on social media. (That’s been done thousands, if not millions, of times already by upset clients the world over.)

It was that Syed dished out over $1000 for the tweets, using Twitter’s self-serve promoted tweet platform—the first time a regular person, not a business, has used the service in this way.

And it paid off: big time.

Within hours of sending out the first “promoted complaint” from his personal Twitter account, Syed and his father had received a personal apology from the airline. Their lost luggage was recovered promptly. Meanwhile, major tech news outlets had picked the story up, and over the next couple of days Syed’s tweets literally went viral, being seen not only by tens of thousands of people on Twitter but by many thousands more, as the story was retold by mainstream media sources like TIME and the BBC.

The lesson? Businesses who don’t want to risk getting scorched by large-scale social media mishaps like these are going to have to take a close look at their online customer support strategies—quickly.

After all, Syed’s tale is just the tip of the iceberg in a wave of change that is already sweeping across customer service departments of major corporations around the world. Thanks to increased channels of communication via social networks like Facebook and Twitter, clients are making themselves heard by brands more than ever before. Large corporations who want to stay ahead of the curve in customer satisfaction and avoid major PR disasters must have ample social media resources to ensure that they’re able to respond to unhappy clients quickly and effectively. In 2011 for example, KLM (KLM Royal Dutch Airlines) drew some attention when became one of the world’s first airlines to offer 24-7 customer support on social media. Two years later, KLM sees four times the level of client-driven engagement of some of its main competitors on its Facebook page—proof that savvy customers will migrate to channels that are faster and more responsive to their queries and feedback.


There is simply no time for companies to kick back and ignore the revolution. Bigger change is looming. Even dissatisfied customers who can’t afford $1000 each time they want to voice a complaint have already started forming groups online, on platforms that are specifically being developed to help them get their voices heard. On a service like Nevahold for example, people can rally together to get their gripe heard by big companies through the power of numbers—they compose a group “shout,” that can be shared through social media accounts. And what’s stopping more others from gathering on sites like Kickstarter to crowdsource funds for promoted social media complaints? Anything is possible, as we saw last week.

Fading away are the days of waiting in long lineups or on clogged up customer support phone lines to get what we want from big companies who just don’t seem to care about the little guy. Thanks to social media and constantly evolving technologies, people are finding new ways to speak out. And whether they’re willing to pay big bucks or not, Syed’s grassroots campaign is just a sign of what’s to come, as a more wide-scale bottoms-up conversation inevitably develops between consumers and brands.

What is the worst customer experience you’ve ever had? How much would you pay to make it heard?

For more social media insight and to learn more about my company, follow HootSuite on LinkedIn.