Bamboozled: If customer service fails, give social media a shot

??????????????????When you feel you’ve been wronged by a merchant, there are many different ways to get satisfaction.

You can return to the store and speak to a manager about a purchase. You can call the company’s customer service line, or send a strongly-worded paper letter or email.

If the customer service people can’t seem to help, you can turn to an Executive Email Carpet Bomb, or EECB. Reaching out to company execs often helps consumers get through the red tape challenges of low level customer service reps.

Depending on the issue, you can even complain to certain government agencies.

If those options don’t work, there’s one more way to get a company’s attention: social media.

We don’t mean creating a wacky complaint video that you hope will go viral.

We’re talking the simple stuff. Facebook. Twitter. Instagram.

It worked for Greg Sherman of Florham Park.

When Sherman redid his kitchen several years ago, he purchased all high-end appliances. He had problems with several, but the worst was an ongoing issue with the icemaker in his $3,700 Electrolux refrigerator.

It was repaired four or more times in the first year, he said, but the problems weren’t fixed.

“I finally got fed up. I wrote a letter, sent in all the service slips and said, ‘This is a lemon. Either send me my money back or send me a new refrigerator,'” Sherman said. “They sent a nice letter saying, ‘Sorry. It’s out of warranty.'”

Sherman said he didn’t remember what made him do it, but he visited the Electrolux Facebook page, where the company posts frequent pitches for products.

Sherman saw an opportunity.

“I would respond every day, ‘Don’t buy their products. I have a lemon,” he said.

After a couple of weeks, a customer service rep noticed and asked Sherman to email the details.

computerHe did.

And before long, he received a new refrigerator. (It was a different model, by the way.)

Sherman said his brother, who also had the same problems with the same refrigerator model, also tried a Facebook complaint after Sherman’s success. He, too, received a new machine.

facebook.JPG
Consumers who complain on a company’s Facebook page may find a customer service rep who can help.
Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

Most companies have a social media presence, and some have even created accounts specifically for consumer complaints. They’re staffed with customer service reps who are supposed to help.

But some companies handle complaints made on social media better than others.

In fact, a recent study found few handle them well.

Retailers are ignoring more than 80 percent of requests received over social media, according to a study by Sprout Social, a social media management company.

“The cold shoulder from merchants was coldest when you’d think they could least afford it, during the holiday shopping season,” the study said. “During the fourth quarter of 2014, only 16.35 percent of customer queries to retailers were answered.”

And last year, the study said, there was a 21-percent increase in the number of inbound social media messages to retailers from the third quarter to the fourth quarter.

Sprout Social said expects the same this year, predicting that the average retailer will get more than 1,500 messages on Facebook and Twitter during the holiday season.

“And if last year’s response trends stay the same, five of every six of those messages will be ignored,” the company said.

That’s not what customers want to hear as they head into the holiday shopping season.

It’s not that companies don’t have a social media presence. The study said most companies only use their social media accounts to act like a megaphone. During the third quarter of 2015, retailers sent three times more promotional messages than replies.

That’s bad news. There’s nothing more frustrating than making a complaint and then being ignored.

But some companies use their social media presence well.

One industry publication named 10 companies that do a great job for customers using their social media accounts. They include JetBlue, Starbucks, T-Mobile, Walmart and Whole Foods.

It seems like common sense that companies would use social media to help customers. When they solve a customer problem, that customer is likely to share his experience on that same social media platform. More shares about a positive experience is like free advertising.

Sure, some companies won’t want customers to share the reason for the complaint in the first place, but as Bamboozled always says: We all make mistakes. It’s how we handle those mistakes that matters.

It’s just good business.

If a company doesn’t respond, it risks that the customer will share that negative experience online. Again and again and again.

Isn’t it easier just to help the customer the first time?

If you have a complaint, absolutely try to take it to social media. A quick search on your favorite social media site will show you accounts in the names of businesses. Some companies even have a channel specifically for customer complaints. If your company doesn’t, give the company’s main account a try.

Next, just as when you write a more traditional complaint letter, try to keep emotions out of your social media message. Starting with “Company XYZ scammed me…” or “Company XYZ stole my money…” may start your communication off on the wrong foot.

Briefly explain your problem and simply ask for help.

Have you had success — or fails –with social media complaints? Which companies have responded to you? Who has ignored you? Let us know about your experiences in the comments section below.

Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Stay informed and sign up for NJMoneyHelp.com’s weekly e-newsletter.