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  • Writer's pictureLola Charles Communications

How to Lose a Customer in 10 Days

Written by Kelly Ellis

Having managed social media accounts for many clients over the years, I have developed a large amount of empathy for the human beings on the brand side of the keyboard. When I was responsible for all social media customer service for a global consumer brand, I had to build up a rather thick skin in order not to take some of the angry and/or downright cruel comments personally. Between the customers who were blatantly trying to game a fair system by seeing how far they could push things in the public arena and trolls who spent their days shamelessly harassing others for sport online, there were some days when I had to get up and take a long walk to clear my head and level-set my emotions.

Then, there were the moments that made it all worthwhile - these were the moments when I was able to intercept a customer that, for some reason, was veered off the path of the desired experience we had built. These customers were earnest and transparent in their communications, often taking to private messaging on Facebook or Instagram to report a problem and ask for assistance. And, they were turning to social media because either it had become their preferred method of communication, or they were unable to get a resolution through the other customer service channels. These communications were opportunities to get customers back on the intended experience path, or at least to have an honest conversation about why we could not arrive at the solution they desired.

These experiences have shaped how I personally interact with brands on social media. Any time I reach out to a brand via Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, I imagine an actual human being receiving my message. I imagine them in the middle of ten thousand other issues and deciding how to prioritize min. Today, I imagine how COVID-19 has impacted their business and staffing and consider how this may also impact how and when they will respond to me. In other words, I apply empathy and this helps me be patient as I await a response.

This is not a story about being rewarded for my patience. No, this is a story about how a brand did not return the favor of empathy or transparency and instead, flat out ignored all of my communications across multiple platforms. It is a story about how one simple act - responding to any one of my communications to say "we are looking into it" - would have made all the difference in the world. It is a story about how a global brand, which I will not name because I am not trying to shame them or their staff, lost me as a customer in the span of 10 business days.

How to Lose a Customer in 10 Days: A Timeline:

  • Day 0: My husband, whom I love dearly but is not known for his sharp digital skills, orders a very expensive pair of running shoes online. He is an avid runner, and he did all of his research on his own, and was as excited for his new shoes as I am for my monthly Stitch Fix delivery. In other words, for him this was a big deal. The shoes are pretty expensive, but given my spending history in the footwear department, I say nothing and let him have this moment.

  • Day 1: Which is actually the day that the shoes were scheduled to arrive via Fed Ex, my husband receives an email that the package has delivered with no signature required and was left in our front lobby. He is immediately nervous because we live in a 7 unit condo building and we don't have what you would call a "lobby", but I'm pretty sure it's just semantics and it's downstairs by the front door. It is not there. We wait to see if there's a lag between the driver's udpate and actions. We wait to see if a neighbor accidentally grabbed it. We wait for someone to come to the retail shop downstairs to see if it was dropped there. It is not in the building. It was either left outside and stolen or dropped off at the wrong building. We decide to wait to see if someone drops it off.

  • Day 2: The shoes are nowhere to be found. My husband visits the brand's website and completes their contact form, which for him is a pretty big deal seeing as he still manages his life via old fashioned day-planner and pencil. He explains that the package has been tracked incorrectly and needs help in determining what to do next. On the website is a message explaining that COVID-19 has led to an increase in online orders and responses may be delayed. He appreciates this, as do I, because now we won't expect a response the same day. Even so, we get a response that day which provides us with our tracking number and tells us to track using the link, and to have a nice day. We agree to give it 24 hours assuming this is a canned response sent in error from some sort of backend algorithm.

  • Day 3: My husband decides to fill out the form again and change his wording so, in the event that this is an algorithm issue, he can bypass that and get an actual human being to read and understand the simple request. He receives the exact same response that he received yesterday.

  • Day 4: He calls their customer service number, but it rings and rings and no one answers, there is no voice mail so there is no way to leave a message. Then, he contacts Fed Ex who explains that the shipper must fill out a claim form and then send a new shipment with signature required. Only the shipper can do this. I.e., we need the shoe company to resolve this.

  • Day 5: Once again, he fills out the online form and makes no reference to the term "tracking", hoping again to bypass whatever evil algorithm is messing with us. Hours later, he receives the EXACT. SAME. RESPONSE..

  • Day 6: My husband asks me to "do the social media thing" and reach out to the shoe company. I send a detailed but polite private message via Facebook, where their profile says that they typically respond within one day.

  • Day 7: I check FB messenger regularly but receive no response to this message.

  • Day 8: I respond to my private message asking if someone can just tell me the right way to resolve this and how to get in touch with a human being, even if we have to wait several days to do so. I acknowledge that I understand they are busier than usual but we had surpassed a reasonable timeline for some assistance. I will not get a response to this message.

  • Day 9: I decide to take this to a more public forum and post on Twitter and tag the brand. I simply say that I have not been able to get assistance and asked how to do so. I will not get a response to this message.

  • Day 10: My husband and I come to terms with the fact that we are not going to get any response or service. Our last resort is to call our bank and dispute the charges, which we know may be a difficult sell. Most likely, we will have paid this company a premium for their shoes that are either sitting wastefully in another building's lobby or on someone else's feet.

Let me go back to the importance of empathy. I tried my hardest to apply it to every step of our process, always considering the impact of being busier than usual and/or that the human being seeing this messages may be having a bad day. That said, I manage multiple social media accounts and still manage to respond to everyone within 24 hours, even if it's just to say that we are looking into this as quickly as possible. Even so, this empathy was not met in return by the shoe company. There was no consideration given to the investment that my husband made into these shoes or the frustration of having a package lost or stolen. Instead, we were flat out ignored, which is equivalent to the brand saying, "thanks for your money - now just go away." So, we will.

What's the lesson in this? Your customers are human beings with the ability to empathize when it comes to customer service during times like these. For the most part, they will understand if your service team is dealing with a higher level of volume and that it may take longer than usual to respond. If this is the case for your organization, hiding behind the bushes is not the answer. Transparency is always the way to go. It may sting to have to tell a customer that you can't get back to them for another 3-5 days, but at least you are helping them set a realistic expectation and letting them know you care. (This can be done with a simple auto-response that you turn on in the back end of your Facebook account).

If you don't have staff that is watching your social media platforms for customer service issues, then simply state somewhere (that your customers can see) that you do not manage customer service issues here. Instead, give them a phone number or a weblink. Avoid setting up automatically triggered responses to customer emails, which are often too nuanced to rely solely on an algorithm. Yes, it's fine to use canned responses after a human being has read and understand the inquiry - but it's not recommended to bypass the human review before sending.

And, most importantly, always apply empathy when dealing with a customer service issue online. 9 out of 10 times, your customer just wants help so they can use the product that they purchased. If you can help them through prompt and transparent communication, even if it's taking a little longer than usual, they will be back to purchase again.


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