Manage Customer’s Expectations In Social Channels — Save The Brand’s Ass

I am not a social media fan boy, but I recently had a customer service experience enabled by social media that gave me new found respect for the channel (as a customer service opportunity of untold magnitude).

More on my story in a minute, but first, let’s have a view from the mountaintop.

Open Forum points to a new study commissioned by Conversocial and conducted by New York University professor Liel Liebovitz.

The report argues that “businesses seem to be struggling to deal with the volume of communication on Facebook and Twitter; they aren’t equipped to deal with this new public forum and issues are slipping through the cracks.”

Confronted with unanswered complaints on a company’s social media site, 88 percent of customers said they’d be either somewhat less likely or far less likely to do business with the company in the future.

Other findings of the report: Half of consumers use social media to communicate with companies and more than three-quarters (78 percent) think social media platforms will either replace other forms of customer service entirely, or will become the most popular form.

Three in four believe in social media as a customer service channel, regardless of what brand managers, CMOs and others might think. I have to say, I am now one of the majority of believers, thanks to the commitment that AT&T Wireless has brought to bare.

After talking to three AT&T Wireless customer service reps on the phone last Friday, and getting nowhere at all regarding the problem — AT&T Wireless erroneously added a fourth line to my account, and then wouldn’t remove it or the charges associated with it without a contract buyout — I finally hung up in frustration and considered breaking all of the above contracts to go to another carrier. In short, I was extremely bent out of shape by my phone interactions, and by the issue itself.

I will admit, I sometimes bristle when I encounter complaints on Twitter about a bad flight, hotel or restaurant experience. I bristle because it’s a private matter and the there’s a desperateness to it all. And a threat. Yet, the need to be heard is real and so are the word-of-mouth networks many ordinary people have digitally constructed.

The other day I needed to be heard. I turned to Twitter, not to shame AT&T into action, rather to vent and to see if any action on my behalf was possible via this alternate route. It was that or go back into the retail location, recount the details once again and hope for the best.

Happily, as soon as the Social Media Team at AT&T Wireless took note of my situation, the whole tenor of the flare up changed. Now, I was in the hands of a proactive professional, able to think on his feet and empowered by his employer to solve problems. That didn’t change the fact that the problem existed in the first place, but it sure did put a different face on a company I was viewing as deaf, dumb and blind.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. You’ve definitely landed on something here, David, especially with the statement, “Three in four believe in social media as a customer service channel, regardless of what brand managers, CMOs and others might think.”

    Now, you and I are both content guys so I’m not making a case against content when I say this, but the reality is that most consumers probably pay little attention to content distributed via social media channels from brands who are incapable of answering the most basic of questions via those same channels. In other words, “Who cares about backstage pictures from the concert your brand sponsored when you can’t even direct me to the closest retailer that carries your product?”

    Sadly, this is where the majority of brands seem to be. They spend large sums of money trying to create “relevant” (i.e. fun, cool, entertaining) content for their customers while neglecting to make accessible the relevant content that already exists. What’s more relevant to a consumer than the answer to the question, “Where can I buy your product?” or “How do I get this thing to work?”

    Back to your story…

    I’m glad that you finally got things worked out and to hear that the social media team at AT&T did a great job. But (and there’s always a but) why couldn’t AT&T resolve your issue on any of the three phone calls you placed before resorting to social media? Could it be that consumers are taking to social media not because they feel entitled and are trying to cause a scene, but because social media is still so new that companies are not yet comfortable outsourcing it to people in third world countries who do nothing but parrot scripts and lack the power to affect any real change?

    • Great commentary, Hal. Thanks. 

      There’s no question the class of employee on AT&T Wireless’ Social Media Team is of a higher caliber. No question at all, and it does beg the question how a company that big can reinvent its other customer service front lines — at retail and on the phone. My problem began at retail, got much much worse on the phone (which was not an overseas connection, btw), and then finally a real pro took the case under his wing. 

      I didn’t mention above that the Social Media staffer didn’t even ask me to explain myself for the fifth or sixth time. He went and listened to the calls I think. Whatever he did to prepare for our call, he also apologized for the stress his company caused, and quickly made the problem go away, saying that not all problems are black and white.