Is ‘Social Shaming’ the only way to get decent customer service?

I once wrote a post called Anti-Social Nation. You can read it here if you like.

Nearly two years later, and things don’t really appear to have moved on. Except that (most) firms tend to be shit hot when it comes to responding to social shaming when it comes to complaints.

What is Social Shaming? It’s simple really, and probably most people have done it at least once. A company has either annoyed you, or given poor customer service and you’ve turned to your social networking channel and shamed them publicly either on their Facebook wall, or a photo on Instagram, or probably the most effective, tweeting them making sure your entire timeline can see it. As somebody who never uses social media, Mr Aimee actually has a Twitter account just for this – although it’s important to point out that he only uses this when he’s tried to get in touch via other – more conventional – methods!

It doesn’t always work (I tweeted Matalan about a voucher code that didn’t work they ignored me but continue to email me about items still in my basket) and Sainsbogs are very picky about what or who they respond to. However, with a lot of companies it is the only method to generate any response. For example, after nine months of chasing an energy company for money they owed us (Ovo if you’re interested) we were getting nowhere. Mr Aimee had sent numerous emails, called frequently, but we either got fobbed off, or no response at all. Finally in an act of frustration he turned to his dormant twitter account (last used to talk to ryanair about their seat reservation policy) and one tweet later we suddenly had a response, our money back and £50 compensation.

Great work I hear you exclaim! Fantastic news! Well yes…in theory. However, on closer observation, I think it’s gone a little too far. That certain companies have taken their social strategies to another level which boarders on intrusive.

 It would appear that now, many companies are no longer waiting to be officially ‘social shamed’ instead they are setting up alerts to jump on any tweet that mentions them, even if they’ve not been hash-tagged or contacted directly.

For example, one day I was talking about the fact that a pair of shoes had been delivered to my house and left on my doorstep. I had found out while I was out when an email came in confirming that my parcel had been delivered and signed for successfully. When i got home they were on my door step for anyone to see – they were my joules wellies incase you were wondering. I just was chatting to a friend on my timeline about it. Next thing I know they are following me and tweeting me asking me to send them my details. It amounted to nothing, after all, I wasn’t raising it with the company as a direct complaint, I was just having a conversation with my friend.

Another time I happened to mention to somebody that i was struggling to watch something on my Apple TV due to the fact that my broadband was being rubbish. Straight away Sky jumped on it, asking if they could fix it. Thing was though, I hadn’t mentioned Sky, they just had me on their timeline as somebody they had been previously (failing) to deal with (for six months). Six months of failed attempts of trying to rectify an ongoing problem which left me without broadband or a phone line for two weeks after their engineer came to “fix” my broadband issue. However, on the day of that conversation and their offer to “fix it today” for me, they were no longer my internet service provider, we’d cancelled them a month before (which does beg the question why all the internet where we live is pants – but that’s another blog post). The point here is that they just jumped in on a general conversation, a passing conversation, and offered their ‘help’ with no background knowledge. If they’d had my account details they’d see what had happened.

I can see their initial thought process, get some junior onboard to smooth over any creases, prove that they care about their customers. Or perhaps they have delegated the ‘responding to hoot-suite alerts’ part of the social media strategy to the customer service department. But either way, I’m not so sure it’s a good idea. I mean, to me, it’s like a company jumping in on a conversation they overheard in the pub.

“Oh my god, I am so pissed off with Asda in Lincoln, they didn’t have any burgen bread..” I say dramatically, waving my arm over the ice bucket containing half a bottle of rose.

Just then, a chair two tables down scrapes and a woman in her mid-forties totters over me. “Excuse me, I’m Joan from the Newark Asda store…I’m so sorry to hear about your disappointment, can you give me your details and I’ll see what I can do?”
It just doesn’t work does it? So why is it acceptable to butt into other conversations on social media. I mean, I KNOW technically if I moan about them in a public forum they have the right to respond, but surely these things are better just ignored? Surely it’s a case of picking battles, just as you do with small children?

So with all that said, is automated alerts really the best path for customer service? Or should companies invest their time and money into dealing with direct complaints more effectively. Perhaps then social shaming will become a thing – not of the past – but of people who aren’t really serious and priorities can be set a bit more effectively?

Just a thought?

Of course, we should also use this as an opportunity to shout out to those who do it well. Greggs recently discovered an offensive logo appearing by accident on their Google profile, and as they were informed (by the masses) over social media of the issue, they dealt with their social shaming with more than a little bit of brilliance. Perhaps they should be giving lessons to companies who are desperate to leave a lasting impression, but are just coming off as needy?



  1. Alison

    Really fascinating topic. I try to only social shame if I’ve tried every other avenue with no joy. I had a really odd situation a couple of years back when I mentioned a frustration I had with a large, well known kids’ retailer – didn’t tag them in the tweet, but they found my tweet and tweeted me. However rather than being apologetic, they were a bit rude!! I felt so bewildered that a brand would seek me out and get all defensive. Seems like a bizarre way to treat customers.

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      Oh my goodness! That’s a bit embarrassing (for them!) I get so frustrated that big brands don’t understand how to deal with customers.

  2. Rachel Linstead

    Great post Aimee and so true!! it all feels a bit big brother to me that all these companies are monitoring our conversations just in case we social shame them!!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts x

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