Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tweeting the not-so-friendly skies

Many of your have heard about director Kevin Smith's ejection from a Southwest Airlines flight. As it happens, I follow Kevin Smith on Twitter and, on Saturday night, during half an hour with nothing to do, I witnessed live, as did many others, Mr. Smith's colourful and vitriolic immediate reaction to this situation. He was obviously enraged and showed no mercy in his expletive-ridden criticism of Southwest Airlines cheered on by his adoring fans/followers.

As an etiquette afficionado, I'm all about customer service and from what I can ascertain, Mr. Smith did not receive the service to which he was entitled. But, while I believe that everyone deserves respect from the organizations with which they deal and I support initiatives which challenge poor treatment of customers, I wonder if immediately taking your frustration viral and saying whatever comes into your head, profanity and all, is the best way of dealing with it.

I always, always follow up on poor service and I strongly urge everyone to do it. As a customer, I feel an obligation to report if a company representative is not living up to an organization's promise and as a business owner, I know how valuable this kind of feedback is to maintaining and nurturuing a positive relationship with my clients.

However, because we live in a society that does not put a premium on human interaction, there are many moments when I have been so insenced by shabby service that my first instinct has been to pull out my Blackberry and start tweeting and, although I'm not a movie director with 1.5 million followers, I do have several hundred followers, most of whom are very engaged in the Twittersphere. In other words, I might be able to do a tiny bit of damage.

But shouldn't we be trying to resolve our issues on a higher level than the ones on which they were created? The service offender in question may have behaved like a cretin but responding in kind just sets off a war of words where the initial issue is forgotten and people take sides withouth having the facts.

So, I usually recommend a complaint hierarchy, if you will, that goes something like this:

Step 1 - Try to resolve the issue with the person who is directly responsible for it
Step 2 - If this doesn't work, think about what you need to resolve the issue (e.g. an apology, a refund) and speak with whoever is in charge of customer service
Step 3 - If you are still not satisfied, go as high in the organization as you can until the situation is resolved to your satisfaction
Step 4 - If you still don't get anywhere, go online for help. Blog about the situation or ask for help on Twitter but be professional and keep it factual.
Step 5 - When the situation is fixed, say thank you

Sadly, this strategy requires patience in the face of mounting anger. Conflicts are usually never resolved with the person who caused them (Step 1) and often, the only time anyone shows any real interest in helping is after Step 4 - when I've asked for it on Twitter. Kevin Smith knows this and Southwest has learned the hard way. But I still think a measured approach is more constructive than everyone just tweeting their rage and naming names.

On a final note, I'll say that the way this situation has spiralled in favour of Kevin Smith is a good reason why a) companies should always treat clients with respect and b) watch some movies guys. He's very recognizable!

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