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6 Brands that Handled Customer Complaints on Social Media Like A Boss

Sometimes, humor is the way to go. Or standing your ground.

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Kindra Cooper

Instead of going the traditional route of reaming out an agent by phone after a disappointing meal or delayed flight, the modern consumer can harangue publicly on social media. But when one customer’s Twitter tirade turns spiteful, others start to weigh in and take sides, including your current and potential customers.

Most companies view viral social media rants as the ultimate PR calamity; all it takes is one influencer with thousands, if not millions, of followers to unseat your brand reputation, regardless of whether the customer is “right.” But as we’ve seen in some recent, well-publicized cases, when a bigwig initiates a Twitter war, it can be a golden opportunity to showcase your customer centricity and brand values.

Here are some examples of Twitter rants where “the customer is always right” didn’t quite pan out.

1. Delta Airlines applies logic in Ann Coulter Twitter rant

A landmark case in celebrities versus brands on social media, conservative political pundit Ann Coulter’s two-day Twitter tirade against Delta Airlines for switching her seat due to a system glitch made national headlines. It also raised the question of whether Twitter’s status as a complaints soapbox had shifted expectations for customer service, especially with society shaming brands for responding unequally to the average joe versus public figures commanding massive followings.

On a Delta flight from New York to Florida, Coulter pre-booked a window seat in the emergency exit row for a $30 upcharge and extra legroom. Less than 24 hours before the flight, she tried to switch to an aisle seat in the same row, but the system didn’t register the seat change, and when Coulter boarded her flight she was assigned to her prior window seat. According to Delta, Coulter complied, but after landing she unleashed her fury online for being switched to “a less desirable seat without explanation, apology, etc.”

Coulter’s vitriolic tweets against Delta employees and her fellow passengers bore racist undertones, with two tweets insulting the “Dachshund-legged,” “immigrant” woman assigned to her desired seat.

Delta responded on Twitter, stating, “Your insults about our other customers and employees are unacceptable and unnecessary.”

The airline also offered to refund the $30 extra for the seat, to which Coulter responded:  

Delta issued the following statement in response:

"We are sorry that the customer did not receive the seat she reserved and paid for. More importantly, we are disappointed that the customer has chosen to publicly attack our employees and other customers by posting derogatory and slanderous comments and photos in social media. Her actions are unnecessary and unacceptable.                    

Each of our employees is charged with treating each other as well as our customers with dignity and respect. And we hold each other accountable when that does not happen.

Delta expects mutual civility throughout the entire travel experience.

We will refund Ms. Coulter's $30 for the preferred seat on the exit row that she purchased."

Delta took a bold stance and stuck with it - in this instance, defending its employees against condescension. Furthermore, by taking a purely logical tone and reiterating its values of “mutual civility,” Delta not only reinforced its commitment to its staff, but offered a solution without engaging in the brouhaha, and many of those watching the conversation defended Delta, such as actress Whitney Cummings.

Even when the customer is wrong, you should first apologize and offer a solution. If the complaint was lodged on social media, make sure to respond on the same platform so bystanders know you didn’t ignore it. But even if the complaint is misplaced, don’t argue it publicly; instead, ask the customer to switch to direct message mode, such as a phone call or email correspondence.

For major goof-ups where damage control is necessary, resolving the issue over a private channel curbs the potential for public backlash against your brand.  

2. UK supermarket commiserates with customer over chocolate digestive

Social media can be a confusing realm for brands, who bear the dual onus of appearing "human" and professional, and brand-centric yet irreverent. Sometimes it’s best to simply follow the customer’s lead: if they are angry, respond calmly. If their tone is jocular, lob them a witty comeback.

A customer wrote the following to a UK supermarket chain on Facebook after he discovered one biscuit missing its chocolate coating in a packet of chocolate digestives: “I could not believe my eyes, never in all my life had I seen such a biscuit predicament,” with an attached photo of the unabashedly unclothed digestive.

Aldi UK responded in kind, with humor (and a clever use of puns) - after apologizing, of course. “The plain digestive is not something to be shunned, but celebrated. Look at it, sitting there in plain sight - not having to hide from behind its chocolate friend.”

After bantering with the customer, it went on to offer a solution: delivering a new packet of digestives to his door, and throwing in a free bag of sugar to boot - and taking the interaction offline.

3. When brands use humor to shut down Internet trolls

Sometimes, customers make digs at brands that aren’t complaints, but still have the power to dent your reputation. Certain brands are even known for being picked on, like a lousy flight being compared to a Greyhound bus ride. But when brands jump into these conversations with a sense of humor, they show that they are listening and can take criticism.

In fact, use of humor can even turn brand perception around - even if the joke is at the expense of the customer.

When European internet service provider Tesco Mobile posted this daring tweet, it set off a friendly bantering session with a slew of other customers. One user, @andygrayNI, tweeted: “Unreal! I LOVE TESCO MOBILE!!!”

Contrary to popular misconception, social media is not an arena for customers to gang up on brands; many still think like rational, empathetic individuals and show their support for brands and employees rather than blindly supporting other customers.

Other examples: