Customer Service via Social Media: on Tow Trucks and Ravioli

Social Media has been an important part of my reality since high school. My social media experience began with Myspace and soon gave way to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Currently, I do not use Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest, but many of my friends do, so I may consider giving them a try in the near future.

Boyd and Ellison’s article, “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship” makes an interesting distinction between the terms “Social Network Site,” which they explain as a site that makes use of an existing social network, and “Social Networking Site,” which they explain as a site used with the goal of growing a social network and initiating new relationships.

As soon as the authors made this distinction, I wondered how they would categorize LinkedIn. I was rather surprised when they categorized LinkedIn an example of a Social Network Site. I think LinkedIn might actually be a little of both; while many professionals do use their existing social networks to find people to connect with, the ultimate goal is often to gain a new contact and initiate a new relationship (which seems to me to fit more into Boyd and Ellison’s definition of a Social Networking Site).

Boyd and Ellison’s article provided me with some helpful history of social media, illuminating for me the evolution of social media before I jumped on board. This new background helped set the stage for Erik Qualman’s chapter in Socialnomics, “Social Media = Preventive Behavior.” While reading the section on companies using social media to provide customer service, I was thinking that I don’t often use social media to complain about a poor service experience, but then I recalled a funny (at least in hindsight) story from my sophomore year of college…

Following a multi-day blizzard at UMass Amherst, my car was parked in one of the student lots. No matter how much my friends and I shoveled, my car was simply stuck. We could not get it out of my spot, and the tires just spun. When, days later, we got sick of shoveling and waiting for the snow and ice to melt, we called AAA. The tow truck driver they sent was rude, condescending, and sexist. He essentially told me that I was just incapable of getting my car unstuck because I was a woman.

He got in the driver’s seat and placed his foot heavily on the gas pedal. Ultimately, he too failed to get it unstuck, and he had to hook it up to the tow truck and tow my car out of the icy spot. I was less than pleased with the customer service this man and his company provided. Apparently, at the time, I felt that the best way to express my frustration was in an angry Haiku poem containing some choice quotes from this tow truck driver which I posted on Facebook. I mentioned the company, although at the time they did not have a Facebook presence. Interestingly enough, 3 years later, they now have a Facebook page. While my post did not reach the company at that time, it did generate some supportive comments from the UMass community about how unacceptable his behavior was that at least made me feel better.

Thinking back to my social media interactions with organizations, I also remember a more pleasant customer service experience. Every Tuesday at lunchtime during college, the dining hall closest to my dorm served the most delicious toasted ravioli. My friends and I made it a point to get there early enough to ensure that we all got some. One day, the delicious toasted ravioli disappeared! Deciding it was a fluke, my friends and I returned the next Tuesday to find the toasted ravioli had been replaced with vegetable spring rolls.

As we sat at our table in disappointed disbelief, I posted on UMass Dining’s Facebook page asking what had happened to our favorite ravioli. They quickly responded that they were trying something healthier. I thought our favorite lunch was gone forever, but enough people commented on my post expressing thorough disappointment that UMass Dining decided to bring the toasted ravioli for good. This seems to me to be exactly what Qualman was talking about in good companies using negative social media feedback to solve problems and work toward customer satisfaction.

Posted on September 22, 2013, in Social Media. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Hi Jess,
    I would agree that LinkedIn falls in both categories – social network AND social networking. When I first set up my account, my only connections were people I knew. After some time, I started getting requests from people I didn’t know but they worked in the same industry so I would accept their requests. I think the next step is for ME to reach out to those I don’t know and do some networking beyond my network!

  2. I really like your example of the ravioli. I think that iy really illustrates the power that social media can have, especially with an organization that is paying attention. The hospital that I work at recently chose to stop selling popular unhealthy items in the cafeteria. Unlike your university, the hospital actively fights against the use of social media among its employees (for example, they have policies not only restricting use at work, but also governing social media use outside of work, which I am,fairly sure violates my freedom of speech). Consequently, there is no recourse for employees to engage the organization in a dialogue about this action.

    I think that social media can really benefit an organization if they are willing to put in the effort to engage with people through it, like in the Comcast examples. If the organization is unwilling to participate, then social media will benefit no one to any real extent.

    PS…For ice stuck cars, your single best tool is your floor mats..at least in my experience. When you need traction, you shove them under your wheels and go. It has not failed me yet. And there is a bonus because you don’t have to deal with obnoxious tow truck drivers!

    Although perhaps you tried it and it failed for you (I would be very sad to hear that it failed.

  3. Those toasted raviolis look good! I’d have to complain if they were taken away from me as well! I think that’s a great example of how using social media to voice a complaint resulted in change. There were probably other complaints about it in other channels, but at least your voice was heard from social media. I think it’s important being social media has become a way of life that businesses focus on this area.

  4. I agree with the above posts – as long as the company your are communicating about has an active social media presence. Some of the posts this week mention companies that have social media but don’t use it. They are probably also the ones that then complain how useless it is! It is a time consuming job to keep up on social media platforms. In fact, a lot of companies are starting to create departments just for social media or at least creating positions within marketing departments for it. They benefits can be hard to explain because they do not necessarily impact the bottom line (or at least to where you can track it) and sometimes you only hear from people when there is a problem. My husbands company was very very reluctant to get into social media. I recently met with one of the corporate communications partners to talk industry stuff. He was talking about how they finally got on the band wagon, if for no other reason (they make private label cheese so they don’t have their own brand or consumers out there to attract) than to also market and attract potential new employees. They were looking very out of tune with today’s business world by not having an at least an active Facebook page.

    Here are a couple interesting twitter feeds and companies to follow that can help you get a better understanding of the impact social media has for companies, large and small: @mashable (News, resources, inspiration and fun for the connected generation.). @gartenberg (tech analyst and social media expert). @jowyang (Industry Analyst, Partner at Altimeter Group. How I use Twitter http://bit.ly/LK0i). I really like Altimeter Group (http://www.altimetergroup.com), too. They are a research company specializing in how businesses can utilize social media. They keep a close eye on the industry and what does and doesn’t work.

  5. I’ve been invited to LinkedIn, but I’ve never really looked into it. When I was first invited, I had no idea what it was and assumed it was spam. After I found out what it was, I decided not to try it out because I already barely use Facebook.
    I liked your toasted ravioli example, and it shows what a group can do when they are united and organized toward a cause. I would expect to see that sort of thing happen more, but on a broader scale and with more participants. I’ve already seen small examples of it when members of the Westboro Baptist church go to picket funerals. Social media has allowed many people to be informed about their presence and form counter protests to shield the families from the protestors.

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