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Will 2013 be the year of social customer service?

It was Professor Higgins in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion who first exclaimed, “By jove! I think she’s got it”. But I’m finding myself shouting the same words in relation to the increasing number of companies I try to engage with on Twitter. OK, so I don’t actually shout, nor refer to them as female, but you get the general idea.

Three conversations of my own so far this year have led me to this literary conclusion, as well as a few I’ve seen mentioned by others.

Nationwide Building Society

My first example comes from Nationwide Building Society, which has taken the sad decision to close their branch in my local Norfolk market town. Despite petitions and protestations, they look set to go through with their threat at the end of this month, leaving just one bank (Barclays) in a small rural town whose fate already looks terminal judging by the number of empty shops.

I am sure Nationwide have their reasons, although as a customer myself they haven’t done a very good job of explaining them, one of which is that the branch simply doesn’t get used. So when I popped in this week to bank a couple of cheques and some cash (which I will soon have to make an extra hour’s round trip to do) and tweeted a photo of a fairly full counter, the last I expected was this conversation:

Whilst Nationwide’s initial response was a bit too scripted for my liking (the 1/4 gives it away), the “By jove…” moment for me was seeing them realise that even though they weren’t going to resolve my issue, that was no reason not to respond to it.

I don’t expect anything to come of it, but I do appreciate the fact that they have tried to listen. Although if I ever find out they didn’t pass my comments on, then I’ll be switching to Barclays!

British Airways

My second example comes from British Airways.

Now I don’t know if you’re aware, but the EU legislators have recently ruled conclusively that not only do airlines taking off from EU airports have to pay compensation for cancellations they now have to do so for long delays. The penalty to the airline is a flat rate per passenger of up to €600 (based on distance), unless they can demonstrate “extraordinary” circumstances beyond their control. Worse still (for the airline at least), passengers can claim for delays incurred in the past (although not completely indefinitely).

Personally, I find this pretty unfair, but having incurred such a delay when travelling to New York for Thanksgiving last year, I duly put in my claim for compensation (€1,800 – more than I paid for the tickets!) at the end of November. Then I waited for an acknowledgement. And waited. And waited. Then called. And waited. Then called again. And waited. And… you get the picture.

Having given them over 6 weeks simply to acknowledge my claim, I called again and said that unless they dealt with my claim then I would be forced to assume they had accepted it and would pursue them for the amount they owed my though the small claims court. They promised to “see what they could do”.

I was pretty incensed to have been put in this position, so took it out on the @British_Airways Twitter account:

Within a couple of hours, I’d received an email from British Airways confirming that my claim had been reviewed, approved and that I’d have a cheque within a few days. True to their word, it arrived today (and has gone straight toward paying for my place on a cycle ride from London to Paris in July, in aid of East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices).


Buoyed by these two experiences, I decided to see if the @UKTesco account could help me get the VAT receipt I’d been requesting for a Tesco Direct order. You have to request one online, yet given no indication of when you might get it. Here’s the ensuing conversation:

Putting aside my astonishment that obtaining a VAT receipt from one of the country’s biggest retailers is such a rare request that it takes 12 weeks and gets done by a separate area of the business (I have visions of an old woman painstakingly typing up VAT receipts in a broom cupboard somewhere in Tesco HQ), it’s just another example demonstrating that social customer service on Twitter is here to stay – whether you like it or not.