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It was 7:30pm when I stopped by Auntie Anne’s pretzel store in the local mall. There was no line, so I stepped up to the counter and the sole employee asked if she could help me. When I asked for a pretzel, she deadpanned “We outta pretzels.” I paused for a second to see if she was kidding, but her face remained void of expression. I spied dough behind her on the counter where they make the pretzels and I was willing to wait so I asked: “Are you going to make some more?” She shrugged and shook her head. The store didn’t close until 9:00pm, so I wanted to ask her what she planned to do for the next hour and a half. I refrained and just walked out of the store.

Immediately, I whipped out my phone and sent a tweet briefly describing the situation. I was sure one of my Twitter followers could find the humor in it and maybe even share a similar experience.  A few minutes later, I got a reply from the company, apologizing for what happened. I wasn’t angling for, nor expecting a response from my initial tweet; I’m just one of those annoying people who Tweets about everything. However, when the company emailed me a coupon for a free pretzel as a result, that was the beginning of what I’ve found to be an effective way to complain.

A few months later, I went to Cheesecake Factory for lunch. There was a hair in my food, so I sent it back and the waiter brought me back another plate…with hair on it. I didn’t want to send it back the second time because I hate to complain at restaurants, so I asked my Twitter followers what they would do (again, I tweet about everything). To my surprise, Cheesecake Factory responded to my tweet asking for my address then sent me a gift card in the mail.

After that, I wondered two things: A) does every company have a Twitter account? and b) Are there are people at these companies whose job it is to scour Twitter for the company’s name tied to complaints and try to make it right? Yes on both counts. In fact, one of my friends is a social media manager for one of the largest banks in the country. She told me her social media team sees every tweet that mentions the banks name and it’s their job to respond to complaints and possibly fix them.

Welcome to the new world of customer service. In days gone by (and still today if you have the time), you would have to write letters to a company or call and be on hold for an hour just to log a complaint. After taking that time, someone at the company may or may not respond to you. Now, Twitter has given us an opportunity to voice our concerns directly to people employed to handle them. Also, the companies know that unlike the privacy of a telephone or letter, should the company choose to ignore the complaints, they risk losing business.

Granted, there are some companies who don’t really care if you had a good experience or not and definitely won’t try to make up for a negative one. However, those companies are fewer and further between these days. So, if you’re looking to get better customer service, here’s a few tips on using Twitter to effectively complain.

1. Use Google to find the company’s Twitter handle – Some companies will find your tweet if you just mention their name. But others will only see your tweet if you tweet them. Also, some company’s Twitter handles are easy (@Amazon) and some you have to Google (it’s @ChipotleTweets is the restaurant, @Chipotle is some random old man).

2. Try to fit your entire concern into one or two tweets at the most. When you get a response, they’ll likely follow you then ask you to DM (direct message) and that’s when you can go in depth if necessary.

3. Be civil! Like I said, I know a girl who is a Social Media Manager for a bank and she has nothing to do with the terrible thing that happens to the bank’s customers. Even if you have a legitimate reason to be ticked, cussing out the person responding to your tweets just doesn’t make sense.

4. Be patient – Sometimes when you tweet a company, they respond in a few minutes, others don’t respond for a day or two.

5. Be positive when you can – Just as a company wants to hear when they’re doing terrible, they also want to hear when they’re doing well and sometimes that can net you free stuff too. I thanked an ice cream shop for their great customer service and they sent me a free gift certificate in the mail. It pays to be nice!

Have you ever expressed a customer service concern via Twitter and gotten a response from the company?

Follow Alissa on Twitter @AlissaInPink

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

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