Are Responsive Brands Playing Favorites?

by Jason Falls |
Jason Falls
Jason Falls

Brand responsiveness through social media continues to give companies around the globe high marks and good publicity. From the old standby of Dell to the emerging omnipresence of Ford and GM, big brands are starting to not just listen to conversations about them, but respond as well. But two recent experiences for me, ironically with major competitors, makes me pose two questions:

  1. Can a big brand’s personal responsiveness scale?
  2. Are big brands playing favorites by responding only to those they deem “influencers?”

Case in point:

In January while attending a conference with a friend, we both were having difficulty with our AT&T phones. I couldn’t get emails and he couldn’t get phone calls. An innocuous Tweet calling to attention the strange irony of the situation led to a sudden windfall of attention from AT&T. Someone who works for AT&T’s public relations firm contacted me via Twitter direct message, got both of our phone numbers and elevated our concerns way up the ladder. (He admitted later that AT&T elevated it higher up the ladder than he expected, but still.) We figured the issue out and my friend was back to normal in no time. My email connectivity had more to do with the signal strength in that building and everyone was happy.

RE:But I recall a couple of others chiming in with responses to the conversation (my apologies but a search through my replies only dates back to Feb. 12th) complaining about AT&T services. Did someone from the company reach out to them, too? My pal @MoAmy reports no response after complaining of voice mail issues and spotty service on a major interstate in Louisville in our conversation that day in January. And what about all the people listed in a search for “AT&T” and “frustrated” on Twitter?

Similarly, I took my teenage nephew to a Sprint store in Louisville Saturday to purchase a new phone to replace one he’d lost. Here are my Tweets (remember to read bottom up for the proper chronology). And @dbcotton’s question was, “Why are you still there?”:

Sprint Tweets from Jason Falls

John Taylor (@jbtaylor) from Sprint media relations called me about an hour after our store experience, forwarded the issue on the appropriate people in customer care and I had a voicemail from them by the end of the day Saturday. (I’m to call them back this morning.) John was profusely apologetic and made it a point to say, “thank you,” for Tweeting the concern to the company can learn from it and the location can learn from the experience as a training opportunity.

Now that’s pretty damn cool.

But @tracie_marie has been working on a Sprint issue for two months with no progress. She’s been a Sprint customer for eight years and is frustrated. Ky Palmer tweeted this a month or so ago:

“is very frustrated with Sprint. Wanting to switch to AT&T or Verizon. AT&T has better phones. Hmm”

I’ve reached out to find out if he received any contact from the three companies mentioned. I’m betting not. There are many others frustrated with Sprint, too.

Mind you, there are good examples of both AT&T and Sprint being responsive to customers. I’ve been very impressed with both my service and attention from AT&T since moving the iPhone in January and with Sprint’s responsiveness to my nephew’s situation and our service issues. But there are plenty of complaints out there, too. My concern is whether or not the responsiveness is weighted. Because I have 7,500+ followers on Twitter, am I then more important to them than someone who has around 70 like @tracie_marie? Should I be, even if she’s been a Sprint customer for eight years and I’ve never used them for anything to my recollection?

Is a blogger a higher priority than one who isn’t because they could potentially light a viral fire to a company’s poor service? Should they be?

My hope is that these brands and others value every customer, one at a time and none more so than the others. If not, then their participation in social media seems a bit disingenuous. But is that idealism realistic? Sprint, AT&T and other big brands have millions of customers while not having millions of employees. Can personalized service scale so that responsiveness is a blanket policy or will it always have to be encumbered by prioritization and favoritism to face the reality of supply and demand?

It’s one thing for social media consultants and strategists to preach that listening is the first rule of social media and responsiveness to customers is the most important social media activity a brand can participate in. But solving the problem of responsiveness on scale is another ball game altogether. Sure, I have my thoughts on how it can be approached, but why don’t you tell me how you would?

Let the comments produce ideas on responsiveness and scalability. Should big brands treat each customer the same or should they prioritize based on any number of factors? Can big brands respond to every customer? If so, how? We are smarter than me. The comments are yours.

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About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).