How to Use the Twitter #fail Hashtag

**Part II of this post can be found here.

While I’m sure there’s still folks out there who believe that the collective voice instructing businesses to create a social media presence is an elaborate scheme dreamed up by social media consultants everywhere… I’m here to tell you that no, it’s really not. 

If businesses aren’t listening and responding to their customers, they lose them – it’s as simple as that. For customers, this realization can be a wonderful revelation into the world of good customer service experiences, if you know the channels to shout to. As most businesses have at least a Facebook or Twitter account, brandish these tools like a sword: use your calm and clever insinuations to their bad customer service to get what you really want.

So far, I’ve had the best experience with a good-humored tweet (so your tweets are not taken as the enraged ravings of a lunatic) and a strategically placed #fail hashtag. To prove this point, I would like to point to my own experiences – two recent customer service headaches turned triumphs, thanks to social media.

Exhibit A: American Airlines

The airlines industry may just be the least regarded in consumer’s minds right now. As a customer, what makes our inherent frustration even more acute is our general inability to make a choice when it comes to flying; finding a seat on a flight usually comes down to the cheapest price.

I recently flew from Granada, Spain to Accra, Ghana on British Airways – a one-way ticket that earned me around 3,000 miles on BA’s mileage partner, American Airlines. Since I had already entered in my mileage information when purchasing the ticket, I patiently waited for my mileage credit to show up in my AA account. After waiting for a month and a half, I sent in a request for missing mileage, via a form on their website.

Three weeks later, and still nothing. C’mon AA, I had places to go and tickets to buy! After filling out yet another customer service ticket on their website and failing to receive a reply, I took out the big guns: I went to Twitter.

This tweet was sent to @AAdvantage on July 18th:

AA Tweet

Obviously, AA’s Customer Relations ran a tight Twitter ship, since their response came a sweet 15 minutes later:

AA Response

Ahh, finally, a human response! After going back and forth for a couple days (mostly because I insisted on being served over the internet since I didn’t want to waste minutes calling from Ghana), I received this reply:

AA #3

30 days, huh? Six days later I received this email from AA Customer Service:

Dear Ms. Engh,

We’re sorry you’ve been kept waiting. Thank you for using British
Airways for your travel needs.

I understand that the flight have recently been adjusted on your
AAdvantage account to accommodate your request. Still, I wanted to
acknowledge receipt of your message and apologize that you had to
contact us again.

I’m glad I could verify this information for you.


Some Nice Gentleman from AAdvantage Customer Service

All in all, one of the easiest customer service experiences I’ve ever had… after I took my request from their website to Twitter. I doubt I would have received a reply if I had left my problem up to the abyss of online customer service forms!

Exhibit B: Ally Bank

Let me start out by saying: I love Ally Bank. When they first opened their doors, I sang their praises to friends, telling them about the joys of chatting with a rep online instantly, reimbursed ATM charges, and the best interest rates in town; I think that I alone probably accounted for 50% of their new sign-ups in their first year of operation! I still love Ally for all that they stand for – but not, as I recently learned, for their international standards.

Although I had called Ally to let them know I would be out of the US for several months, I still arrived at an Accra ATM to find my debit card blocked. I had other cards, of course, but keeping in mind that Ally’s ‘refundable ATM fees’ policy was a major reason for my love affair with Ally in the first place, I was not about to pay any kind of exorbitant international fee, no way. Not only that, but I wasn’t able to access my online banking to check and see what the hold was all about.

As with my American Airlines debacle, calling Ally’s customer service and wasting dollars on minutes was the last thing I wanted to do. However, since Ally wouldn’t divulge account information over email (incredibly annoying at the time? Yes. Makes sense now? Yes.), I was forced to spend 20 minutes of my day talking to Ally customer service.

First Call: “Why yes, ma’am, we’re so sorry for the inconvience. We’ll have this fixed right away!”

Second Call, after the problem wasn’t fixed and I had to explain the situation all over again: “I’m so sorry, ma’am, I see what the problem is now. I’ll have it fixed right away.”

Third Call, after the problem still wasn’t fixed, I had to explain the situation yet again, and I was wasting another 20 minutes on the phone… well, you get the idea.

Somewhere around the fifth call, I gave up. I was in rural Africa, and frankly, my banking situation could wait until I was back in the States. I didn’t think about the problem again until I came across this NYT article about US banks beginning to offer tiny, secure microprocessing chips (E.M.V chips) in their credit cards, to concur with industry standards overseas. Curious if Ally did the same, I asked:

Ally msg 1

They didn’t.


Well, they did ask…

Ally msg 2

A quick reply, one hour later:


I was definitely not interested in going through the same inefficient phone song and dance, so I specified my requests:

Ally msg 3

Three days later, I received a phone call (remember, I’m in Ghana) from a customer service rep that had been working on my case. Although I didn’t get the answer I wanted (apparently Ally’s security measures don’t allow access to their online banking while I’m in Ghana, although my card is no longer blocked), my frustration was finally resolved, especially when I received a direct line (!) to an agent briefed with my case to call if I had any more problems while traveling.

The Moral

Customers, you have a right to just say no to bad service. Social media channels make it easy to have your voice heard and your requests completed, so use them! Send out questions to a company’s Twitter handle, or start a conversation about a certain aspect of a product on a company’s Facebook page. Especially in a bad economy where prices are low and competitive (and businesses know it!), give your money to those whom deserve it.

And for Businesses: You guys need to have a presence on social media channels because a) people use your products and services on a daily basis, b) people like to talk and share their experiences with others, and c) the most popular way to talk and share experiences is through online channels, like social media. If you’re a business that sells a product or service, no matter what it is, chances are you’ve got customers talking about it. Hopefully, they’re happy with what they’ve bought, but more often than not, customers are unhappy, and they want to make darn well sure that no one in the history of the world ever makes the same mistake by purchasing your product or service. In the latter case, well – for the sake of your own livelihood, you better be listening and ready to appease, as well as defend yourself.

Want more examples? Part II of this post can be found here.

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