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This past spring, I traveled to California to attend a week-long conference. For the first time, I flew out of BWI, and so decided to spend the night before the flight in order to be close to the airport. It was well-known national chain, that I’ll call Hotel X. I booked the room through a third party site and got a great rate.

Everything about my stay was terrific. I used the complimentary shuttle to go to the airport. I chatted small talk with the front desk clerk. I tipped well. My problem surfaced when I got to California and my husband called to say I had an additional $50 charge on my bill (I had pre-paid). He asked if I had used a mini bar (there was none) or ordered something special. I responded “No” and asked him to check it out for me, which he did.

The $50 charge was for the removal of two king-sized pillows that the hotel claimed were missing and “since so many of our guests like our pillows” it is common for them to go missing. If I wanted to buy pillows, I would buy new ones from a store. Not to mention I have a queen-sized bed and standard pillowcases. My bedding is not king-sized. We refused the charge and called the hotel to say the charge was unfounded. Several days elapsed. The front desk clerk checked back, talked to the “director of housekeeping” who confirmed the pillows were indeed missing. The hotel was not going to back out the charge.  I was a pillow thief!

But I didn’t take the pillows! I had one suitcase, filled to the brim with a week’s worth of clothing, etc. How could I stuff two king-sized pillows in that suitcase? I had talked with hotel staff, with my sole suitcase beside me, while I waited in the lobby for the shuttle. I wasn’t carrying pillows. Nevertheless, they stuck by their charge. Evidently, my suitcase was empty all along. They didn’t know or care that I was flying to California, so no matter that my plot to book a transcontinental flight with an empty suitcase  –  all to abscond with two king-sized pillows, was a bit far-fetched.

Incensed in California, I took to social media.  The hotel had a Facebook page and a Twitter account and I posted on both. Under my real name I tweeted “@HotelX BWI street address docked me $50 for 2 pillows I did not steal. Ridiculous!” “Ridiculous” was as strong as I got with language. On the Facebook page I politely elaborated more. I quickly received a comment back and they promised to look into it. They did. Despite the fact that the director of housekeeping stuck to her story, the hotel management immediately removed the charge.

Social media worked where traditional complaining and customer service over the phone had failed. Satisfied, I immediately thanked the hotel on Facebook and Twitter for their prompt attention and satisfactory handling of the issue. It is just as important to compliment and praise on social media as it is to complain. It should also be noted they didn’t delete my comment on Facebook.They faced my pillow fight head on.

I have other social media customer service success stories. During a kitchen remodel, we were given damaged quartz counter tops. Once installed, they’re not easy to return, so we had several contractors come out and buff, erase and attempt to repair the flaws that apparently occurred in the factory. We went through several weeks as the retail seller, subcontractors, fabricators and manufacturer went back and forth amongst each other assigning responsibility. We had to send pictures, write letters, file claims, etc. and it was still not resolved. As with my pillows, I went on the manufacturer’s Facebook page to tell my story. Within a week, a corporate representative had arranged for a new fabricator and a new counter top. Companies with a keen sense of their reputations clearly know the value and power of customer relations on social media.

Things happen. Mistakes get made. There are good people out there who care about their business and company reputation. When you call or write a letter, it is usually between you and the person on the other end. Two people. In social media, the conversation has a large, expansive audience and therein lies the power.  It is that component that makes a difference. When addressing an issue on social media, my advice is to:

  • Call or email first. Use traditional methods first when complaining. No need to go to the social media mattresses straight away
  • Take down the names of people you talk to
  • On social media be polite and stick to facts. Calling someone an “idiot” or “jerks” is not helpful. Don’t threaten to never use them or shop there again. Give the business a chance to do right by you
  • Thank them publicly in social media when the issue is solved
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