Website Awards

Using Social Media to Handle Bad Press, from Stevie Awards Winner Zendesk

Posted by Maggie Gallagher on Wed, Apr 08, 2015 @ 12:00 PM

Zendesk, a customer service software provider in San Francisco, California, won a Gold Stevie Award for its Zendesk Blog in the Website Awards categories of The 2014 American Business Awards.

The final entry deadline for The 2015 American Business Awards is April 22.


1503ZendeskZendesk’s mission is to help organizations deliver better service and get closer to their customers with help from the Zendesk customer service platform. As part of this mission, Zendesk publishes content ranging from blog posts to webinars to detailed articles—all with the ultimate goal of helping companies and professionals pick up information, tips, and best practices to help their organizations become more successful.

The Zendesk blog aims to capture the news, trends, stories, tips, and content that are relevant to the customer service industry. Over 40 Zendesk employees contribute to the blog: each is credited in the byline for the individual entry. Following is an example of a blog entry from earlier this year:

How to bounce back from a bad headline: Lessons for 2015

by Charles Cooper

Old habits, new technologies, and changing expectations have reshaped the customer service landscape in recent years. Let’s take a look back at the headline themes that made 2014 a pivotal year for customer service—as well as at one that offered signposts about how to provide even better customer service in 2015.

The Move to Mobile and Multi-channel

The big picture for 2014 was once again dominated by a rapid move away from the desktop to a more mobile, app-centric world. And with global smartphone use soon to reach two billion, the number of people tapping customer support using mobile devices grew exponentially.

Indeed, 2014 marked the first time that Web self-service surpassed the phone as the most widely used communication channel for customer service. A Zendesk survey of some 7,000 consumers found that 67 percent of online shoppers made purchases that involved multiple channels, a percentage that’s only going to climb in 2015 and beyond.

Horror Stories

Not surprisingly, these transitions left an indelible mark on customer service, as companies found themselves face-to-face—in a manner of speaking—with customers who had more ways than ever before to share personal horror stories or lavish praise on the ways companies handled their interactions.

2014 marked an end to that bygone era when companies were reachable only during “business hours”—and confirmed that customer service has never been more social.

Social Media

Social support used to be a nice-to-have component for companies; nowadays, it’s a must-have part of the total business. Today, customers frustrated with a company’s service can leave messages or videos on sites like Yelp, YouTube, Facebook, Tumblr, and so on. In fact, a Microsoft poll found that 35% of consumers said they had used social media in the past year to complain about a brand or a company’s customer service. At the same time, 52% said they had used social media to praise a company or its brand.

Smooth(er) Sailing on the Rough Seas of Social Media

This emerging era of two-way conversation requires careful navigation. It also offers organizations new ways to pursue the larger goal of forging long-term relationships with customers. Companies are still trying to wrap their arms around this new world, albeit with mixed success.

Let’s consider a few real-life examples:

In April, a U.S. airline found itself on the defensive after someone in support responded to a customer complaint on Twitter with an inappropriate picture. But what could have been a PR disaster actually wound up playing to the airline’s advantage. After deleting the image and apologizing, the airline released the chronology of an internal investigation which found that the image was accidentally copied and pasted into the customer service tweet after someone had flagged it.

So, instead of blaming the episode on a mischievous hack or firing the employee, the airline won fans online for its honesty and for standing by an employee who was only guilty, the company said, of “an honest mistake.”

Speedy Response

A major fast food chain offered another way that companies can use social media to get ahead of a news cycle and prevent damage to its reputation. Earlier in the year, a three-year-old with severe injuries to her face visited a location in Jackson, Mississippi with her family, and the store manager had asked them to leave, explaining that the child’s appearance scared other diners. News of the incident spread quickly and the company opened an immediate probe—all the while interacting with customers on Twitter and Facebook. They also posted an apology on a Facebook page set up for the girl, and offered $30,000 to help the family pay for the child’s medical bills.

While cynics may scoff at the check and apology, the company’s speedy response to the crisis over social media helped avoid a potentially massive public relations dent to the brand’s reputation.

Social Missteps

An example of how NOT to handle social media-empowered customers came when a food company attempted to delete comments on its Facebook page. The comments were critical of the company’s stance against labeling genetically modified organisms, but deleting comments only made a bad situation worse, as the headlines then focused on the company’s censorship policy rather than on its jams and jellies.

Then there’s the case of the conversation with a cable/Internet company rep that would later be described on social media as both “Kafkaesque” and “hellish.” When a customer attempted to cancel his Internet service, the company’s representative fought the customer tooth and nail, at times acting condescendingly, at others combatively, but always unhelpfully. This went on for about 10 minutes before the service rep finally relented and disconnected the service. That wasn’t the end of it, however. The now-former customer had recorded the entire conversation and promptly posted it on the Internet.

The result wasn’t pretty. The corporation subsequently apologized and pledged to prevent future similar occurrences, but the damage to its reputation was done.

Don’t be a Cautionary Tale

These contrasting stories underscore the learning curve companies have had to climb as they crossed a digital Rubicon that has left customers in control of public brand perception. And now there’s no going back.

All companies make mistakes at one time or another, but these days they have new tools to help rebound—and quickly. Deleting or ignoring customer comments won’t deter customers from venting online: It will only wind up getting spun as an example of how not to connect.

About Charles Cooper:
Charles Cooper is a technology blogger, tech media strategist, and former executive editor at CNET News.

About Zendesk:

Zendesk provides a customer service platform designed to bring organizations and their customers closer together. With more than 40,000 customer accounts, Zendesk is used by organizations in 140 countries to provide support in more than 40 languages. Founded in 2007 and headquartered in San Francisco, Zendesk has operations in the United States, Europe, Asia, Australia, and South America.