Social Media and Customer Service: Getting It Right, Online and Off

Smart branding has always been social. What changes is the media. You want – actually, you need – to be where your customers are. These days, more and more of them are on social networks.

Viewing social networks as venues for frivolous chit chat is naïve. Social media is a business intelligence, and customer relations tool that can save you time, make you money, and provide a competitive edge. There’s nothing frivolous about that.

Doing it right means integrating social into your overall marketing strategy, then measuring the results against the goals of that strategy to drive ROI. Sure, there are costs. Social media is a capital investment. Don’t expect the R if you’re not willing to make the I.

With that investment, social media helps brands check the consumer pulse, stay ahead of public relations fumbles, even manage full-blown crises. Being active in the social media space increases brand visibility, improves search engine rankings, facilitates conversations, spreads word of mouth, fosters relationships, and establishes expertise – all of which help you acquire and retain customers.

Keeping those customers happy is key. Which is why one of social media’s most positive attributes is providing a platform for exceptional customer service. Recently, I had a customer service experience that demonstrated the power of social media in branding – and how it can still go wrong if service doesn’t suffuse the brand offline as well as on:


There’s not much worse than that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when you realize your hard drive is fried; except, that sinking feeling that follows it when you realize how long it’s been since you backed up your files. Such was the one-two punch I was reeling from when our MacBook Pro recently went kaput.

Being for personal use it wasn’t connected to our business network, and thus not regularly backed up. So, in a familiar refrain it wasn’t until it died that we realized how sentimentally important a lot of the files on it were. Desperately, I slogged down to a nearby Data Doctors computer service shop, hoping that something, anything, could be retrieved.

Skipping tons of detail in the interest of brevity…

Suffice to say, the time frame and fees that Data Doctors originally quoted turned out to be less than concrete. After days, they still had my hard drive, but no idea of how much, if any data could be recovered. Then they started spouting new service tier options with higher prices, and turn around times that could take additional weeks.

Conflicting information from various clerks and technicians contributed to feeling jerked around. Concerned about where things seemed to be going, I logged onto the company web site seeking a customer service number to call and kvetch. My search revealed a link to the Twitter account of company CEO, Ken Colburn. Perfect, a direct line to the top Doc.

Who Says Doctors Don’t Make House Calls?

Would he respond? How long would it take? Was Colburn himself really behind the Twitter account? To get answers, I typed out this tweet worded to grab his attention:

Within minutes, Ken tweeted this response:

Outstanding. No argument, nothing defensive. Rather, he empathetically diffused what, from his perspective, could have potentially become a public spectacle. He even said “please”. That’s about as perfect as it gets. Here was no rookie; this was a professional who clearly understood customer service.

Smartly, just prior to responding, Ken connected to me on Twitter, enabling private, direct messages. I immediately replied with a DM containing my phone number. Less than 60 seconds later, the phone rang. There was the company CEO, asking what he could do to help.

Ken apologized for the frustration I was experiencing, then asked what had happened. I explained. He listened. No interruptions, no excuses. By the time I was done he recognized the problem, and politely explained how the process had broken down at the retail level.

That was an internal issue they’d deal with, he said, but for now, his focus was on making me a happy customer. He apologized again then asked if he could call back shortly, after conferring with his lab technicians to see what could be done. Soon after, Ken phoned to explain that a lab tech would be in touch to assist me through the rest of the process. They were going to make things right – whatever it took.

I reiterated something I’d told Ken earlier; that I hoped nobody’s job was in jeopardy because of honest mistakes. Ken assured me that was not the case, and that his investigation of the situation demonstrated to him that the company needed to address training and procedural issues at the in-store level. He thanked me for bringing this to his attention.

My Data Doctors doubts now dissipated I hung up grateful. There was still a process to go through, but it felt like we were on track. Later that day I turned to Twitter once more, where Ken and I had this final exchange:

Brand Diagnosis

Ken Colburn could write a book about customer service. Having a CEO who genuinely cares about their customers, and who champions the brand, is essential for success. But, great service can’t come from the CEO alone, it must permeate corporate DNA across every social touchpoint. When service begins only after a customer complains, it’s too late.

This drama would never have played out if the original clerk had been trained properly, and the communication between the retail locations, and the central lab was more efficient. I also could definitely have done without the snarky comment from a lab technician who reminded me I wouldn’t be in this mess if I’d remembered to back up my files.

That remark continues to resonate as a particularly egregious brand failure on a human level. You feel bad enough when you think you’ve lost half of your son’s baby photos in a computer crash, you don’t need smart-ass jibes to remind you that it’s your own fault. Given the nature of their services, Data Doctors is the sort of company you hope you never have to call. When you do, a little customer compassion goes a long way.

Service and compassion are also communicated through things like organization, and follow-through – or not. When I went to pick up the retrieved data I discovered that the lab delivered it to the wrong retail location. The nonplussed manager apologized, said he’d have it tomorrow, but never called to confirm. When I checked in the next day, in what must have been a forehead-slapping moment he exclaimed, “I totally forgot!” He promised, again, to have the data the following day – which he finally did.

And, speaking of the retail location: From the outside the sparse storefront had always seemed abandoned. Driving there I wasn’t even sure if I’d find an operating business. Once inside, I was underwhelmed by the plain, poorly designed interior. While waiting I photographed the lobby with my phone then tweeted the image as an example of bad in-store design (I can’t help it, I’m a designer). Somebody actually tweeted back asking if I was in the post office or the DMV. Ouch.

Then there’s the web site; a cumbersome, user-unfriendly mess of search engine over-optimization, small type, and painfully generic stock imagery – none of which does anything to engender consumer confidence. One expects greater online acumen from what is at heart a technology company.


The Prescription

Brands must remember that social interaction is not limited to online networks. Retail spaces are social. Web sites, too. What do yours communicate? Are they inviting; informative; helpful? What about your employees? The answers can tell you a lot about how well you’re serving your customers.

Every interaction between your brand and your customers – wherever, however, or whomever with that interaction takes place – makes an impression. People will forget what you say. They’ll never forget how you made them feel. That’s why maladies in training, service, design, and employee attitude must be diagnosed, and cured before disease spreads, and the brand breaks down.

Ultimately, Data Doctors recovered much of my data, and went the extra mile to get it done – but only after a direct complaint to the CEO got him involved. As impressed as I was with Colburn’s personal response, it never should have been necessary. Wherever he wasn’t involved, the process was broken, and unpleasant.

Ken, if you’re reading this – and I know you are – resuscitate your brand. Breathe new life into your retail spaces, and your web site. Your employee training manuals, and franchisee materials as well. You don’t need a doctor you need a designer, and a better brand strategy. If you’re interested, we make house calls, too.



About Ken Peters

Chronically curious. Compulsively creative. Opinions here are my own, and those of the voices in my head.
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4 Responses to Social Media and Customer Service: Getting It Right, Online and Off

  1. Peter Croppo says:


    I too had a similar experience. What makes me insanely frustrated is a position that FutureShop &; Staples/Business Depot &; likely
    other computer retailers take.

    First, they remind you that you are an idiot for not backing up data. Next, they give you the option of paying an exorbitant fee ($100/$150) for the backup or you do it yourself. If you don’t know how you pay the fees. If you know how, you know also know how long it usually takes &; you immediately recognize how much of a gouge it is to have a minimum wage employee watching 5-10 computers that are being “backed up”. There is probably no greater profit margin in the computer industry at the retail level. Think of it: $10/hr, 1-3hrs work possibly nets $500- $1500 revenue. When I posited that idea to a CSR he ran for a supervisor like his hair was on fire!!! I ultimately went to a small repair shop and forgoing the warranty opportunity, paid $60 to have the service work done.

    I leave it to your imagination where I will take any future business. FutureShop has no future with me as a customer.


    • Ken Peters says:


      Thanks for reading and sharing your story. I feel your frustration. There’s no worse feeling as a consumer than being treated like your an idiot, and being gouged at the same time.

      To be clear regarding my post here; I started out feeling as if some shenanigans were going on with price at Data Doctors, but it turned out to be the “fault” of an errant retail clerk who didn’t understand the company’s price tiers, etc.

      I called a number of resources when my computer died, and the pricing for examining and possibly recovering the hard drive data was consistently offensively high across the board. Data Doctors was the most reasonable, but they, too, were high, in my opinion.

      Problem is that I needed the work done, and the data retrieved, so there was only so much I could do. That’s another thing that’s frustrating when you’re a consumer; feeling like you’re being taken advantage of because they know they’ve got you backed into a corner.

      Thanks for commenting.


  2. Niki Blaker says:

    I unfortunately also had a negative experience. In what is best described as sitcom timing, I dropped my external hard drive, which was my back up, in the process of setting it up to sync with my new computer.

    I damaged the heads of the drive and called my nearest Data Doctors. The range of cost was, no lie, anywhere from $450 – $3000 to recover the data.

    How can I make a decision based on that range? My data was certainly worth $450, but there was no way I could pay $3000. To take the chance of $450 just to walk away with nothing was also not acceptable.

    So, I chose to lose all my college work and the majority of my client work, resulting in the loss of one client.

    I realize the range might be accurate – a white room may be involved and much technical work might actually require $3000 of labor, I understand that. But in an already devastated state, to nonchalantly be told anywhere in the range of $3000 made me doubt all professionalism and frankly if you guys knew what you were doing. I just couldn’t take that risk.

    I agree with Ken – in taking the time to add the component of comfort and expertise, from your voice to your signage, will go a long way.

    • Ken Peters says:


      I was staggered by the price quotes I received when I started calling around to see if I could have the data retrieved. I felt exactly like you did about the wide range of cost (To be fair, Data Doctors was the most reasonably priced provider I found).

      Perhaps these wide-ranging costs are fair, I don’t know. I don’t know what goes into these services, except that at the beginning it seems like all they do is plug the hard drive into some software then walk away and leave it to see if it can recover anything. I think the industry needs to do a better job of explaining why the pricing is so disparate. Otherwise, you simply feel taken advantage of as a consumer.