Tweet for better customer service

The Twitter homepage appears on a screen in Washington.

Tess Vigeland: It's no secret that Americans like to complain. And, if you're having trouble getting a response the traditional way, like over the phone or by e-mail? Tweet it. It works. And, it'll make you feel good about yourself! At least that's what psychologist Guy Winch wrote recently in his column "The Squeaky Wheel" on the Psychology Today website. He says Twitter is a godsend for our urge to complain.

Guy Winch: We have a complaining psychology, which is really problematic as a whole. Because, when we really believe that to complain to a company will take so much time and effort, it won't be worth it. So 95 percent of us actually won't complain at all when we have a problem. We'll just go to the competition. And we're also really afraid of the confrontation. We really think it's going to be nasty and time-consuming. So we get into this fight mode when we do call a customer service line. And then here comes Twitter and within a 140 characters, we can actually get our complaints across the companies and they can respond to us. And it really bypasses a lot of the fears we have about complaining.

Vigeland: Why do you think companies are responding so much more quickly and with force to complaints on Twitter and Facebook than they would, say, if you made a phone call?

Winch: Because they know that when we complain and we don't get a response, we're likely to tell friends and acquaintances about the company and bad mouth them and all they've done to wrong us. And they also know that if they respond quickly enough, if they handle our complaints well, we'll be telling all those same people the good story about how great the company is. So it's very much worth their while to do that.

Vigeland: Alright, well, we've got a couple of examples here and one of them is our very own Stacey Vanek Smith, who is in our New York bureau. Hi Stacey.

Stacey Vanek Smith: Hi Tess.

Vigeland: We wanted to bring you in because you both posted on Facebook and called out on Twitter something that happened to you. Tell us about that.

Vanek Smith: Ugh. Yes. It was very late at night. I was looking at my bank statement and I noticed that I had a bounced check fee and I noticed that the check that had bounced was like a $250 check from the Treasury Department, which was a tax refund.

Vigeland: The IRS had bounced your check.

Vanek Smith: I know, which I thought was sort of funny, considering all the money problems that they government has been having lately. So I tweeted... I should also say I do not have a substantial number of Twitter followers at all. I didn't have hash tag anything or do any of the fancy stuff that would flag my tweet. And the next day, I had a message on my cellphone from the Treasury Department, saying that they really wanted me to call them back, that they'd seen my tweet, that there's no way that this check had actually bounced. I was terrified. I am still terrified. I know I'm going to get audited next year, Tess. It's gonna happen.

Vigeland: So what happened in the end?

Vanek Smith: Yeah, it turns out that what had happened was I was moving so the check I didn't get to the bank until after the three-month limit, so I guess that's why it had bounced. So, I guess they're rectifying that.

Vigeland: OK. So Dr. Winch, I mean, she didn't even intend to get customer service from The Man, the IRS, but she did anyway.

Winch: Yes, and to me what this shows, actually it's a great example of what I'm talking about when I say that our fears are overinflated. We're really worried -- not actually her fear of being audited, who knows about that one -- but in general our fear that we won't get a response. And here's another example of just tweeting something and getting a response and the same is true for many many companies.

Vigeland: Well, let's bring in Marketplace Money listener Scott Pakudaitis of St. Paul, Minn. Hi Scott.

Scott Pakudaitis: Hello.

Vigeland: Tell us your story.

Pakudaitis: I am not a Comcast customer, but there a cable from them going to my house, which was pulled off the house during a blizzard in the wintertime. So I first used their online chat service to get somebody out there to fix the cable, but what they did was they came out and then they simply wrapped the cable around my phone line, which was not an acceptable solution. I found that a rather absurd thing to do and I just went out on Twitter and I just said something like, "Hey Comcast, wrapping your cable around my phone line is not a way to fix a downed line." And much to my surprise, I got within 15 minutes of me writing that on Twitter, I got a customer service rep from Comcast...

Vigeland: Within 15 minutes?

Pakudaitis: Within 15 minutes, yes. That day, they sent somebody out. Then immediately after, went back on Twitter, said, "Hey, Comcast, great customer service. I really appreciate it."

Vigeland: Dr. Winch, classic example of why this works, huh?

Winch: And it's not just that it works, but psychologically what it does to us is that when we complain in general and we're effective, we get a result, we feel empowered and we feel assertive and we feel good. It's really good for our self-esteem, for our psychological mood.

Vigeland: Dr. Winch, I know you wrote an article for Psychology Today recently titled "How complaining via Twitter is changing consumer psychology." Can you give us maybe a top three tips to effective Twitter complaining?

Winch: Yes, the first thing you would want to do is look up the company's Twitter handle or hash tag. The second thing to do is to state that you're asking for help. Right now, if you look at Twitter, most people are actually using company names and hash tags to slam companies, to just say "Oh, this sucks" or "that sucks." So, be clear that you need help and one of the best ways to do that is use the word "help" in your tweet. And then the other thing you need to do is give some detail about what the problem is. If you're concerned about a flight, mention the flight number, mention that that flight is delayed, that you have an event you have to get to.

Vigeland: Alright, some great practical advice. And before we go, I do want to get all of your Twitter handles. Dr. Winch, where can people find you?

Winch: @guywinch.

Vigeland: OK, and Stacey?

Vanek Smith: @svaneksmith.

Vigeland: OK, and Scott?

Pakudaitis: @purplesquirrel1.

Vigeland: Oh that's my favorite.

Everyone laughs

Vanek Smith: Maybe I'll change mine to purplesquirrel2.

Vigeland: Well, thank you all for joining us. And Dr. Winch, thanks so much for giving some advice here today. Appreciate it.

Winch: Thank you Tess.

Vigeland: And you can find ME on Twitter at radiotess.

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