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Social Media Patient Rants: Defense Lessons from Big Biz

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Animated blue "Complaints' binderMaybe it was just a coincidence, but two insightful marketing object lessons popped up this week.

The subject matter in common was customer service via social media, but in these two stories the outcomes were different. Both illustrations—one good and one not—are pages from big business, and they hold excellent take-away lessons for hospital and healthcare marketing.

The first mini-drama is a British Airways blunder last Fall, recounted in a Wall Street Journal blog post by Ryan Holmes. He wrote:

“Several pieces of luggage were lost on a Chicago-Paris flight, hardly an unusual occurrence. But when reaching out for help via formal customer service channels got no results, disgruntled businessman Hasan Syed turned to Twitter.

“Syed paid an estimated $1,000 to send a promoted tweet. His message was brutally direct: “Don’t fly @BritishAirways. Their customer service is horrendous.” As a promoted tweet, his warning was blasted out not only to his followers but to thousands of other users on the network—an audience that can be strategically targeted by geography, keywords, interests and even gender.

“Incredibly, it took British Airways more than 10 hours to notice and address the complaint. By that time, it had been retweeted thousands of times and picked up by popular tech news websites. After just a few days, several thousand Twitter users saw Syed’s rant and stories on it ran everywhere from the BBC to Fox News.” [See Business Insider.]

And (just by coincidence), KLM Royal Dutch Airlines published a notice reminding previous passengers of their “24/7 Social Media Servicing.” Their broadcast email read in part:

“A very Happy New Year or ‘Gelukkig Nieuwjaar’ as the Dutch say!

 “Did you know that for any service related question you can reach us 24/7 in 10 languages on Facebook, Twitter and soon on Google+ as well? If you ask your question via Facebook or Twitter, our goal is to respond within one hour. On the klm.us customer support page, you can now see a live response time to know exactly when to expect your answer.”

 Useful take-aways from the corporate world…

Most healthcare and hospital marketing doesn’t operate on the grand scale of global airlines, but it’s not a stretch to transfer some valuable service concepts from big biz. After all, there is a constant ebb and flow of patients, often at all hours of the day and night.

And, regardless of the scale, (a) customer service (patient experience and satisfaction) is no less important, and (b) US consumers use social media as a potentially wide-reaching “word-of-mouth” channel for questions, complaints…and even angry rants.

As the Journal article observes: “Rather than having to obediently wait on help lines or for email support, consumers can now shout on social channels and be heard by a mass audience, instantly.” With a tip of the hat to British Airways, KLM and Ryan Holmes, consider these useful tips:

  • Recognize the complaint channel of choice. A majority of US consumers use social media for service questions and complaints, according to a recent Nielson study.
  • Tomorrow is too late. The immediacy of social media has trained the consumer to expect a quick response. Eight out of 10 Twitter users look for a same-day answer, according to a report form Oracle.
  • Cast a wide and inclusive net. “Customer service in the age of social media,” Ryan Holmes advises, “needs to be everyone’s job, [and] customer service in the social media era needs to be radically decentralized…it’s essential that all employees become the eyes and ears of an organization on social media.”

The downside is well understood, and it’s primarily lost revenue. For physicians, medical facilities and providers it also threatens (sometimes damages) professional reputation. On the other hand, surveys tell us that online comments and reviews of doctors by patients are largely positive.

Nevertheless, social media has become a large—and potentially loud—megaphone for consumers in general, and patients in particular, to shout about their questions and concerns. As such, it’s more important than ever to monitor social media vigilantly and to respond quickly.

FOR MORE ON THIS TOPIC, see our previous posts: Protecting Your Reputation: Doctors Who Ignore Social Media Are at Risk, and Reputation Equals Revenue: What’s Your Review Site Strategy?

Stewart Gandolf, MBA


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