subway photo by

subway photo by

What Does a Cockroach Sandwich Have to Do With Your Online Reputation? Everything.

Patrick Balfour has a bone to pick with Subway. He claims to have found a cockroach in his turkey foot long from the sandwich restaurant almost a year ago. Since then, it’s been a comedy of errors trying to get someone, anyone, at Subway to listen to him. Balfour contacted @SUBWAYOntario to complain, but ultimately, was not able to get in contact with anyone.

He let the incident slide for several months until he was reminded of his cockroach sandwich by @SUBWAYCanada‘s new promotional campaign on Twitter. With a more active account in charge, Balfour saw an opportunity to have his complaint addressed:

@SUBWAYCanada I found a cockroach in my sub. I spoke with someone from @SubwayOntario & they said someone would be in touch. Never happened

— Patrick Balfour (@patrickbalfour) February 27, 2014

And then he was ignored:

@SUBWAYCanada@SubwayOntario a Why are you ignoring my tweets? You’d think that if I found a cockroach in my sub you might want to reach out — Patrick Balfour (@patrickbalfour) February 28, 2014

  Finally, he got a response — a note that directed him to a hotline:

@SUBWAYCanada@SubwayOntario Why have this platform available to your customers if you’re just going to direct them to a hotline? — Patrick Balfour (@patrickbalfour) February 28, 2014

After being ignored multiple times and then directed to a 24 hour voicemail hotline, Balfour got serious with a promoted tweet:

I found a dead cockroach in my sub which I bought in Ontario. This tweet is being promoted! Do you care now @SubwayCanada? #Subway

— Patrick Balfour (@patrickbalfour) February 28, 2014

Balfour’s promoted tweet has gained traction, and even sparked a @SubwayCockroach Twitter account. Things aren’t looking good for Subway. After all this, Balfour says that all he wanted was to let Subway know which store he visited so that they could take care of the roach problem.

Why an Active Twitter is Essential for Influential Customers

Ultimately, Balfour isn’t even that upset about the bug in his sandwich. It’s Subway’s failure to communicate that made him mad enough to buy a promoted tweet, and that’s the real lesson here:

On a scale of 1-10, I’m upset about the roach in my sub 5/10. But @SubwayCanada‘s lack of customer service is 10/10.

— Patrick Balfour (@patrickbalfour) March 2, 2014

We’ve already touched on how important it is to have an active, responsive Twitter. Research tells us that 72% of customers with a complaint expect a response on Twitter in less than an hour. If they don’t hear back, 60% will voice their unhappiness, much like Balfour did.

He’s not the only one. Back in September, Hasan Syed paid for a sponsored tweet to express his dissatisfaction with British Airways after the airline lost his father’s luggage and responded with poor customer service.

Don’t fly @BritishAirways. Their customer service is horrendous.

— º¿º (@HVSVN) September 2, 2013

The tweet was broadcasted to more than 300,000 British Airways Twitter followers, but Syed didn’t receive a response from British Airways until eight hours after his original tweet.

@HVSVN Sorry for the delay in responding, our twitter feed is open 0900-1700 GMT. Please DM your baggage ref and we’ll look into this.

— British Airways (@British_Airways) September 3, 2013

With a lag time of eight hours, it was ultimately too late for British Airways to avoid damage. Syed’s tweet had already been viewed by thousands, and even sparked news articles worldwide, drawing attention to the mistake.

We’ve learned from Balfour and Syed that it’s not enough for brands to simply have a Twitter account. It’s not even enough for it to be monitored intermittently by customer service reps. Twitter is a 24/7 active service, and unhappy customers do not care what your business hours are. Customers expect to be heard on Twitter, quickly, and if they’re not, they just might be willing to take drastic steps to get your attention.

Twitter is a Hub for Your Most Influential Customers

Though it’s not yet common for customers to air their complaints using promoted tweets, Twitter is still a dangerous territory for brands. Some of the world’s most influential customers are on Twitter, and they’re vocal and connected enough to widely share their opinions, both positive or negative.

New research from ExactTarget and CoTweet tells us that 72% of the Twitter users they surveyed publish blog posts at least monthly, and 61% write at least one product review a month. Additionally, 33% of Twitter users share brand opinions once a week, with 32% making recommendations, and 30% seeking advice.

The research tells us what Balfour and Syed have spent good money to communicate to brands: customers on Twitter are influential, and they need to be heard.

How Brands Can Stay Engaged with Influential Customers on Twitter

It’s clear that brands need to be active and engaged on Twitter, but how? Follow the basics here:

  • Talk to them. It really is that simple. New studies indicate that brands may lose 15% of new followers if they don’t engage for three weeks. To be effective on Twitter, brands need to be present. Staying active is as easy as retweeting, replying, or even just making a great tweet a favorite. Anything to show signs of life.
  • Listen to them. Balfour’s Subway experience was a massive failure not because of the cockroach in his sandwich, but because Subway failed to respond. A cockroach in your sandwich is pretty huge, so that’s really saying something. It is essential for brands to regularly monitor social media accounts, especially Twitter, to engage with customers and put out fires before they spread. Twitter should be a two-way conversation.
  • Be interesting. Tell them something they don’t know. @McD_Canada promoted a #FreeCoffee day in an interesting way. Rather than simply sharing news about free coffee, McDonald’s posted an intriguing graphic that showed when Canadians tweet most about coffee (Wednesdays, if you’re curious). The graphic tells customers something about themselves that they probably don’t know, and it’s more likely to get shared than a grab for free coffee.
  • Look for positive ways to interact. Too often, brands on Twitter have two shallow sides: one that shares promotions and news tweets, and the other that directs complaints to a customer service resource. Customers want more than that. The best brands on Twitter take it a step further, engaging in banter with followers and genuinely creating interesting conversations.

Don’t make customers resort to paid tweets to talk to you. Develop a strong online reputation for your brand by making it a point to connect with customers on Twitter and beyond often and early.