Price Chopper Learns Social Media Lesson

Discussion
Sep 23, 2010
George Anderson

By George Anderson

Social media is new territory for many companies so mistakes
happen. Of course, there are mistakes and then there are mistakes that make
you wonder, "What
the heck?"

A case in point was the response by an employee of Price Chopper
to criticism directed to the company’s Twitter
account
by a customer. The shopper
wrote, "Every time I go into a @PriceChopperNY I
realize why they are not @Wegmans. Tonight – bare produce areas."

Had
the Price Chopper employee responded to the unhappy customer and offered an
apology and a pledge to do better, then perhaps the story would have ended
there. Of course, that isn’t what happened.

The Price Chopper associate looked
at the unhappy shopper’s Twitter bio and discovered he was employed by a company
that does business with the chain. In an email to executives at the customer’s
company, it was suggested his negative views of Price Chopper could jeopardize
the working relationship between the two companies.

Hearing of this, Anthony
Rotolo, a friend of the unhappy customer who is also an assistant professor
at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies, chose to blog about
the incident. The result was that Price Chopper found itself having to address
its employee’s heavy-handed response.

Heidi Reale, director of consumer insights at Price
Chopper, responded to Prof. Rotolo’s blog.

"This associate (the Price Chopper employee) had no responsibility for,
or permission from, Price Chopper to address customer complaints or the customer’s
employer," Ms. Reale wrote. "This is why we knew nothing about it
when it was tweeted at us today. We are sorry for this unfortunate incident,
and we are working to take the appropriate actions to repair the trust that
has been compromised by this associate."

Discussion Question: What lesson should retail companies that use social
media take away from this incident? How should retailers respond to criticism
on social media sites?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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18 Comments on "Price Chopper Learns Social Media Lesson"


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Max Goldberg
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

Companies need to appoint employees that are well-schooled in social media to handle these responsibilities and educate the rest of the team on how the company will appropriately respond to customer comments.

As long as there is social media, there will be criticism. Not every comment, good or bad, deserves a response. We advise our client that sometimes it’s better not respond, but to sit back, wait a while, and see what other customers have to say. At other times, it’s important to respond immediately.

David Livingston
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

Perhaps just have a policy that the company and employees do not post or respond to social media unless it’s going to make the company look good. In the Price Chopper case, if nothing was said, this would not have happened. Companies should look into complaints to see if they are real before responding and making things worse.

David Biernbaum
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

All of my contacts and associates know that I’m a huge fan and a passionate advocate of using the social media to the maximum level for all the benefits it offers. However, I also teach and coach my clients to understand that the social media is still the “Wild West.” A lot will change and evolve in the coming years and decades but for right now it’s best to put certain guidelines in front of your associates, employees, and working partners.

Roger Saunders
Guest
10 years 7 months ago
If I read the print ad correctly, there were over a BILLION Twitters in the month of August. Avoid the guilt–not every social network Tweet, Facebook, etc. message needs or deserves a response. Some, however, do. WHEN and IF retailers make the decision that social media is part of their media strategy, they have to make associates aware of the fact that the marketing/PR department does monitor all media, and will respond when appropriate or necessary. Not every associate in a retail concern has the role of addressing newspaper, TV, radio, etc., media critics that might pop up. It’s the same with social media. The June, 2010 Simultaneous Media Usage Study (SIMM), of 23,000+ Consumers points to the fact that Social Media continues to grow, both in usage and INFLUENCE. When asked “What Media INFLUENCE your purchase decision” for over 9 different Categories, 11.6% of Consumers called out ‘Social Media’ for the Consumer Electronics category, while a mere 2.8% said that ‘Social Media INFLUENCE them for Financial/ Insurance purposes. When it comes to Grocery, 7.4%… Read more »
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
Guest
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
10 years 7 months ago

The world is not perfect and we certainly can’t expect to please everyone 100% of the time. However, retailers need to work hard at addressing the consumer’s issue ASAP by sending an appropriate response. When a customer sends in a complaint or feedback, you should be thanking them. It is far better to know what you need to improve than to have them tell everyone but you.

If you can’t be perfect, you should focus on the following: be sincere; listen to your customers and thank them for their feedback; always look for ways to improve; and treat employees, vendors and customers with respect 100% of the time. This won’t help you to be perfect, but it will certainly improve your image, and build loyalty and trust. That’s all we can ask for.

Gib Bassett
Guest
Gib Bassett
10 years 7 months ago

This is really interesting. I wrote an article recently where I hypothesized that the bright, smart new media types being tapped for initial forays into social media would eventually be replaced by rank and file customer support types who need much more oversight, akin to staff in a typical call center. The exodus of the professionals initially tapped to implement social customer service will follow the realization that they are replying to complaints and unhappy customers, as much as engaging the happy ones in interesting social dialogues. The joy will be gone.

I’ll tell you right now, social media will become a part of the call center and customer support groups faster than you think. It will then be tapped from the outside by marketing to prevent churn, push relevant offers, etc., just as happened in call centers.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

Rule 1: The customer is always right.
Rule 2: If in doubt, see Rule 1.

This is true in every channel, in any forum. As they work through new processes and procedures, retailers will want to figure out ways to inculcate this key truism into every interaction with customers, including those online.

Aaron Spann
Guest
Aaron Spann
10 years 7 months ago

I love how the employee, who obviously has some sort of pride in their job, is made out to be the evil-doer. Sure, the employee should probably not have responded but where was the online corporate presence?

Maybe the response also has some truth. If a vendor were posting negative remarks about my business I’d probably want to cut ties.

As the old saying goes, you can’t please everyone all the time–so negative comments are going to happen.

Social media should be looked at for what it is: a free, unsolicited survey from which to gather information on how the business is doing. I would bet you can gather more truthful and useful information from social media than an official survey which is geared to your most valuable customer, the one who shops you weekly.

John Lofstock
Guest
John Lofstock
10 years 7 months ago

Social media will transform the way businesses communicate with customers and must be treated as such. That means employees on the front lines must be trained with the corporate policy to ensure that one consistent message is communicated to customers and competitors as well.

In fact, companies should have someone on staff that regularly monitors Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, etc., to see what’s being posted about their brand. Leading companies like Southwest Airlines, Jet Blue and Dell do a great job controlling the chatter surrounding their brand.

Anne Howe
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

This seems to be a classic case of a misstep in communicating the social media policy to all employees, with signatures to make certain everyone understand who to contact if they see negative chatter. A good playbook and qualified coach and quarterback are worth the investment, especially for retailers!

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

It is often better to wait before responding to critical comments on social media sites. Once you have a sense of how the conversations are going and the direction they are headed; then respond with the best possible face. The responses must come from one gifted in strong positive spins and an understanding of writing with a “smile” in the words.

There are some posts that are better off left alone and not responding. A talented writer will know what to do. Never ever leave this as an unassigned task. Someone has to be responsible for monitoring these sites. Never be surprised.

Mark Burr
Guest
10 years 7 months ago
It’s interesting isn’t it? Water cooler talk or an over-the-fence conversation that might have taken place with a neighbor now has huge implications due to this vehicle. The employee response is an issue. The customer response is an issue. The Price Chopper response is even more of an issue and really quite unimaginative for a spokesperson, to say the least. All the responses have a fairly common thread. I agree with most. If you’re going to play in the arena of social media, you had better be qualified and have clear expectations. Maybe it’s silly, but I’m wondering about the comment itself. What about the bare produce areas? The incredibly obvious things are all wrong about the messenger, the responder and the spokesperson. But, what about the bare produce areas? Hmmmm? Isn’t that what its really all about? Seriously, wouldn’t they be better off with a short sweet message saying they are dealing with Twitter internally and come out strong about the message itself? This whole thing is about the produce; maybe even more about… Read more »
Bill Hanifin
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

Just as brands need to be attentive to data security and hire outside vendors who are PCI compliant to protect data, there may be more attention paid to regulating the persons who sit at keyboards and respond to the outside world via social media channels.

It is unfortunate that the employee made the response as reported and there just has to be a more disciplined approach to social media management adopted by brands.

I agree that not every critical comment deserves a response, but this one did. It was objectionable whether tweeted, sent by email, or communicated by telephone.

Doug Fleener
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

Sure the employee handled it incorrectly, but at least their employees are passionate about their company. Here’s the million dollar question: How many people who currently shop at Price Chopper are going to switch because of this incident?

Dan Marois
Guest
Dan Marois
10 years 7 months ago

At what point am I an employee of the company I work for and at what point do I become an everyday person enjoying the vast communication available in social media? While my employer has a team that responds to social media communications, does that imply that I can not reply as a private citizen/consumer on my own time?

True, I would not represent an official response from the company, but do I not have the right to respond as any other media socialite might?

Anna Murray
Guest
Anna Murray
10 years 7 months ago
Rule #3 – Social media amplifies *everything.* I recently wrote a blog post criticizing Apple. Within 45 minutes it was posted on the homepage of Open Salon. Thirty minutes later, my inbox was jammed with comments. All attacking me. I was a jerk. I was misinformed. How could I call myself a technology consultant? By the next morning, the mob had all stopped attacking me, and had turned on each other. (e.g., “Compaq is spelled with a “q” you .”) Forty-eight hours later,the only article on Open Salon with more views was one about terrorism. One week later, I was asked onto a public radio program. A few weeks after that, interviewed by the Times of London. When you say something online, especially if it’s on a controversial topic or is just a plain good story, it gets magnified a thousandfold. Somehow, though, I think we’re all too scared of this phenomenon. We will eventually get used to what might otherwise be completely hidden incidents making front-page news. Also, online, things blow over just as… Read more »
M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
10 years 7 months ago

Do you “tweet at” or “tweet to?” Inquiring minds and Price Chopper’s Heidi Reale need to know.

I respond to emails from customers and potential customers hundreds of times weekly. Always in the forefront of my mind is John Grisham’s book and subsequent movie, “The Rainmaker” starring Matt Damon. In the book and the movie, a corrupt insurance company writes to a policy holder calling her “stupid, stupid, stupid.” Every customer service person in every company should watch that movie or read that book.

Lin Yu
Guest
Lin Yu
10 years 7 months ago

A customer posts a negative comment to a company Twitter account. The company’s “representative” reads customer bio, sees the customer works for a company that is a vendor to their company. The company’s rep writes the vendor to complain about the employee.

Well folks the first lesson is to understand this thing called the Internet. If you list in your bio where you work, don’t speak badly of your customers. The lesson to be learned here should be for both the PC and the vendor company. If you going to tweet, make sure you assigned the correct person to represent the company. For the customer, if you going to tweet and complain, make sure you don’t have a business relationship with the company you are dissing!

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