Why do corporates Tweet when they operate like corporates?!


Yesterday I experienced two Cape Town corporations who try to appear to be Social Media savvy in that they Tweet regularly, yet failed in their use of Social Media for the brands that they represent, thereby being guilty of poor customer service.  One wonders why they practice Social Media marketing when they do so only in corporation operation hours!

Customer expectations of corporation reaction have been raised since the introduction of Social Media, consumers having no understanding for corporate staff not working on weekends, after closing time on weekdays, or on public holidays, if their businesses are open to the customer.  A customer complaint especially demands almost immediate reaction.  Social Media is meant to demonstrate the empathy that corporates have for their customers, and to make them appear less …’corporate’! This weekend both Woolworths and the V&A Waterfront demonstrated how customer unfriendly they are via their Social Media practices.

I bought a chicken and avocado low GI sandwich at Woolworths in the Garden’s Centre yesterday morning, and the first bite of it contained a 5 cm long bone.  I Tweeted and Facebooked the photograph, but still have not heard a word of apology from the retailer via Twitter or Facebook.  Someone replied on Twitter that one should be grateful that Woolworths uses real chicken in its sandwiches, which is hardly the point!  Yesterday Woolworths only Tweeted once, at about 10h00!  It has not Tweeted at all today! On most days the corporate lays down its Tweeting mouse at 16h30, not Tweeting until the stores remain open in the evening. By contrast Pick ‘n Pay started Tweeting from about 8h00 yesterday morning, interacting with its customers until 13h00, followed by a few pre-scheduled Tweets in the afternoon. On weekday evenings the retailer stops Tweeting between 20h00 – 21h00, commendable relative to Woolworths, but still not in line with its store operating hours. The volume of Tweets by Pick ‘n Pay exceeds that of Woolworths by far, the latter ignoring most negative feedback it receives via Twitter!

The really annoying interaction was with the V&A Waterfront’s Tweeter Emma Jackson, who has shown abuse of her client’s Twitter account to settle her own scores with others in the past, which we have discussed with the Marketing department of the company.  The aggressive tone has been reduced, yet one can still sense the sarcasm in a number of her Tweets, now being sugary sweet.  On Friday evening the V&A Waterfront disappeared off Twitter for 17 hours, not reTweeting any positive Tweets about the super Salvation Army Christmas Carols, nor reacting to the notification of a serious problem with the street lighting in a section of the Waterfront which most Atlantic Seaboard residents use.  Seventeen hours later the Tweeter thanked us for the feedback and said the lights would be attended to, hardly necessary during the day.  A chain of Tweets, in which Ms Jackson denied that she had not been at her Tweeting post for her client (according to her personal Twitter feed she was at a party) followed, ending in a number of sarcastic and disparaging Tweets being sent from her personal account. Untruthful was her Tweet that the V&A only Tweets at ‘dedicated times’, which defies the object of being on Twitter.   Vituperative Tweeter Sonia Cabano got into the act on her troll Table Mountain and personal accounts, adding fat to the fire.  She should know that abusing one’s client Twitter account to settle personal scores can get one fired, as happened earlier this year when she was managing the Robertsons Social Media account!

Being annoyed with the abuse by Ms Jackson, I called the Waterfront head office, only to be told that the V&A management does not work on weekends (the V&A Waterfront is the largest tourist attraction in the country)! I asked the Information Office of the company to ask the PR Manager Carla White to call me, and provided my phone number.  I received a call, instructing me to e-mail Ms White.  I was shopping, without a laptop, so asked again that she call, so that she could put a stop to the Twitter abuse coming from Ms Jackson.  The request was also Tweeted, and again I was instructed by Tweet to e-mail.  Ms White only called six hours later, indicating that she had spoken to the Info Office as well as to Ms Jackson. She tried to fob me off with an excuse about not calling back, saying she had no phone with her when she went up the mountain for a hike, yet she could have called before then.  She was a poor listener, not allowing me to finish my feedback, harping on the fact that if there was no Twitter response it did not mean that the problem had not been picked up and attended to.  If this was the case, the Waterfront street lighting would have been fixed by 22h30, when we left the cinema on Friday evening.  There has been no further word from Ms White, nor an e-mail of apology.  One certainly got the feeling that Ms White, despite being the company PR Manager, was annoyed about being disturbed on her weekend off, and was surprisingly unprofessional in her handling of the matter!

The V&A Waterfront Tweeter only reacts to the positive Tweets, but rarely to the ones with criticism or problems about the V&A generally, and to specific restaurants and shops.  Poor service experiences at V&A Waterfront stores Exclusive Books, Woolworths, and particularly Willoughby & Co, on Wednesday evening were simply ignored.  A Tweet about the V&A Waterfront’s policy on smoking at events at its Auditorium, especially with children attending the Christmas Carols’ concert in Friday evening, was acknowledged on Saturday morning only, with a promise to have the policy checked.  We are still waiting for the reply!  It is surprising how the V&A Waterfront, having a multitude of Tweet opportunities (Festive Season events, new stores, Christmas gift ideas, its new V&A Market on the Wharf, parking availability, breakfast, lunch, tea, and dinner options, and lots more) rarely Tweets at this busy time of the year.  Funny is how the Tweeter is raving about her clothes shopping at competitor mall Cape Quarter this morning!

Given that corporates like Woolworths have trading hours which are customer friendly over the Festive Season period, one cannot understand that their Tweeters stop Tweeting before their stores close, meaning that customer feedback, good or bad, is completely ignored after 16h30, and is not picked up the next day. Similarly the V&A Waterfront stores close at 22h00, yet its customers are still enjoying its restaurants and other entertainment facilities after this time, and therefore they should be Tweeting until then at least.  They should also keep their promises about getting back with feedback, and not be so ‘Smart Alec’ in their Tweets.

Cape Town Tourism too barely uses Twitter over the festive season days, most of its staff being on leave (what happened to their pay-off line ‘You don’t need a holiday, you need Cape Town’, when their CEO Mariette du Toit-Helmbold holidays in Pringle Bay, and from which she mainly mommy Tweets?).  There are hundreds of proactive Twitter opportunities about Cape Town, to be shared with all the visitors we are expecting over the festive season, yet the volume of Tweeting is extremely low.  Very few Tweets praising aspects of Cape Town are reTweeetd by its Communications and PR Manager Skye Grove, the Cape Town Tourism Tweeter, which is bizarre, given that she should be neutral about what she Tweets, but has proven the opposite in the past!

Hoot Suite and other similar tools are a fantastic way for any business, big or small, to Tweet about its business (for e.g. Woolworths to encourage interest in its Luke Dale-Roberts Christmas range, ‘expiring’ on Christmas Day, yet we have seen no such Tweets), without physically having to be present. Last, but not least, corporate Twitter accounts can not be abused by vindictive Tweeters for their own personal gain. Tweeters should be checked for their tone on their personal Twitter account before being appointed, so that the corporate knows the Tweeting style and personality of its Tweeter (why did Robertsons’ Social Media agency Liquorice not check out Ms Cabano?). One wonders why the V&A Waterfront tolerates its Tweeter, and allows the damage she causes!

POSTSCRIPT 24/12: The V&A Waterfront’s Information Centre Assistant Manager Zulfa Nordien has sent the following e-mail, acknowledging that Twitter is not a foolproof means of reporting problems in the Waterfront.  She has sidestepped the issue of complaints about V&A tenants, and their speed (or lack) of response:

“Thank you for your tweets with regards to the lights that were out on Granger Bay, as well as the smoking in the amphitheatre. The lights had been logged and priority was determined. The issue has been resolved. The Amphitheatre is an open-air public space and smoking cannot be prohibited. We encourage people to be considerate of others when they smoke outdoors.  In the interest of accuracy in your tweets, please note that the Waterfront Management do have weekends off. However, there is always a duty manager and key management are always contactable in the event of an emergency or crisis.  Our Social Media Community Manager will adjust her tone when responding to your tweets.  Please note that if you require an immediate response to any query, please phone our Information Centre on 021 408 7600. Our customer service staff are well versed in all procedures and can escalate a query“.

POSTSCRIPT 24/12: Woolworths was a bit slower to respond, and it was difficult to find someone at Head Office to speak to, most managers appearing to have taken today off as well!  I found Candice Bull in the technical department, and she asked me to drop the packet and bone off at a Woolworths branch, to be sent from there to her at Head Office.  This is what Kim Mulder, Customer Service Email Administrator, wrote:

“Thank you for taking the time to inform us about the problem that you experienced at Woolworths. We are concerned to hear of your experience and will do everything possible to investigate the matter so that we may revert to you with feedback in this regard. If possible, please can you forward us the barcode, purchase date as this will assist us in providing you with accurate feedback. Please advise if you still have the bone available as we would like to have it collected. Kindly provide me with a collection address as we will have a consultant contact you telephonically to arrange the collection. In order for us to keep record of this query please forward us your name and surname as well as your contact numbers (preferably cell phone number). Please note that correspondence will be sent to you as soon as we have received feedback from our suppliers”.

POSTSCRIPT 27/12: Candice Bull has impressed with her service proactiveness, calling today, explaining that the packet with the bone has got lost in their system due to staff being on leave.  I referred her to the photograph in this blogpost, and she immediately recognised the packet as being from Tribeca, the contracted-out in-store café/food to go section. She intimated that this is a regular occurrence.

POSTSCRIPT 27/12: We have received the following reply from the Woolworths Cafê (run by Tribeca): “Thank you,Candice for sending this on to our team.  We will inform the store of the complaint and ensure they follow the correct procedures to ensure this type of incidence does not re-occur ,Abdus ,one of our team members ,will visit the store today to ensure the matter is addressed and the staff are retrained on the deboning process and disciplines”.

POSTSCRIPT 28/12:  Today Shehaam phoned from the Customer Care division of the Woolworths Head Office, and apologised for the incident.  She did explain that the Woolworths Café at Gardens Centre is not operated by Tribeca, but by Woolworths itself.  They will be training their staff in deboning chickens again, she said.  She promised to send a gift voucher by sms for the inconvenience, but it has not yet arrived. Philip, a store manager at the Gardens Centre branch, also called to apologise, and invited me to fetch the voucher from the branch should it not arrive by sms.

POSTSCRIPT 2/1: Chantelle Cole, the V&A Waterfront’s Executive Manager: Strategic Marketing, has finally replied to our complaints about the Twitter, blog, and e-mail abuse received in the past ten days from its Tweeter Emma Jackson, promising that Ms Jackson will no longer Tweet about us on her personal account:

The limitation of the written word is both intention and tone can be misconstrued. Our values are to engage in a professional and respectful way and so it is truly unfortunate that you have felt this to be the contrary. Emma will not engage with you in her personal capacity again’.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: WhaleCottage

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5 replies on “Why do corporates Tweet when they operate like corporates?!”

  1. There’s a really huge bright side to all of this: you can count yourself so lucky that your biggest problems are an oops in your chicken sandwich and a blogger that was mean to you. In addition, you’ve been offered such an awesome learning experience from the troubles that have befallen you over the past few days. The chicken bone in your not inexpensive sandwich affords you the opportunity to empathize with the millions in this country who are forced to spend the bulk of their hard-earned but meagre salaries on the un-tasty and often non-nutritious, cheap food that they can afford. Those few terrible hours when the lighting was down outside of the V&A must have put you in mind of the thousands on the outskirts of this city living in shacks lit by paraffin lamps. And the very distressing way in which your complaints were not managed At Once, well that offers a unique opportunity to understand how it feels for all those millions, screaming and begging for the government to listen to and acknowledge their service delivery needs. I know that now you’re really hurting from what happened, but in time you’ll come to see what a lucky lady you are: most of us white people living in our super-comfortable and customer-friendly bubbles are never offered such fantastic opportunities to really understand what it’s like for the majority of our countrymen.

  2. Oh please Karen, if we all live by your “rules” nobody would ever be able to complain about anything. Yes, our country is divided into the “haves” and the “don’t haves’, but does that mean we are not allowed to complain or expect a certain level of service for what we pay for? NO. Parking at the V&A is so expensive, so I expect top service, same from Woolies…I pay, I EXPECT no bones or anything else. I do not always agree with what Chris writes, but give her her due, she makes a good point here.

  3. Thanks for your assistance in replying to Karen Lolla.

    At first I thought Karen was a consumer with a conscious, but her follow up comment addressed to you was so full of vitriol that I have had to delete it.


  4. Hi Chris,

    First off, controversies and all, I enjoy your posts. I agree with many of the points you make in this one, but wanted to add my 2 cents regarding one or two points.

    As a freelance web copywriter, I only use social on a personal level, and do not tweet in a professional capacity (even for my own little business – weird as that sounds!) for anyone but myself.

    But even then, as I work for myself (and from home too), the traditional concept of work hours tends to get a bit blurred. Often, I work on weekends, and I also work through public holidays, with little to no leave.

    Even though corporate social accounts ultimately represent the company, they are run by people who do the tweeting. It’s one thing if there is a team of social media people or enough tweeters to take ‘shifts’ so to speak. But if that role falls to a single social media manager, it would be difficult to impossible to live the brand day and night. I would imagine that the average social manager puts in a slightly longer work day, and by a certain point of dealing with their various campaigns, is quite ready to get their time off. At shopping centres store staff work later, but they work in shifts and have bigger teams to allow for reasonable work hours.

    About a year or so ago, I put a ‘no work Saturday’ policy into place for my freelancing. If I am able to respond to emails, I will. But otherwise, for that one day of the week, I am able to ‘unplug’ and recharge. Burnout is fairly standard in my industry as it is, and I am not immune to it either. Without that no-work day though, I would not be operating at a remotely decent level.

    In a perfect world, we should be able to do everything online. Perhaps the next best thing (and most sustainable route) is for brands to find a balance that suits everyone?

    If more brands had better equipped social teams who can act as skeleton crew after hours, maybe that balance could be found!

    Sorry for the long comment, and thanks again for keeping things interesting with your posts. 🙂

  5. Thank you for the compliment, and for your contribution to the debate about Tweeting times.

    Big corporates, and for that matter all Tweeters using Twitter for business purposes, should Tweet when their market/customers are using their products/services, i.e. a restaurant at lunch and at dinner time, a V&A from 10h00 – 21h00, a Woolworths from 9h00 – 21h00, etc. Of course this means that corporates should have a team of Tweeters. At Woolworths this is seamless, but at the V&A Waterfront they only have one Tweeter, who is identifiable through the tone of her Tweets, not always sounding customer-friendly.

    When one has a problem in a store or with a brand while using /experiencing it, one would like reaction immediately. It is then obvious that Woolworths’ Social Media department closes at 17h00, even though its shops are open for another four hours. Even worse, is that Woolworths’ Twitter reaction is extremely slow when it comes to communicating problems/complaints, it taking days for them to reply via e-mail, instead of acknowledging the issue via Twitter. This makes their customer service really poor these days.

    A program like Hootsuite.com is a great advantage to such corporate Tweeters, as they can schedule Tweets all the way through the day and evening, making it appear as if the Tweeter is on duty for an extended period of the day (and evening). Of course, it is a give-away when one does not receive a response to a Tweet sent outside of corporate office hours.

    Ultimately Social Media has spoilt customers, who now demand instant communication, and replies as quickly as they have sent them to the brand/company. Responding after a weekend or the next morning just no longer is good enough.


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