Food For Thought: Social Media & Customer Service

It’s now considered normal for people to take pictures of their food. At almost every meal. Every day. So when Michigan Dining was creating a new brand for their freshly merged division, social media naturally came up in the conversation.  But what tone would we use? And what if the students used it to complain?

Google “Marketing to Millennials” and you’ll get pages and pages of articles and research — but here it is in a nutshell:  Millennials expect open communication and complete transparency.  They trust user generated content.  And, because they care about topics like sustainability, the environment and social justice, they are looking for organizations that reflect those values.

With these ideas in mind, the Michigan Dining Twitter, Instagram and Facebook  accounts were born.  We know that building social media communities takes time. And lots of work.  We’re still in the infant stages, but this is what we’ve learned about transparency and customer service so far:

Speak in the we.  Basic, we know, but it softens the tone of the whole interaction.  Instead of sounding like just one person is listening, it feels like lots of people are.  It makes the interaction less personal, in a good way.

Find heroes.  JetBlue was one of the first companies to use social media for customer service and they’ve done an amazing job.   So we researched how they responded to complaints, how they trained their staff, and we checked out the tone of their tweets – upbeat, fun and likeable.  Then we found Boston University’s Dining Services Twitter. They were doing exactly what we needed to do. And they’d been doing it for a long time.  We watched (and continue to watch)  how they handle tricky situations.

Try to listen. It’s not our job to talk any of our customers out of anything. They have a right to express their opinions and feelings – even if their opinions don’t seem to line up with our reality.  We try to write responses that show that we’re listening. And we always pass the information to the appropriate parties.  The goal is to turn complaints into positive exchanges that satisfy the customer.

Twitter Apple

Always double check the tone. Millennials are smart and savvy. They smell marketing-speak a mile away.  So we always, before pressing “Tweet”, read the response from the recipient’s point of view. Is it honest and authentic? Does it make good common sense? Does it have a reasonable chance of resolving the issue? If the answer is yes, we let it go.  If it still feels funny to us– preachy or sell-y or evasive–it’s back to the old drawing board.

Wear our helmets.  Michigan Dining serves over 23,000 meals a day to our community.  They have a highly trained and professional culinary staff, a staff that cares deeply about excellent service and amazing food.  That being said, every once in a while something might slip. If we receive a complaint about an honest-to-goodness mistake, we’ll take the blow, apologize, and then get back to our regularly scheduled excellent service.

Google is your friend. We’ve learned some new terms like slapped, rn , XD, and bae.  And some other terms we probably shouldn’t repeat here. We’re sure to learn more in the future.

Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 10.24.21 AM

Use kid gloves. Well, they don’t have to be actual kid. Because baby goats are too cute to wear. But we do try to remember to be very gentle.  Students are sleep-deprived. They are stressed out about their futures, their finances, their classes, their relationships… Sometimes they just need to vent.  And because food should be a comfort, venting about food makes perfect sense. When we respond, our goal is to never incite anger but, instead, to diffuse it. We want to help relieve their stress, not add to it.

Try to have fun. Whenever possible we try to come up with playful tweets that will make our students smile.  We figure out what needs to be said, then spend some time crafting a witty (but not too cutesy) way to say it. We also remember that it’s easy to misinterpret the tone of a tweet. So we’re careful not to send a jokey response to someone who might be angry or upset.


Learn when to walk away. After staring at the above tweet for ten minutes and failing to come up with a helpful, useful or comforting response, we realized that we could say nothing. Phew.

Come up with a plan B.  We’ve developed policies to deal with green, yellow and red level complaints. Since Twitter is 24/7, those policies need to be in place before any complications arise. So far, common sense has prevailed, but it’s good to know we have a plan if things get messy.

Looking to the future, our next challenge is to build our numbers. (We really need to build our numbers!) We also need to devote more time and attention to Instagram. We’re currently developing contests and promotions which we hope will add value to our current community while attracting the attention of new followers. We also hope to continue elevating the brand perception of Michigan Dining across all channels. Here’s to a great winter term!



Contributed by Kate Glahn,  Marketing Communications Specialist for Auxiliary Marketing.   She manages social media for Michigan Dining (@michigandining).