Open Voice or Private Message? The Hidden Tug-of-War on Social Media Customer Service

AbstractWe study customers’ and brands’ preferences towards public and private customer service interactions on social media. Using a natural experiment where the ease of private communication with a brand is exogenously and significantly increased, we found that complaining customers prefer to do so publicly while some non-complaining customers prefer to communicate privately. However, through a randomized field experiment, we found that firms prioritize complaints received from the private channel over complaints received from the public channel. Therefore, brands, well aware of the risk of subjecting its customer service under public scrutiny, prefer complaints communicated privately and seem to nudge customers towards switching back to the traditional mode of customer service where all interactions are private. The divergent preferences towards open voice and private message suggest a hidden tug of war between the traditional delivery of customer service featuring brand control and social media customer service featuring transparency and openness.

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