Why do rich people get better service on the web?

donald trump social media

I’m involved in this fascinating new project called The Social Habit.  We’re focusing the power and experience of Edison Research on the field of social media and it is producing some incredible results, including one that blew my mind.

Some of the most interesting and useful set insights have come in the area of social media’s impact on customer service.

Jay Baer, one of my partners on the project, wrote a superb post articulating some of the revelations about expectations of social media and customer service. A few highlights included:

  • Among respondents to The Social Habit who have ever attempted to contact a brand, product, or company through social media for customer support, 32% expect a response within 30 minutes.
  • 42% expect a response within 60 minutes.
  • Our research found that among those respondents who have ever attempted to contact a brand, product, or company through social media for customer support, 57% expect the same response time at night and on weekends as during normal business hours.

Whoa.  Huge implications for companies and their customers.

But a deeper dive into Social Habit data reveals a perplexing new insight about companies providing service through social media:

Rich people apparently get better service. Check it out:

Twitter customer service

Twitter customer service response

Now, let me emphasize that this is no casual data set. This is a conclusion from robust research and there is a statistically significant difference between those in the income “over $100,000” category and the others. Why?

I have three hypotheses but I bet you can come up with other possibilities in the comment section.

Hypothesis one is that perhaps rich people complain to companies who are more likely to provide an effective response via social media, like an airline or luxury brand.

The second possibility, and this has somewhat of an icky factor, is that companies are baking consumer profile information (including income) into their CRM systems and respond more effectively to the people with the fattest wallets.

My friend and {grow} contributing columnist Kerry Gorgone has a third fascinating observation: “There are a number of factors at play, but I’d say the rich expect better service online because they get better service ‘in real life,’ where the trappings of their wealth are more readily apparent to customer service people. Having gotten used to a higher level of service, they make it clear they expect a response quickly.”

In other words, have the wealthy developed better complaining skills because they have been conditioned to expect better service?

I really have no idea.  All of these are just guesses. But there IS a difference.

What do you think? What is your reaction to this study?

All posts

  • Let’s face it, if you’re rich then you’re most likely successful and, therefore, likely to command a lot of influence.

    You do not want this kind of person bad mouthing your business as they invariably have large followings who will try to ingratiate themselves and jump on any bandwagon that person rolls out in front of them.

  • It would be interesting to compare Klout scores or some other measure of social influence by income. If there’s a correlation there, then the apparent difference in treatment is easily explained. Someone with 100K followers is likely to get treated with more care than someone with just 100.

  • It sounds like you equate wealth with power on the web. I don’t know if that is necessarily so. Thanks for taking the time to add your view Colin!

  • It’s not always the case but can business take the risk?

  • Kristine

    Your first hypothesis : Are you able to cut the data this way, so you can test this hypothesis?

    Your second hypothesis : Seems a bit far fetched.

    My idea : Maybe there’s a difference in how these income groups are addressing the companies. Higher income people could be better at drafting professional and action-inducing messages.

  • If you look from the window of the business responding, maybe they have a data set that says this is a buying and important customer. On the other hand if it’s a buying customer with less clout and money to spend: is it worth the effort to engage them?

  • Maybe because sharing is the nature of “the web,” and the “social media channels.”

  • Pingback: Nate Silver's Election Day Statistics Vs. I Dream of Jeannie()

  • Barry Wallace

    I think Kristine’s response is the most likely, although I’m not sure I have the data to back it up. It would seem to me that better education and training would in most cases equal a higher income. And better education and training would also mean better articulation, better communication skills, better message focus and better attention to business detail. Therefore the ones with responses more likely to be understood, respected, and acted upon would naturally be ones in the higher income range. Of course, this wouldn’t be universally true – by your own data, there’s only a 30% difference between the $100,000 set, not 80%. So there are plenty of smart, articulate people in all income ranges. But just going by the majority, that’s where the influence lies.

    It’d be interesting to have a communication or language professional go over the responses and group them where they thought the education level of each respondee was, and see if those divisions matched the income levels. It may not be possible with 140-character responses, but you never know.

    But assuming the companies skew their responses based on the customer’s (presumed) income levels? I’m not sure that many companies have that level of CRM sophistication based on a Tweet, even taking Klout, etc into account. But maybe I’m behind the times 🙂

  • To be clear, these responses were not from companies they were from a random, representative sample of Americans who use social media.

  • Mark, it would be interesting to see this cut by other potential explanatory factors (although I think some would actually go the other way!). For instance:

    Influence scores. Followers/audience size. Frequency of complaint. Relationship with businesses they complain about.

    I have received emails or calls in response to complaints before. In my case the reason I received them was because the business knew me already and was listening to what I say in the industry. They didn’t care about me because I was complaining, they already cared about me.

    I don’t believe mapping income to social CRM records is widespread enough today to cause the difference you found in the survey, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is at some point in the future. Definitely an interesting finding and one to watch, thanks for sharing!

  • Dave

    A fascinating question! I agree that posh industries will have more cash with which to hire somebody to handle this. And there may indeed be nefarious means for gathering this information.

    But with TMI being the norm now, all someone has to do is view someone’s Facebook timeline to figure out who is going to what resort, who is buying this flash car, and who works as an investment banker to get free money. And I would be very surprised if there weren’t automated means gathering this raw data into databases that can be easily purchased by any business with the cash.

    Not that I’m paranoid at all, of course.

  • This is interesting, but I’d like to see the variance by industry, geography, etc. I say that because I’ve had stellar social media service from Delta in most cases, but I’d flown 70,000 miles with them just by the time Social Slam happened this year, and I’m not rich, so I can only assume that they’re either much more focused on social media customer service than other companies or that they focus on their most loyal customers first. Hard to say, but I’d bet that The Social Habit could slice the data to get an idea.

  • radiojaja

    I think I’d go with the capability theory? People in the higher income brackets being more able to illicit responses rather than anything else?

    Also maybe being more ‘outcome focussed’ as high achievers tend to be (?) perhaps theres an element of these people not giving in? There isn’t an indications of how many interactions these responses took to achieve is there?

    And how about the disparity between the response to complaints and the response to ‘other’ communications online? 80% response to complaints in the 100K plus bracket, yet for the same high achieving group only 25% response to even those guys and their attempts at more general communication.

    Considering the potential demonstrated by the ‘complaints’ data set, does this mean brands are failing to engage and interact unless under duress?
    Maybe more questions than answers! But fascinating all the same, thanks for the insight Mark

  • I agree. It would be an interesting analysis and I bet i know the answer : )

  • Thanks Kristine for adding your wisdom today!

  • Thanks Dr. Rae. Always a pleasure to see you in the comment section!

  • Great observations Barry and interesting ideas! Thanks.

  • I’ll look into some of these possibilities when we put together the next Social Habit research.Great ideas Eric.

  • Ha! A healthy paranoia to be sure : ) Thanks for commenting today Dave.

  • That would be an interesting look at things Eric. I think of the Internet as boundary-less — would be fascinating to see some of these results. Thanks for taking the time to comment Eric,

  • Fantastic comment Tony and great observations. Since this data came from the U.S., I wonder what the results would be in your part of the world?

  • O.K.

  • Here’s another hypothesis to add to the mix.

    Rich customers are more likely to complain about something that is worth complaining about, or responding to. In other words, they reserve their complaints for situations where the brand would AGREE with them that their complaint is worthy of response, while those in lower income brackets complain about things that were lower purchases in terms of amount. Not sure really, but might be worth a look to test it.

    This hypotheses cuts two different ways as well – the first is based on price, that rich people complain when higher ticket items are at issue and the company is more likely to respond. The second is that rich people are more likely to complain about things that have risen to the level where a response is warranted, regardless of the price involved. In other words, they reserve their complains more often for when a response is warranted or for a situation that rises to a level where internal employees would agree a response is warranted.

  • I don’t know. You’re suggesting, in part. that rich people have better judgment about when to complain. I have no data, but my sense it may be the opposite! The subject is worthy of further investigation, as you suggest! Thanks Sean.

  • Joseph F. Botelho

    Interesting stats, read this article a few times before l decided to comment on it. I honestly believe that the three points you have out lined made me think real hard. So l decided to close my eyes and though of certain situations, that have occurred and to my surprise, the rich class do play by different rules.

    They do not only expect better service they totally expect to be treated differently and obtain results much quicker then the average person. It’s the only way they know and understand, a style that has been brained washed into their abilities and they are so focused on how they are treated that really nothing gets in their way until they obtain their marketing goals.

    When you have access to all the power and influence they have hard to bet against the rich, the have the resource the reputation and they live and use it to their advantage. Perhaps why they are successful in there in projects and business opportunities.

    Thanks for opening my eyes to this totally unheard of trend….just never looked at it that way…

  • Interesting — the psychology of being rich! : ) Something I have not had to worry about!

  • I think Kerry might be on to something, like you I have never had to worry about being rich, pity me…but I do think Kerry has a point. I am wondering if it also has something to do with where the different groups shop, and is the amount spent relative. For example, a $500 hundred suit for a guy who makes 40k a year is just as important as a $5000 suit to a guy who makes 400k a year. How does that affect the data if at all. Interesting stuff Mark, looking forward to hearing more about this.

  • A $5,000 suit? Is there such a thing? Wait. I have to recover from that. OK.

    Yes, I do think that has something to do with it. That is kind of where I was going with point number 1.

    Thanks Gerry!

  • Gettysburg Gerry

    Mark, I’m shocked. You the and the Donald don’t shop for $5,000 suits together.

  • I wonder if you can look at the role played by loyalty schemes? A couple of comments already allude to this. If there is some way to cross reference the brand’s response rates with the customer existing loyalty relationship.

    This has two dimensions:
    1. Loyalty cards/points etc are often a reward for high levels of spend or frequency of spend. Even when someone isn’t necessarily earning a huge number of rewards by spending their own money e.g. frequent flyer programmes

  • I’m not so much suggesting it’s a “judgment” thing, but just that internal employees come pre-equipped with a set of filters (maybe call it intuition?) as to what deserves action (or those filters are level set by the organization) and that the employees are more likely to “align with” or have values “similar to” a non-poor customer. Just a hypothesis.

  • Couple of theories here:

    1) The higher end brands deal with less volume and a greater ‘white glove’ service mentality. People with more money use higher end products that they are more likely to complain about than people who can afford them less. et voila

    2) It’s a skew being affected by the tech community and their early adopters. The tech sector is filled with people making more than $100k who (unlike the typical older adult maker > $100k) also make greater usage of social media. Their familiarity with technology and social makes them more likely to even think of trying to get a response in Twitter. Combined with #1 you end up with same result.

    In other words, it isn’t necessary that a brand is somehow purposefully given preferential service to someone with money to end up with these statistics.



  • kathflann

    If this is no ‘casual data set’ then why have you not sourced the data & sample size and shown it on each graph, to quantify your findings

The Marketing Companion Podcast

Why not tune into the world’s most entertaining marketing podcast that I co-host with Tom Webster.

View details

Let's plot a strategy together

Want to solve big marketing problems for a little bit of money? Sign up for an hour of Mark’s time and put your business on the fast-track.

View details