Earlier this week, a customer service nightmare erupted for Maytag when popular blogger Heather Armstrong, “dooce,” tweeted her frustration with the company’s service, or lack thereof, to her one million plus Twitter followers.
The incident raised more than a few issues, from whether celebrities have a greater responsibility for restraint in their use of social broadcasting tools like Twitter, to just what IS wrong with customer service in this country. We’ll take each of these in turn, but before you read my analysis, if you aren’t familiar with the tale, read these posts:
- @dooce summarizes the tale, along with its relatively happy ending in Containing a capital letter or two
- @sundry, another highly respected mom blogger, clarifies her concerns about Armstrong’s use of Twitter in To clarify
- @mommymelee provides some perspective on using our powers for good in What would Peter Parker do?
- And do a quick Twitter search on #maytag.
The Celebrity Effect
It’s a well-known fact. Celebrities get better customer service than the rest of us. If Caroline Kennedy, Oprah or Madonna called Maytag customer service, they probably would have had a better outcome than Heather Armstrong, even if the telerep were in Bangalore not Brooklyn. There’s real-world celebrity, and there’s web celebrity, and the reality is very few web celebrities cross that chasm.The digerati know who we, and they are, but the public at large, no.
As a result, corporate policies and processes are still trying to catch up with the effect of the web, and the social broadcasting tools at our disposal. They don’t have a good answer for Heather Armstrong or Dave Carroll (United Hates Guitars) because they don’t understand how online influence works.
Here’s the scary reality: a little influence and a good story is enough. Sure, Heather Armstrong’s one-million followers made it happen faster but even someone with far fewer followers can precipitate a customer service nightmare.
Yet, most customer service organizations are still operating under a policy that doesn’t understand the impact of social networks. I completely understand not wanting to respond to “blogger blackmail” but increasingly by the time there is more proof, it’s the VP of Customer Service and the CMO dealing with the problem, not the line.
Social networks give us all far more influence than we had before. Our words are amplified.
Responsibility and influence
Does that mean we have to exercise greater care with our online influence? I think yes. While I understand the frustration that leads to TWEETS IN ALL CAPS, Twitter is like the game of Telephone. Unlike a blog post, in which we can explain, a tweet starts with only 140 characters, and as it is retweeted, original meaning can be lost. Even if we link a post, the original link can be lost.
That doesn’t mean we aren’t allowed to tweet about customer service frustrations. We are. It does mean we have to weigh our influence before we speak, and do our best to tell the story, not just vent. Whether we have a one million Twitter followers or merely a few thousand.
We also need to collectively guard against the mob mentality. Sure, we can sympathize with a fellow blogger, but the Twitter pile-on can be a bit excessive.
Think. Before you tweet. Before you retweet. Before you respond.
The fundamental customer service problem
At the end of the day, no one should be so frustrated with customer service that they feel they need to tell 100 or 1 million of their (closest) Twitter friends. Yet it happens everyday. If it did not, @dooce’s fans would not have been so ready to jump on the maytag-hating bandwagon. It isn’t just that they love her, and she had a problem. They can identify. They’ve had a customer service nightmare too.
We know from research conducted by the Society for New Communications Research that people are increasingly willing to share their customer service experiences online. We also make purchase decisions based on the experiences of others.
That, combined with anecdotal evidence like the #maytag twitterstorm, would indicate that it is well past time for companies to develop a better response to online criticism than “sorry” and throwing tons of resources at high profile problems.
Even better, why not anticipate, and avoid, potential problems. You know, with better customer service.
Wouldn’t that be nice?