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?
lfabert (lfabert) says
What #maytag & @dooce says about customer service in America… and …: Earlier this week, a customer service.. [link to post]
– Posted using Chat Catcher
BobHowardMktg (Bob Howard) says
What #maytag & @dooce says about customer service in America… and … [link to post]
– Posted using Chat Catcher
Julie @ The Mom Slant says
After BlogHer I posted about the Nikon incident, asserting that we don’t wield our power carelessly or maliciously, but out of love for each other. I think I might have to retract that statement.
Because in this case, I believe Heather *was* careless. And while her followers that jumped on the bandwagon do love her, I believe they were motivated primarily by the possibility of getting her attention.
Regardless, these recent incidents have prompted me to be more careful about what I tweet myself. I’m certainly not blameless where it comes to tweetstorms.
.-= Julie @ The Mom Slant´s last blog ..Too painful to look; too painful not to =-.
If you consider that Twitter is basically an online converstation of millions of people going on all over the world it seems normal that at times people are going to voice their opinions about what’s happening in their life…both good and bad!
Heather did what I and millions of others do every day…she was unhappy with the bad service she received and she tweeted it. If you read about blog where she recounts exactly what happened, it’ very apparent that she tried multiple times to resolve the issue directly with Maytag. If I were in her position I would have done the exact same thing.
While I understand that she is a “celebrity” and it can be argued that she more of a responsibility regarding what she posts, I don’t personally believe that she did anything wrong. Social Media is about transparency and if we’re going to preach about what a wonderful thing it is then we have to live with the consequences.
.-= Jennifer´s last blog ..Yes, I will answer your email at 2am!!! =-.
Susan Getgood says
Jennifer, I don’t think there is anything wrong with complaining on Twitter. I do however think we have to be careful, even if we only have a few followers, to not simply vent and rant. Twitter spreads like wildfire, and we don’t have much space to tell the story. The more followers we have, the more careful we should be.
Ideally, write a blog post first. Lay out the story. Then drop the bomb and link to the post.
If it’s a live-action rant, that’s not going to be possible. BUT, we should do our best to explain the problem, not just rant.
Ranting is completely understandable. Explaining *why* is more responsible.
As to whether Heather Armstrong was right or wrong to tweet, that’s not important anymore. The issues were raised, discussed, and hopefully people learned from the incident and have decided their own way forward.
Nancy in MN says
I have to disagree with Susan and Julie. Twitter was created simply for that purpose – and is used by millions. We need to take personal responsibility as a society not to take everything we read on the intraweb literally. Heather can post her frustrations about Maytag but it is me the consumer that needs to decide how much weight to give her complaint. I may sympathize with her customer service frustration – we have ALL been there (esp. if you have ever owned a Dell)…but if I need a new washer or dryer I am not going to Dooce.com to get consumer advise – I seek out expert opinions. I say that twitter exists to do just as it did here – to provide a platform for social networking…and it did just that – plus it got a homeless shelter a new washer out of the deal. Way to go Heather.
Susan Getgood says
Nancy — I’m not arguing that folks shouldn’t use Twitter to comment on products, good and bad. I just believe we need to weigh our words.
The far larger problem is the state of customer service in the US. We don’t do a particularly good job of it, and companies still aren’t listening carefully enough. Dave Carroll of United Hates Guitars fame told the United rep what he was going to do. Heather told the Maytag phone rep that she was to the point of twittering her frustration. Firms have got to get over the idea that “it’s just some blogger” and understand — for good or for ill — how online influence spreads.
Nancy in MN says
I still don’t believe that censorship in any form is the answer – but we can agree to disagree on that point. And yes – we all deserve better customer service.