The web, customer service, and your company’s reputation2006-07-03
Nobody interacts on a more regular basis with your customers than your customer service staff. A great customer service experience will overcome the worst media campaign. Horrible customer service (which many customers believe is the norm for most companies they deal with) will undermine the most expensive and well-planned PR effort. With the growth of social media and consumer generated content, it has become easier for customers to take their customer service complaints to a much wider audience.
Yet I have not seen a single company make an effort to align customer service and communications.
Steve Rubel points to a New York Times article that highlights two recent examples of unhappy customers taking their customer service complaints to the web. The case of Vincent Ferrari, whose recorded phone call of his attempt to cancel his AOL account has gained legendary status, is an example of the way a story can spread, particularly if it resonates with others in the audience. Then there’s the video Brian Finkelstein uploaded to YouTube showing a Comcast technician asleep on his couch. Don’t blame the poor technician, there to repair a router. He drifted off while waiting an hour on hold with his home office. We all might have done the same. This video is also getting widespread attention, reinforcing a popular, negative image of the cable television industry.
Both cases are more than just bad customer service on display. They are hits to the companies’ reputations.
A few months back, I blogged about my dissatisfaction with a feature of Internet Explorer 7 (public beta 2). A comment to the post appeared quickly, written by Dean Hachamovich, a member of the IE7 development team and one of the team’s bloggers, promising to look into it. After that, I considered the notion that a blog can be a potential tool for raising customer service issues—not by complaining or pontificating, but simply as a tool for pointing out the issue in the hopes that more companies will behave like Microsoft (or at least like Dean), scanning the blogosphere for just such issues.
When IE7 (public beta 3) deleted everything I’d written in a longish post to my blog, I forgot that thought and dashed off an angry message. Again, Dean responded, noting that the issue had come up earlier and that some other members of the team might have some thoughts. I haven’t heard from any of those other members of the team, but I nevertheless wound up with a positive impression of Microsoft as a result of Dean’s contact with me. (And, after all, I am using a beta product.)
Whether Dean’s efforts reflect a mandate at Microsoft, I can’t say—I haven’t tried posting a message about problems with an Office product. But companies like AOL and Comcast certainly have no such culture. Within organizations that are just slowly awakening to the issue of customer service and the web, though, I would like to see communications departments—responsible for their organizations’ reputations—take the lead in rolling out the channels and policies by which employees can address these situations when they arise. Communicators also need to align with customer service to instill those who deal most frequently with customers with the knowledge of how they affect reputation in the era of social computing and how they can adjust their efforts to accommodate the new environment in which they work.
Customer service, after all, is public relations.