Your customer might have a million followers on Twitter
Imagine yourself with a newborn baby. Congratulations! Fortunately, you’ve thought ahead and bought a top-of-the-line washing machine, which should take care of one of the million causes for lost sleep, leaving you with just 999,999 other reasons – surely a good thing, right?
Unfortunately, a week after delivery (of the machine, not the baby), the washing machine breaks. At least, that’s what happened to Heather B. Armstrong. In her blog, she tells a long and increasingly desperate story of a series of service visits (well, visits; not much service was involved).
At some point, after weeks of washing-machine-deprivation, Ms. Armstrong apparently felt that enough was enough, and wrote several Twitter posts telling her followers exactly how angry she was. To understand the events that followed, you need to know just one more thing: She is a highly popular blogger, and has over a million followers on Twitter.
So the following morning, she gets a call from an executive at the multinational appliance company that owns the washer’s vendor, arranging for another repair company to fix the machine within the hour. It turns out some parts are required, and parts magically and quickly turn up – the machine finally works!
Not only that: She also got the attention of several other appliance shops, who offered to help, and a competitor of the appliance maker decided to send her a free new washing machine of her choice. Not feeling morally entitled to a second new machine, Ms. Armstrong turned again to her followers. She received and followed a truly brilliant suggestion by one of them, donating the free washer to local shelter. Great idea, and one more testament to the power of social media, but not directly relevant to service management.
What lessons should a service organization learn from this?
Try this morale: “Don’t annoy celebrities – give them VIP treatment”. Well, to a certain extent that’s always the case, and it’s a pragmatic necessity – even if we who aren’t VIPs can’t really like it. Still, can you know all the VIPs? One of the most damaging social media campaigns, known as “United Breaks Guitars”, was created by a musician who, with his band, released several albums and won several awards and nominations. Still, would he have been on a “VIP list”, if call centers had such a list of customers they should pay special attention to? Would Ms. Armstrong? How about someone who has a VIP friend?
Well, let’s try another takeaway: “Always deliver great service, no matter who the customer is”. I’m sure we can all agree with this, but did we really need the rise of social media in order to understand that good service is better than bad? Also, does excellent service guarantee nobody will ever say anything bad about your service quality? In the case of the broken new washing machine, it seems Ms. Armstrong had every right to demand better service, but someone else may abuse the power to instantly reach many people with their complaints, whether justified or not. How can you tell which is which? And when you feel the customer is not just wrong but trying to scare you into giving him what he wants but doesn’t deserve, what should you do? That’s an old question, but the costs of getting the answer wrong just keep rising.
Now try this: “Always monitor social media channels for anything having to do with your brand and competing brands”. In this story, both the vendor and the competitors reacted quickly and effectively once the damaging Twitter posts started flying. This indicates they invested in harvesting social media for indicators and leads. Still, wouldn’t it have been better to avoid the situation to begin with?
Maybe the best lesson here is not for the service organization but for the customer. There are ways to get the service you deserve. There may be someone out there who cares what you write on your Twitter account, your blog and your Facebook wall – even if your vendor initially doesn’t care, and even if you don’t have a million followers.
What would you learn from this story?