Customer Service. How can we ignore you?
Back in 2000, I was living in California and had a cell phone from Sprint. I was having a lot of problems with Sprint’s service. Each individual call to their customer service line was received by a polite and friendly agent. But on call after call, I was constantly told that whatever the previous agent had told me was incorrect. The new agent apologized for the errors of the previous agent and then proceeded to give me the “correct” information. This happened numerous times.
Call center managers were rarely available to talk to me, and if I actually got connected to one of them, they would simply parrot back policies and contract clauses, all the while apologizing for any bad service I had received.
Finally, at one point, I said, I wanted the phone number of the corporate complaints department because I needed to escalate the problem. I was told there was no phone number for that department. Keep in mind this was SPRINT — a phone company! OK, no phone number, how about a fax #? Nope. What about an email address? Nope. What about a form on the website? Nope.
What I was given was a Post Office Box located somewhere in Kentucky. That was the only means to communicate with this department. And on top of that, I should expect to wait 4-6 weeks for a response, in writing from them. Yes, that’s right — I’d have to wait at least one month AND they wouldn’t call me back, they’d send a letter.
It was pretty clear to me how interested they actually were in addressing customer concerns. And yet there was little I could do to complain. Contact the FCC? They weren’t violating any laws. There was really nothing I could do but switch to another carrier….after my contract with Sprint expired! Because, guess what? I was just part of a mass market with a voice that was easily silenced.
But that is now changing.
The Rise of “Social Media”
So what exactly is “Social Media”? Most people will refer to Social Media as user generated media or content published publicly and freely on the Web, that represents the thoughts, opinions, perspectives and insights of individuals or groups, AND which is NOT specifically moderated or controlled by larger corporate entities.
By that definition, email is NOT specifically a social medium, but discussion groups and listservs are. Why? While email is a communication medium, AND it is social by nature, it is not typically considered public content. Email is a point to point communication medium, even if there are many people on the receiving end of the email. Discussion groups ARE considered Social Media as they are public content generated by users. The same holds true for listservs.
I use those two examples (discussion groups and listservs) to illustrate that technically “social media” is not new on the Web. But, it has only been in recent years that large numbers of people (i.e. a significant percentage of the overall population) have joined the online discussions through blogs, podcasts, videos, Facebook, Twitter etc.
Companies no longer have the luxury of delegating customer complaints to PO boxes, or sitting quiet and hoping some bad press from a consumer will go away and be forgotten. Instead of a small but powerful set of “broadcasters” on TV, radio, newspapers and magazines, there are hundreds and thousands of voices who can pick up and forward or repost or retweet any complaint, magnifying it along the way.
Our own little perfect storm
We had our own version of this happen last year with the APC UPS saga. I had originally posted about what I saw as a design issue with a model of APC UPS that I had purchased. Someone then posted a link to this on the APC discussion boards. Someone from APC posted a pretty ridiculous response on the discussion board, which I then rebutted on this blog. It got noticed by some other bloggers, was posted on their blogs and it grew from there.
Eventually an APC Product Manager entered the fray, likely forced to do damage control, but also responding to my concerns about the UPS and why it was designed the way it was. I had not intended the issue to get that much visibility, but once it got some steam behind it, it had a life of it’s own. Had I wanted to get APC’s attention, I doubt I could have gotten such a direct AND public response by any other means.
This kind of thing happens every day on the Web, and companies need to start tracking who is saying what about them on the Web. Software companies are now focusing on specifically managing that for their clients. A good friend of mine works at one such company: DNA13.
So we’ve come full circle, with technology finally starting to catch up to how we’ve interacted with each other since the dawn of time.
So where do we go from here? I’ll talk about that in the next installment.
To be continued….