It’s a new game. There’s a commercial currently on TV featuring Hansel and Gretel in an urban landscape. The bread crumbs they leave behind are eaten by pigeons, crushed into oblivion under foot traffic, and washed down a sewer grate. Fortunately, Gretel then thinks to consult her smart phone in order to map the way home. The juxtaposition of the traditional and the new is what makes this ad a keeper. The old ways might have worked in the past, but now there’s a new dimension.
It’s the same way with business and social media these days. Everything is in technicolor, transparent and prone to publication. In the past, businesses have had the luxury of negotiating their trajectory with less public scrutiny, especially when it came to resolving customer service issues and fine-tuning their delivery models. Those days live no longer with the advent of social media. Going viral can be a fabulous thing, or it can downright devastate a brand with seemingly instantaneous speed.
Brand reputation travels at warp speed on the information superhighway. Keeping your brand on the road means you may have what seems like a nanosecond to make a steering correction, and you’d better do that with a practiced touch. Over-correct and your company will suddenly careen and ricochet through sphere after sphere of microscopic scrutiny. Bloggers will cross-link and Twitterers will re-tweet. Unhappy customers turn to U-Tube with devastating results.
When something goes virally awry, the antidote often is elusive.
Kathy Hendershot-Hurd at Virtual Impax knows this only too well. She’s been preaching to an enthusiastic choir of blog readers, as well as to an ever-growing roster of small-business clients, about the power of social media as it relates to the customer service experience. Our observations received a couple of mentions in her latest post to that effect.
Hapless purveyers of mediocrity have had an awakening in blog comment sections and twitter interchanges all over the place lately, as Doug Meacham evidenced here in a blog post examining a Twitter exchange with a Best Buy executive. We’ve noted and perpetrated the phenomenon ourselves in what is turning into a series of Adventures in Customer Service at PassingThru.
All of this back story brings us to cookies – both the electronic kind and the kind that come out of the oven. Like the Hansel and Gretel fable, this is a cautionary tale. It’s a story of a well-intentioned start-up with an incomplete strategy, and a flawed execution.
We enter the narrative after shots have been fired in a duel arising out of disappointment vs. good intentions. Even though the gun barrels are still smoking, we’ve got an opinion as to the more elegant exit. We leave it up to you to assign victory or draw.
A blogging friend and occasional commenter here, Blogger Dad, was enticed by the offer of a free sample of “The World’s Best Chocolate Chip Cookie.” He ordered, paid for shipping (we know, paying for shipping technically makes the offer less than free) and eagerly awaited its arrival. He detailed his disappointing experience with an entertaining level of wit and sarcasm in his Letter to an Unnamed Cookie Company. Short story: stingy on sample size, arrived broken. World’s Best? Ummm, not.
That might have been the end of it. However, the company owner (guiltily?) recognized herself as the purveyor of a less than satisfactory experience, and sought to set the record straight. She shipped an entire box of cookies to Blogger Dad, along with a lengthy letter of explanation. Wow, remarkably appropriate, right?
Well, almost. As Dave rightly points out, and you can read the letter in its entirety in his follow-up post, suggesting that he keep his negative opinion to himself until the company had an opportunity to rectify the situation is inappropriate: In most businesses, you get one shot at impressing a customer. If you fail to do so, most customers move on. They don’t take the time to track you down and tell you how you can do your business better.
It’s hard to take criticism of something that represents your heart and soul. If you’re like most people who have pride in their creations, it hurts to hear you’ve provided a less than satisfactory experience. Business owners and creatives can be even more perfectionistic and proprietary than the average person with respect to product development.
Where entrepreneurs often fall short, though, is in service delivery. There is a tempting fallacy that the product will stand on its own or even compensate for other elements in the transaction. With all this comprising the mindset, it’s no wonder a reaction to the sting of constructive criticism can be to defend rather than make good.
The cookie company owner’s letter clarifies the intent of their “free” offer: to obtain feedback. They were purportedly testing various ways of shipping and delivery, as well as gathering data on customer reaction to the cookie itself. The first reference to this intention, however, came only via follow-up from the company.
When that feedback was received (albeit impersonally using a third party medium), the cookie company owner mistakenly combined two separate steps in process resolution into one with her letter. The first step was to make good on the disappointment, which she did with a generous amount of replacement product. Unfortunately, her second ended up a misstep. The chastising tone she chose signaled a lack of interest in addressing the relationship further, whether she meant it to, or not. Outcome: Unnecessary fail.
Let’s put this in bold: There’s no justification for a less than remarkable experience if the customer is left wanting. There is no handing off the responsibility to the customer. There is far less, or even no, caveat emptor with social media. Even if you’re “right,” the damage control you do on behalf of your brand can sink you.
If you’ve created expectations in business, then these days you’d darn better well exceed them. This didn’t happen. The company’s initial outreach promised the best . possible . product . EVAH. By extension, the most superlative experience one could hope for was implicit. Making up for it with additional free product is a great good-will gesture, but suggesting a less than transparent fix is misguided. The resulting impression is that any improvements would be to placate this individual complaint only.
As I noted in the comments at Dave’s blog, dispute resolution skills that are deficient often result in escalating the situation. One might say escalation is happening with this post, even. That’s really not our intent. Rather, we’re heading toward furthering the conversation about good standards of practice in customer service and enlightening a viewpoint toward respectful transparency.
Many businesses don’t have a whit of customer service sense. They don’t avail themselves of good training, nor do they implement sound, empowered, up-to-date policy. In start-up and micro-businesses, policy starts and ends with the owner. Getting defensive or snarky is a sure-fire way to push satisfactory resolution off the road. The sweet taste of this company’s cookies is belied by one lingering sour note in a letter that started out with good intentions.
Some of the commenters at Dave’s site think the cookie company may get business out of this interchange. Dave responded elegantly and fairly with a mostly favorable review, once he had an adequate sample. I’m not so sure. I think I can get a perfectly delicious chocolate chip cookie from any number of outlets without subjecting myself to the risk I infer from this example.
What do you say? Your answer reflects the power social media wields.
Related articles by Zemanta
- Companies Turning to Twitter to Answer Customer Inquiries (geeksugar.com)
- Are You Abusing Your Social Media Voice? (myventurepad.com)
- How Social Media is Transforming Customer Service and the Customer Experience (slideshare.net)
- You are Always On (chrisbrogan.com)