Making Customers Attack

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If there’s one thing brands hate, it’s when customers attack using Social Media.

There’s no doubt that using Social Media and publishing your reasons for feeling wronged is not only commonplace, but something that usually gets results. While it may not be complete satisfaction on the customer’s side, usually an apology or an acknowledgement that things weren’t perfect from the brand is enough to tame the wildest of Twitter beasts. In the past little while, it has been a conversation that seems to be recurring with much more frequency in the Six Pixels of Separation world (just take a listen to my most recent Podcast with Joseph Jaffe: SPOS #222 – Jaffe And Joel #9 [Across The Sound 9.20] or read this Blog post: The White Noise That Is Twitter).

But, here’s what brands will never tell you…

On the surface, you’ll hear public statements like, "Social Media is an important place for us to listen to and react to our consumers," or, "even if we did something bad, it’s important that we’re accountable and that the general public sees our response." In the boardroom and behind closed corporate doors, many brands feel like ousted BP CEO, Tony Hayward, and his infamous, "I want my life back!" line. In short, they would love to see Social Media go away – especially the brands/industries that always struggle with customers and satisfaction. In a perfect world, they’d prefer if all of the flubs, foibles and inferior service wasn’t publicly broadcasted for all to see, search and comment on.

Now, they’re doing it to themselves.

A new trend is that certain brands consider all tweets, Blog posts, etc… as a public record and have corporate policies around responding (in short order) to any concerns or complaints in the many online channels. What brands fail to realize is that this opens the floodgates, and is now pushing individuals who would normally not make customer services complaints publicly, to do so.

Think about that. Think about this…

Just this week I had two customer services incidents that I’ll share with you…

  1. One of my mobile providers left me waiting on the phone for twenty minutes. Once I connected, I was told that I was in the wrong department and that they would transfer me. I waited on the phone for forty more minutes before the system unceremoniously booted me off before even speaking to a customer service representative. I called back and waited another twenty minutes before finally connecting to a human being, who then prompted me to try bringing my device into their retail outlet. The best part of the story? This call happened after 12:30 am… I was on the phone until almost 2 am.
  2. I bought a return airfare business class ticket on a major airline for over $4000 (a client was covering this expense). I usually fly with airlines where I have status, but had to use this major carrier because of timing, destination, etc… When I reported three hours early for my flight home and went to the lounge, I was told that I could not access it – even though I had purchased the most expensive ticket possible. The attendant finally agreed to let me in as their "guest" but would not grant me access to the wi-fi, which is only for their "members." Imagine that: a $4000 first class ticket does not get you access to the lounge.

I could go postal. I could go tweeting.

In both instances, I have intimate knowledge of these two companies and know that they both respond to issues immediately online, but I chose not to. Why?

  1. You never know who you are going to work with. As the President of Twist Image, I can never know which brands may become client opportunities. Pushing that further, you never know when the CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) for Company A might move over to Company B. If Company B is a major client and this individual remembers that spleen busting rant on Twitter, they may be inclined to do an "agency review." Nobody wants that.
  2. I don’t like to leverage this community for my personal gain. By complaining, it forces the brand to take a look at who I am and who I am connected to. I would not want any kind of favorable resolution simply because I have a small semblance of a community, or because I write a newspaper column. I don’t write a column or build this community so that brands will pay attention to me when I’m not satisfied. On top of that, you are not here to watch me publicly deal with a customer service issue. You’re here to be a media hacker along with me. You’re not here to be a part of my personal bidding.

So, how does one get resolution?

It’s crazy, isn’t it? By working the traditional channels and trying to keep things private, nothing happens. Nothing gets resolved and the brands don’t even realize/know these issues are taking place. If I tweet about it (which I don’t want to do), there is a strong possibility I would get next-to-perfect resolution and the brand would then be able to iterate and evolve based on the incident. They’re, literally, begging me to go public.

Does anyone else see the strange irony here? Brands are now forcing their customers to attack in public! Anyone else find that a little crazy?


  1. So they should set up a twitter account, that quickly auto-follows whoever follows it. And invite upset customers to DM that twitter account for speedy resolution of the problem (via whoever is competent/already runs their social media). Same for facebook etc.
    A digital complaints box.
    That’s what I’d do, anyway. If I were a company…

  2. Very interesting post, and I appreciate that you were honest as to why you don’t take your customer service issues public.
    I’ve ranted on Twitter a few times because I couldn’t get anyone to help me through the traditional channels. Actually, not only could I not get help but, like you, I got rudeness and exceedingly poor treatment to top off an already negative situation.
    I think that many companies feel that if they ‘respond’ on Twitter and give you good customer service that you’ll then follow up with the love-fest tweet(s) and give them valuable and free positive advertising. What it really does though is reaffirm that they’re jerks who only offer good customer service when there is some potential positive gain for them.
    Thank you, again, for your expertise and insight.

  3. that can work (and work well), if the majority of people actually know what a DM is, how to do it and also think first that a DM might be better instead of posting it for all to see. The majority of people probably have no idea how Twitter works. They join and use it to follow celebrities and the like. That would be my guess.

  4. Imagine if all an new/potential customer sees is a corporate Twitter feed where the content is nothing but apologies and the brand trying to right a wrong? Does that create an atmosphere that says, “we’re great! Buy from us?” Doesn’t sound all that impressive to me.
    In fact, if you look at airline, cable, wireless provider and other Twitter feeds like that, my overall comment is that while it gives the perception that the brand cares/responds, the bigger brand perception is that they’re not very good at what they do, because all they’re doing is apologizing and trying to fix their issues.

  5. Perhaps what you’re really seeing here is a cultural divide, playing out in the context of the business itself. The “traditional” lines of communication tend to be manned by traditionally-minded people — this is our business model, and we don’t want to hear anything bad about it.
    I would be willing to bet that the social network channels, however, are manned by a younger/more tech savvy group who are OK with the idea of transparency and more interconnectedness with the consumer.
    I wouldn’t say that the companies are pushing us so much to public channels to get things fixed. (They’d probably be much happier if we’d all just spend our money and go away.) I think we’re being pulled to these channels by people within the company who are actually seeking out the conversations and are willing to do something about them.

  6. I so loved that you didn’t use your Twitter use to stray from what you intend it for. In fact, as a blogger you stay the most on message which is why I will always look at what you have to say. I know you won’t pollute your channel with personal stuff. This is something we all could learn from, especially me. Off topic, but it really struck me. Thanks.

  7. Mitch I am a fan of your thoughts, book, comments. However, your fear of upsetting someone needs to be overcome. Sharing through your blog about this story is a start and naming the companies will be the only way proper action will be taken. I have a good friend that used this phrase”Can you live with it?” Short but very powerful. So Mitch I will leave you with that question. If you can’t live with it…..Fix it!
    Make it a great day!

  8. That is rather crazy. The answer, though, is for businesses to actually provide decent customer service in the first place, rather than just give it lip service. Then fewer people would feel the need to complain using public forums.

  9. In the end, no brand wants a record of their errors or slip-ups. So, I think you’re spot on in terms of them being unable to avoid it, but I’m suspect that they’re doing things that require that public attention to really be highlighted.
    It just seems strange that they are – essentially – encouraging people to “out them” them in public rather than working harder to resolve it without the digital footprint.

  10. Well, if I decide to change, I would poll the audience/community first to see if the new direction is wanted/encouraged. We have some semblance of a social agreement/social contract here and I do not want to breach it.

  11. Excellent post, Mitch. I was thinking about social reach in terms of customer service just yesterday.
    When working in social media and having any sort of a following, what you say about a brand has to be considered before you post. Unfortunately, brands are looking at the reach of each individual and making choices about how to right customer service wrongs based on this.
    I too keep mum (most of the time) about bad service with a brand, especially when it happens locally, as I realize that my reach could impact them… and perhaps, my business. What I have taken to doing is writing old school letters to the owners or CEOs of companies about my experiences. Sometimes, I get no response. But often times I get a response and a note of thanks. I think that associate training is one of the most important things any business can do – after all retaining your customers is the best way to maintain revenues.
    On the flip side, I am always quick to praise well deserving brands in public.

  12. I’d love to fix it… but why do I have to do this in public? Why won’t they react/deal with a phone call/email as much as a tweet or Blog post. The whole thing just seems totally insane to me and very counterintuitive.

  13. Right. They’re willing to make you wait for 40 minutes on the phone and not improve that service, but add on to it Twitter – which they’ll respond to quickly. It forces consumers to publicly out them and then they all have this online record of their constant and consistent discretions.

  14. Perhaps they’re looking to use their “fast response” on SM sites as a competitive advantage. If airline A has a showcase of well-handled public complaints, compared to airline B who hasn’t been so effective publicly, then airline A gets street cred for managing their screwups better than the competition. Eventually though, the required response will escalate as customers become accustomed to this process. Things could spiral uncontrollably in to a constant state of damage control.
    Seems counter-productive to me, but at the same time given my own history of airline experiences, it’s not too far fetched an idea. A lit of things they do in “customer service” make me shake my head and wonder.

  15. Imagine that: when you take the time to write a physical letter, you only get responded to sometimes. If you tweet and out them publicly, you will – without a doubt – get a response (and a fast one).
    Again, doesn’t everybody see something terribly wrong this?

  16. Good post Mitch. I think the key is balance. If you only blogged about horrible experiences that is one thing. But if you also blogged about excellent experiences that is another. At least people can then see overall you are fair/balanced.
    When I have really good/bad customer experiences I send an email to the CEO or CMO. Almost 90% of the time that achieves the desired response. Ultimately as consumers that is what we want isn’t it?

  17. Agreed – this isn’t for all brands and it’s not a universal comment. There seems to be something here though: it’s not about whether a brand should be on Twitter (or not). It’s more about understanding that if you are, you are going to have to respond and if you do so effectively, it’s a statement against your other customer service touchpoints.

  18. It’s a two-way street, isn’t it. What if I just don’t want my issues public? The thought I’m raising here is that the brands aren’t giving me a choice but to go public… and in doing so, are creating a lot more noise than probably either one of us would like. Still seems a little nutso to me.

  19. A very interesting blog. Personally I don’t mind people airing their grievences about a company on Twitter (other social media platforms) if it’s a genuine grevience and not merely an attempt to put public pressure on a company to respond. Also I think the complainee should tweet again when the issues are resolved.
    I was at a talk recently and the speaker openly admitted using his Twitter standing to push companies to respond to his complaints (and also to try and get free stuff from suppliers). For me, this is too much like a pushy celebrity using the old “Do you know who I am?” line.
    A bigger problem than a single complainant on Twitter is the rise of Facebook groups full of people criticising a company’s actions. These are real hot potato and can lead to a great deal of adverse publicity if handled badly.

  20. I can… the point is I would prefer to not air my laundry and I don’t understand why they are encouraging me to do so. BTW, this isn’t just me… I’ve heard this from multiple senior executives too who do not want this sort of stuff in public.

  21. Certainly there is something wrong with this. Though, most people are not as established in social media, nor do they own or operate social media based companies… so they might Tweet a bad experience with without hesitation. If I own a specialty food company and have a bad experience with my wireless carrier – chances are my tweet will not affect my business or the business I do with that company – it might only improve it.
    Those of us working within the space are in another boat – unfortunately.

  22. This is one of those: “I’m kind of a big deal on Twitter” or Facebook or YouTube or the whole, “do you know how many people read my Blog?”.
    Maybe the other part of this is that it makes me feel too self-promoting as well?

  23. I definitely think there is more validity in Facebook. I have wrestled with an online travel firm which is represented by one of my favorite actors since June. I have written the person I was told to write. On Linked In I saw some one from that company and asked them to please send a note for me. I don’t have a problem with a public forum…the companies will either straighten up or people will be forewarned.

  24. I agree entirely with your frustration, Mitch. Horrible customer service is more common now than ever and from the biggest companies, it almost seems many have replaced customer service resources they invest in with Twitter – driving customer service even lower at the same time as arming their unhappy customers with digital megaphones.
    As hackers, do we not have a responsibility to brands (potential clients) and community to point out deficiencies in their processes? To provide their social sentiment monitors with a more realistic view of how they are actually doing?
    Maybe the public part of customer service complaints should be over the loudspeaker at th corporate head office- everyone should know corporately that when someone complains in social media they are so angry, it indicates a real #FAIL in the customer device department overall.

  25. Great post Mitch. I couldn’t agree more that brands (mostly the really large ones) have put us in this unfair position where the only way to get problems resolved is to publicly out them. But I have to stop and ask if we as marketers, and consumers have at least a little bit brought this upon ourselves. As marketers, we have been shoving social media down the throats of companies for the last several years, telling them how important it is for them to communicate with their customers and pay attention to what people are saying on these channels, that it seems like we have given them an excuse to focus less on actual customer service, and more on social media damage control. While the idea that putting more focus on customer service would help decrease all these negative public rants seems like common sense, we all know that companies do not run on common sense. As consumers, if we used these social media channels to share more of our positive experiences, maybe these companies would realize the value of initially giving people positive experiences as opposed to trying to turn negative ones into positives. While I know there are plenty of people who do share both positive and negative stories, the majority of people do not share your beliefs about not ranting in a public forum. I am by no means giving these brands a free pass, however I do feel we have contributed to this position we find ourselves in. Thoughts?

  26. Had a similar discussion on another bloggers post that circled around people ranting publicly without first trying to achieve resolution through regular channels. I understand that you did attempt this, but many people don’t and I wonder if that is what companies are reacting to? How many people get bad food or service at a restaurant and instead of saying something to the manager, they pull out their phone and tweet about it? There is only so much that can be done after the fact versus at the time of the issue. In your case, you did go through regular channels and didn’t receive satisfaction. If the company is not made aware of the issue (they should be monitoring for things like this, but there is only so much time and $$ they can spend on that), how will they know they need to improve?
    In the end, my hypotheses is that the relentless pressures of making the numbers for Wall Street has eroded a business’ chance of doing the right thing. There are exceptions, but when faced with investing in customer service and looking long term versus hitting the quarterly goal, most businesses choose the latter. Sad, really.

  27. Great item… What I don’t like about these new channels is that it encourages/rewards bad behavior. I now know I can bypass the normal route for a bill inquiry, etc. I can use twitter which might make some think I’ve been wronged when all I really might be is confused or, worse, mistaken. It also has the potential for companies to be dismissive of people who use Twitter to vent, be attention seeking, etc.
    The other misleading thing here which, thankfully, you’ve pointed out is that those who are influencers and who may be social media celebrities often take to these channels but get immediate satisfaction not unlike TV/film celebrities who get freebies, access to VIP benefits, etc. I respect Chris Brogan but I’ve seen him tweet complaints and then declare resolution. I wonder if it were me, would I get the same satisfaction? And, I wonder if he uses his influencer status to get what he wants when he wants it and not because he’s truly dissatisfied? Perhaps I might do the same if I had his level of success… who knows?

  28. I get extremely annoyed with people that use Twitter, in particular, as their primary complaint platform. I see it as a sign of laziness…we’re not going to take the effort to mee them halfway and instead expect them to come to us. I don’t like it at all.
    However, that doesn’t mean I won’t speak my mind about a company that does something I disagree with. For instance, recently my hosting provider got hacked for the millionth time, and I’d finally had enough. I voiced a bit of frustration on Twitter, and within minutes, several others, all of which felt the same way, reached out to share their stories/thoughts on the issue.
    I think there’s good in that, at least for the consumer, and that’s going to happen anywhere people congregate, so I don’t necessarily blame Twitter or SM for it.
    However, the former is something that should be kept in private, as I don’t see it as a benefit to either side. My first thought is:
    Why would a company want to help me if I’m treating them in this manner? As a business, I’d rather drop the customer than get treated like that, but maybe I’m in the minority.
    I respect that you have a policy on gripes and complaints, and when we talked several months ago, I was impressed by your objectivity in that regard.

  29. I applaud you Mitch for not using Twitter as a preferential treatment platform. It’s a tough choice, because social media preaches transparency and honesty, but you can’t come forward in order to not offend potential clients or future clients. It’s a fine line, and I guess each case is a bit different.
    I agree with your stance, as you are speaking from a Twist Image standpoint. But will these companies learn if they don’t know it’s an issue? Comcast learned (or is learning) their lesson because people came forward after the terrible service they continuously received. They got a pounding in Social Media circles, and are now trying to rectify their brand image.
    You’ve raised an interesting issue – when is it right to bring up poor customer service if you operate a business?

  30. Mitch,
    Great post as always. I think that companies begging peple to go public with their rants is crazy…crazy like a fox. If they invite public outcry and it happens with their knowing, they can address it in the present without having to do major damage control. Then their poor customer service which most likely occured in private is resolved in public and they have an even better public image. It is all about power. And now they have the power to influence in a medium we all hold near and dear to our hearts…social media. Dan Ariely just recently posted a similar article about Hitler and the tricks up his sleeve.
    As a marketer, here is a chance for you to reach out to those companies marketing departments for consulting. Now you have personal first hand knowledge of how people are treated by these companies. One of the earlier comments suggested that you fix the problem and you offered up the response “how?” This sounds like a good starting place. This lack of service is the kind of thing that annoys me as well. When I want to fix it, I reach out.
    Keep them coming Mitch. You always seem to deliver incredible insight and thought provoking ideas and questions.

  31. Great post Mitch! As a branding consultant I’ve been leery of complaining too much via social media for some of the same reasons you mentioned ie they could become a client, etc.
    The other element about voicing your complaints via social media is how it reflects on your own personal brand. When you complain or are negative I feel it reflects badly on you. Even if you’re justified, I don’t think social media is the place to list all of life’s problems.
    I find myself unfollowing or unfriending negative people because I just don’t want that in my life.
    Also, people care about their problems, not mine. So does my community need to know I’m upset because my pizza is late? I don’t think they care.

  32. We need to see customer service as a holistic corporate approach instead of multiple channels in isolation. To this point: we’re basically complaining about bad customer service in the one channel that many of these brands are trying to do customer service in. This brings out the irony again: it’s in the public platform.
    Why not reverse the model?
    Imagine mastering real customer service, so that all of the commenting in public spaces is about how well you are servicing or making things happen. Take Zappos as an example of that (I know, they’re not perfect… but they’re close).

  33. Fair ball, but the majority of tweets and Blog posts that I see are usually sparked from a bad customer service (call, meeting, etc…).
    Let’s be realistic here: brands aren’t perfect, so if given the choice to resolve in private between the consumer or brand or force it public because you respond to everything quicker on Twitter seems silly to me.

  34. It’s also hard to understand the issues in 140 characters and understand what “resolution” means (along with intent and emotion). In terms of responding to those who have a significant network, I think it’s fair to say that all complaints are created equal, but who is complaining is a whole other ball of wax.
    Do you think a celebrity gets better treatment… you bet they do. Is it fair? Well, it is what it is…

  35. It’s not always easy to keep that objectivity, but I do try. The other side (the side I grapple with) is the reality that I do believe that calling brands out can improve both how the brand deals with customer service and how they (hopefully) adapt and innovate. Take a look at the classic Dell Hell – Jeff Jarvis example.

  36. See my last comment above. It is something that I grapple with. There are no hard and fast rules. Certain industries need this public outcry – it’s a great temperature for customer sentiment.

  37. It’s like when people come into a meeting and you ask them how they are and they suddenly go into this whole diatribe about their health (both physical and psychological). While I’m probably the first person to catch anything and everything, I often think the same thing: this person needs to suck it up – no one cares that you have a cold! Be a pro… otherwise, the personal brand does take a hit.

  38. Oh of course a celebrity comes first… That’s a given. I think when we see it streaming before our eyes, though, makes us think that maybe we have a fighting chance of quick (apparent) resolution too. These are funny media. ๐Ÿ™‚

  39. If you have the right contact in the company they may respond. You could always reach out to your network of peers to make this happen. You were included in Seth Godin’s “What Matters Now” and Seth knows Keith Ferrazzi. Given Ferrazzi’s roloadex of names surely he can help you get the right eyes and ears to see/ hear you.
    If all else fails you could reach out via social media.You could use any form of social media to get their attention without specifically “calling them out.”:
    “Airlines I have an idea for you: let your $4000 first class ticket purchasers use your wi-fi in the lounge.” Specifically on their walls or social media sites.
    If it is a problem worth correcting, then it is a problem worthy of persistence. Right?

  40. I understand your point, and I really can’t make up my mind wether or not it’s right to take advantage of social media as a new way to “complain” about an incident or it’s just better to let go.
    I recently read an article by Amber Naslund that shows exactly what you mean ( ). I believe that the question is also: will my complain just fix things for me or will it “educate” the company and make things better for the future? That hotel sure got a lesson out of it, being just a single structure. But a mega-corporation? I doubt no one will learn a thing.
    And another thought: what if someone chooses to complain just about smaller companies’ incidents, because it’s less likely to have repercussions like those you mention? Will big brands about the bitchslap because of their influence? Ah so many questions and I still don’t know what to think…

  41. And moreover, since you bring up DELL, they have done a pretty sophisticated job of measuring tonality (positive and negative) that shows the overall sentiment improves when they handle these online complaints quickly. Of course, they aren’t only handling the complaints of people with a large following, but of people who are customers, no matter the size.
    Also the same with @netsolcares, they were a client and our agency did the same tonality study that showed the same result as that reported by DELL. The study can be found in the awards section of the Society for New Communications research. Bet it is the same with @camcastcares, though I haven’t seen those numbers.
    It’s counterintuitive I know, but when you resolve a person’s issue, they also become a ambassador of the brand (of sorts) when they tell their story. Often they write about their positive experience for months afterward, if not years.

  42. I think it’s amazing what brands have done and are doing. From 37,000 feet it seems like the perfect world: consumers get what they need in a quick and efficient way and brands can not only fix issues but truly innovate.
    My confusion is still around why they jump to the new shiny, object when if they resolved the root cause, it may lend itself to much more brand evangelism and loyalty.

  43. Mitch – right on, and great food for thought, especially since my company was just “attacked” today by an irate customer on a local blog.
    I forwarded your post around the office to add some levity and pragmatism to the situation.

  44. As a customer, and everyone is a customer, even marketers, it’s maddening to feel like no one cares about your problem. It’s really maddening when a company is so big that no one takes responsibility. Your ironic observation is well put, but as Sancho Panza might have said,
    At the end of the day, a little bird told me that if you’re too big to fail then the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

  45. It also has to do with the social contract that the Blogger has with their community. Amber is a great example of someone who lives “in the open.” Her community is a willing and active participant.

  46. Your closing thought is spot on Mitch. I actually just had a negative customer service experience myself, and when I tried to resolve it privately through the appropriate channels, the company replied and said that they had “looked into me”, and because I hadn’t publicly griped about them in social media or on my blog, then my problem couldn’t have been nearly as bad as I made it out to be.
    Absolute lunacy.

  47. Not sure which “that guy” you are referring to. I know that you probably have a large number of plates that you juggle all of the time. I’d love to help you with this project if the need arises. What have you got to lose? Instead of worrying if they will ever become a client…let’s go out and make them a client. Let me know if you’re interested in pursuing.

  48. I wanted to mention a great Harvard Business Review article about customer service and how companies focus on customer delight instead of simplifying basic levels of customer service.
    Article abstract:
    My view is that despite the channel used to submit complaints (email, Twitter, call line), the actual complaint itself isn’t dealt with at the appropriate level.

  49. I agree with some of these points, but I would also argue that the companies aren’t forcing anyone to do anything with their actions alone.
    Social networks aren’t creating new problems at a base level. They just provide the average person (not digitally-focused people like us) with an avenue to complain about the problems that companies have been getting away with for a long time. Until now, they’ve been able to leave people on hold for an hour and not hear anything about it. Now, people can easily tell others. Perhaps, rather than a problem, this could be considered an opportunity to shine the spotlight on room for improvement. Of course, mistakes happen but those also provide an opportunity to satisfy customers.
    The culture of entitlement that does seem to stem from this with some people is a problem, but I think the corporate negligence that has led to this situation is more to blame than just the rise of digital tools.
    A little rushed so not as eloquent as I might otherwise be, but does this make sense?

  50. Actually its better for people to be able to express and share an experience about a brand be it good or bad with other people…whether its twitter, FB or any other online medium
    we all make mistakes, so for a brand to respond publicly to a customers bad experience in a way it gives them credibility and gives the customer the attention while solving his/her issue … well this is how its working here in Kuwait… with local companies …

  51. You always makes sense, but that has no bearing on whether or not I agree with you ๐Ÿ˜‰
    All kidding aside, I think you’re right, but the point here is that brands are – in essence – saying, “if you don’t complain in public to everyone you know about us, your call is not that important to us.”
    A little nusto… no?

  52. Let’s be clear: customer service is important… in all channels. There’s no argument there. The big question is this: why are brands forcing people (even those who do not want to) to publicly complain?
    The concept/notion just seems insane to me.

  53. You wrote: “It’s crazy, isn’t it? By working the traditional channels and trying to keep things private, nothing happens. Nothing gets resolved and the brands don’t even realize/know these issues are taking place.” I don’t believe that the companies (I wouldn’t refer to them as “brands” in this instance) don’t know about these issues. For example, the New York Times recently reported that a major airline CEO bragged to shareholders that by charging for stowing luggage, all of a sudden the airline eliminated one of their major headaches: lost luggage. So many fewer customers chose not to stow luggage once the airline charged for it, that they simply eliminated the problem altogether. Next, they’ll charge for contacting customers service. Presto! No more customer service problems. Of course they know these things are going on. They choose not to deal with them, or to deal with them poorly, because most customer service issues don’t impact their bottom line enough to force them to deal with them.

  54. Interesting timing. Ad Age published a 7 year history of Social Media Screw Ups. As I went through the pages I realized how many I had never heard of, and how the ones I have I am unsure if they had any effect on the Brand’s Sales or Reputation. Or if anything was even fixed (Like Palm Oil procurement, is anyone following up?).
    You, I and most people here commenting could potentially work with these brands and so caution is the better part of valor. But most people using Social Media that is not the case. But I wonder if Brands 1] really care or 2] need to care. Even if 50mil people were outraged unless sales plummet should they care that someone is pissed?
    With your white noise post and my own studies 90% of peoples streams don’t get viewed because of volume and lack of time. So while I agree with the premise of this post that Brands might cause people to flip out..and I do not think its good practice…isn’t Delta Skelta proof of lack of real damage to a Brand’s bottom line?

  55. I would be angry if this had happened to me. I see your point but the problem I see with keeping it quiet is that other people that will have to deal with these companies in the future will be going through the same problems you are going through. So by trying to do it privately you do the rest of us a diservice.
    Another thing that I find quind of puzzling is that even though you’ve been mistreated by them, you are still thinking about the business opportunities that you might get with them. I wouldn’t want to deal with any of them if those practices keep going on.
    Sometimes in order for some companies to improve, they need to be put in their spotlight, if you talk about them in public you will be helping them and all of us, which is also kind of ironic.

  56. I agree in principle with your post—and your talk with Jaffe—except on one point. You may be worried about posting customer service misfortunes to your group of followers because that’s not why they’re following you, but I don’t necessarily have an issue with that (provided it doesn’t become your schtick, as you mentioned in the case of Scott Monty). In fact, if you’ve had a bad experience with a company or product (as I’m currently having with a certain, large shipping company) your experience *could* benefit me in knowing to avoid that company or learn how to deal with the same issues you faced.

  57. Perhaps personal grievances and situations should remain between the person and the company, while opinions and general observations are more suitable for public consumption. I agree with Mitch that the latter could have negative repercussions when job hunting or pitching business. So you gotta be careful with how much you rant.

  58. Hi, Mitch. First time reader and commenter. Think you have presented an interesting point here. But companies that do everything they can to solve online issues (e.g. via tweet) but keep a customer on hold for an hour and a half don’t understand the overall impact of word of mouth.
    Just because we may not see it online via a tweet, doesn’t mean you didn’t tell people about your awful experience with both of the companies above. Customer service is a culture thing, IMO. Companies are either customer-centric or they aren’t. And some are listening, engaging and trying to be. But if your company culture isn’t to be customer-centric, then your likely to make an ass out of yourself on the phone, responding to a tweet or commenting on a blog post.
    Just my two cents. Look forward to yours.

  59. Mitch, the thing that sticks with me most over these last few posts and discussions around the topic is the idea that my followers did not sign up to see or hear or read me do exactly that.
    You said it well here: “On top of that, you are not here to watch me publicly deal with a customer service issue. You’re here to be a media hacker along with me. You’re not here to be a part of my personal bidding.”
    It’s astounding how that one general sentiment has given me just a slight pause before I spew randomness. Thanks for that. and this. ๐Ÿ™‚

  60. Totally spot on which furthers the point of this point: if you’re not getting that right, why would you make a public venting the only platform where you will act? I keep saying it, but I’ll say it again: it seems nutso to me.

  61. To further your comment: I’m never my best when I’m complaining about a customer service experience, am I? I’m vulnerable. I feel like I have been taken advantage of and – ultimately – I’m a little bit more crabby than usual. How can I possibly look good to my audience when I’m like that?

  62. Mitch – Who cares if you do or don’t post personal gripes – that’s your choice. The rest of us are just worried about how to handle complaining customers and avoid getting fired because we didn’t notice the crazy guy in the crowd with 20,000 twitter followers.
    ROI is all that matters in the board room. How much revenue does the customer generate? How much will it cost to satisfy them? Using this equation, most consumer brands didn’t need to invest in great service – highly regulated companies (think pharma, utilities) or B2B companies were the exceptions. You could talk loyalty and retention till you’re blue in the face, but with a customer lifetime value of 200 bucks – who cares about the complainers? Lets just find new customers! It’s way more fun.
    But the latest megaphones have added a frightening new twist for consumer brands. Calculating lifetime value was easy compared to trying to calculate how much damage some yahoo (complainer) can cause? Instead of threatening to get a lawyer or call the Toronto Star, they can use their online presence as a weapon.
    I believe consumers can tell the difference between wacko chronic complainers and the rest of us. In light of that, I believe that prompt, respectful service for complainers – publicly or privately is the best way to avoid public humiliation and protect your brand.
    Fear is the greatest motivator of all. Maybe the acute fear of a public hanging will get execs to think twice before approving 40 minute hold times as an “acceptable service level”.
    Or maybe they’ll just hire a really creative agency to figure out a cheaper way of acquiring new customers using the Interweb and the Tweeter….
    Thanks for the content – love the podcast

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