Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
August 20, 2008 7:13 AM

Does A Social Media Vigilante Equal Customer Service Justice For All?

There have been many back channels emails asking me who the "major electronics retailer" featured in my Blog posting, Like It Or Not, Your Website Is Part Of Your Company (And A Big One), from yesterday was. I run a different kind of ship here at Six Pixels of Separation. I don't name names in hopes of getting some kind of equitable resolution for myself. Plus, let's face it: they know exactly who they are (note: I have Blogged about specific companies in the past, but I have been doing my best to shy away from this over time).

The whole premise of Blogging - from my perspective - is to foster social change among all entrepreneurs and businesses. My hopes are that by not naming names, all companies will read a Blog posting like yesterday's and say: "is he talking about us?" or, "I know he's not talking about us, but how do we handle situations like that?"

The other reason I shy away from names is that I don't like reading highly trafficked Blogs where the main Blogger is using their platform to get some kind of personal resolution clouded in a grander message that by solving their individual problem the company is now "listening to the conversation." I know many like the voyeuristic nature of this type of content, and I know others who simply enjoy the "sticking it to The Man" undertones, but I don't think each unique incident is a "win" for the Blogger or the company. To me, it feels more like an individual case of someone exacting some form of Social Media vigilante justice.

As Bloggers we don't want to hear that companies have policies. We want to hear that they treat each and every customer as an individual and fulfill that need in a special way. While the company may look great in the eyes of the Blogosphere for "listening to the conversation" and acting, it is a very hot potato (whether we like it or not). There is a significant cost and internal shift that has to take place within a company to even monitor the many online channels, figure out how to respond and deliver on that response. As more and more customers become instant publishers (Bloggers, Podcasters, using Twitter, or building up massive "friends" lists in the online social networks), companies will have to figure out which policies work, which ones get tossed and what their overall level of a satisfactory resolution really means (yes, more policies). Because this is not about Bloggers, this is about customers (and, the customer is always right... right?).

And that's the bigger point: just because an individual Blogs about a bad customer experience and only gets a fraction of what they requested to "make it better" does not mean that the company is not listening, is not reacting and is not doing everything it can to resolve the situation. All it really means is that the company didn't do everything that the specific Blogger requested (and, let's face it, some Bloggers aren't helping the scenario when the requests are a little insane). Sometimes the Blogger is right in their request and sometimes the company is right in their settlement offer... and sometimes those two solutions simply don't match up.

As individuals build their personal brands and grow audiences based on the digital footprint they are creating, it is important for companies to be paying attention to the conversation (we all know how much time I spend Blogging about that particular issue), but I also think it's important to realize that one social media vigilante who is exacting justice for themselves does not mean customer service justice for all.

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Ricardo Sueiras
    Ricardo Sueiras

    Thanks for giving me a different perspective on this. I have been guilty of being a social media vigilante in the past and so your post resonates with me. I thought then it was the right thing to do, but now I am inclinded to agree that we have a responsibility wider than the initial feeling of getting one over.

    Reply
  • Posted by Leigh
    Mitch Joel

    I soooo totally disagree with you. The truth is that in general as consumers we have very little power particularly when calling customer service call centres. I have had even an occasion where a rep actually accuse me of trying to get "away" with stealing 5$ from them.

    For me, blogging about customer service issues isn't about necessarily about them 'listening' to the conversation. It's about resolving my personal issue that they clearly have ignored going through regular channels.

    But of course, I"m the gal who emailed 50 of my friends and asked them to send an email to Jeff Bezos and Amazon to get a $10 refund back (I didn't have a blog back then....and yes i had my $10 refunded after weeks of arguing with various levels within the organization).

    Vigilante? Perhaps to some. But to me, I'm just standing up for my rights as a customer to be treated fairly. And IMO there's nothing wrong with that.

    Reply
  • Posted by Lauren Vargas
    Mitch Joel

    There is a fine line between customer listening/corporation demonstrating they are listening and a knee-jerk corporate reaction because of that one comment. You really hit the nail on the head with this post. As an aside, I respect the integrity of this blog not to name names.

    Reply
  • Posted by Gary Cohen
    Mitch Joel

    You are 100% spot on. As a leader in social media you are educating through highlighting real life issues. It could be about your experience or Joe Blow's experience - it makes no difference. It is the fact pattern, how that company responds and the implications of the responses that are great opportunities for learning if they are shared. Naming names only backs companies into a public corner. Much like media outlets looking for sensationalist headlines to boost sales, vigilantes look for ways to boost their voice. And the sensalist vigilante approach often changes the focus form the actual problem to the so called aggrieved's demand. By not naming names, you truly raise and highlight issues which becomes a positive force for change in an engaged way. Especially in companies are fearful of social media which they see as a vast and dangerous unknown.

    Every company dies for great customer relationships and customer loyalty. In the past there was not that much choice and there were also limited platforms for sharing experiences. What is important is that companies move in lock step with their customers and stay attuned to their needs, wants and requirements. Just listening as in reading blogs is not enough for a company - they need to be engaged with their audience in many ways including an environment that incorporates a dialog and feedback long before the Sh*t hits the fan in a blog.

    I firmly believe that one expects a certain value from a transaction - you pay for a service because you put a certain value to it and if the service is not what it was purported to be, you can if you choose seek a remedy or choose not to pay for that service again.There has always been the doctrine of caveat emptor.

    But then again we live in a moment when sharing every aspect of one's life has become the online soup de jour. And the vigilante plays that up for their audience. The question is what audience - their followers or the companies they are trying to influence?

    Reply
  • I don't read anybody's Blog for any other reason than to get their thoughts/opinions on the industries of which they Blog.

    So, if you Blog about Comic Books and you build your audience on that platform, as a community member/reader, I'm not there to read about the problems you had with your car rental in Mexico.

    If you use that comic book platform to exact better customer service from a company, keep in mind that your audience is not there for that purpose either, but you are leveraging them to (hopefully) get a result.

    If you have a rant/customer service issue, they have great sites for that and/or the ability to do peer reviews (on certain sites). – plus, lots of readers/community people who like that sort of stuff.

    I'm not questioning whether or not this type of action is a good or bad thing (I realize that me Blogging my thoughts is not going to stop people from doing this) – it’s just not why I’m part of a community, and I do think brands/companies are challenged because these are (for the most part) legitimate complaints.

    BTW, this is very different from setting up some kind of group to assemble like-minded customers to affect customer service change. I’m all for that kind of power and using these channels to make it so.

    Reply
  • Posted by Leigh
    Mitch Joel

    I think it's up to the blog owner to make that call. Some people might not care for my customer service rants, while others find them entertaining. Your right, people may not want to read them but just like anything they can just glance and then pass them by.

    I think ultimately they do show the power of the network so for me they are as much a marketing experiment as anything else.

    I'll call it "me to them" marketing posts. Talk about personaliztaion ;-)

    Reply
  • Absolutely.

    Your mileage may vary :)

    Reply
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