With the proliferation and popularity of social media, like Twitter, its easy to forget how powerful a single voice can be. And yet, like a match, a single voice can spark a raging blaze, perhaps without ever really intending to do it. As individuals, we often think that when we speak we’re only heard by our immediate audience. Why edit your content when there’s so little impact? But with social media, that’s not really how it works. And the immediacy of social – the instant ability to publish an issue to a very broad audience – just complicates the dynamic. We edit less. The Geek Girls like to remind folks that fact and fiction or good news and bad news travel at the same speeds in the digital realm. And, let’s face it, as humans, we’re probably more likely to complain out loud than we are to share stories about good experiences. Especially when it comes to consumer or brand or service experiences. It’s true. We have expectations around service. When our experience with a brand comes off without a hitch, we probably don’t say much. Because we expected it. But if we have a less than easy encounter with a service provider, we are usually more prone to complain. And we’ll complain to anyone in the immediate vicinity. Only now, the immediate vicinity includes the web – Twitter and Facebook and wherever your profile may live. Don’t deny it. You know I’m right. You do it. But here’s a radical idea – I’d like to suggest that you pause for some reasonable amount of time before transcribing and publishing your knee jerk reaction to an unpleasant encounter. Because giving it a little bit of time just might be the right thing to do.
I subscribe to cable and home internet services through the cable company and, for the most part, other than the occasional grumble about the high price of cable television, I rarely have a complaint about Comcast. You may or may not be aware that recently Comcast decided to go entirely digital, which requires that all televisions without set-top control boxes get an additional adapter to receive the all-digital signal. Comcast informed subscribers via snail mail with a letter that provided instructions around how to order the adapters. We were given two options – logging into a website and providing a unique identifier and ordering the adapters, or calling a customer service line and speaking to a representative. Being someone who practically lives online the web option was my obvious choice. I headed straight for the website, filled out the required fields and provided my ID number, only to be met with an error message stating that the site was unable to process my request at that time. I tried again, same result. One last time, still an error message. My initial reaction was one of frustration. Don’t send letters out with website information that does not work! I considered, for a split second, tweeting my frustration. I even pulled up Tweetdeck for that very reason. Then I had a moment of calm and decided to just pick up the phone and call Comcast for my adapters. The next day I did exactly that, and you know what happened? I talked to a delightful human who was beyond helpful and friendly. My customer service experience with Comcast was, ultimately, perfect. I got all the information I needed. The rep was friendly, warm, available, and efficient. She made it so easy. I got my adapters by mail just four short days later. Done.
It would have been so easy for me to tweet my bitterness. To be honest, I’m not sure what stopped me. But now, in retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t do it. Because I realized something as a result of that series of seemingly meaningless events. I realized that I have some responsibility in all of my brand and service interactions. Because behind every website and call center and brand promise are people. We can automate every single transaction. But it doesn’t take away from the need for humanity in our relationships with these brands. Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s perfectly ok to expect good and reliable products and services from the brand in whom we place our trust. But there’s a difference between expecting quality and feeling entitled to instant gratification. The web has sort of muddied these waters and as more and more of us recognize the power that the individual has in the world of consumer relationships, its hard not to have really high, even entitled, expectations.
I think many of us have by now heard the story of Famous Mom Blogger Heather Armstrong’s dealings with Maytag. In her case it seems clear that she attempted to resolve the situation via traditional channels before she resorted to inciting the masses following her on Twitter to take up her cause. But it does illustrate just how powerful these channels can be. No, not all of us are Dooce. But by tapping into the power of social media we all have access to much broader and much more distributed networks of people. The potential for reputation damage goes far beyond your immediate gripe over the fence in the backyard.
Those of us in the service business are generally just trying to do good and honest work. The problem with being human is, sometimes you just fall down. As consumers of goods and services AND social media I’d like to see us all practice a little humanity and recognize our own responsibility in all of our relationships. In my case, I just picked up the phone. It was really that simple. A little patience and effort on my part was rewarded with exactly what I should have expected — excellent service.