Bad News: Beware the Public Blogging

When was your last bad experience? I mean, one that either stunk or was memorably dissatisfying? Just out of curiosity, how many people did you tell about your experience? What about the companions who may have been with you?

Bad news a viral thing. Today, it can travel farther and faster than ever before. Modern technology and sophisticated search algorithms have created social networks without boundaries. These networks connect us with everyone and strengthen word-of-mouth dynamics. They enable us to spread ideas with lightening speed. They enable others to vicariously participate in our experiences as we share them – good and bad.

Social networks aren't new, but the these emerging dynamics make it critical to evaluate their potential impacts on business and brand equity. In this day and age, it’s entirely possible to cross the wrong customer; the one who, with the piercing voice of a town crier, can readily air our "dirty laundry" to the public; leaving us scrambling to explain - or even righting the wrongs we've committed at a humbling pace. Consider the following example from Comcast, as summarized below:

A Comcast customer service employee becomes irked by a customer who is trying to resolve a rather serious problem related to a misdirected check. At some point in the discourse, the representative accesses the customer's file and changes her name in the computer system to "Bitch Dog." The name later shows up on the customer's August billing statement. The upset customer becomes outraged and contacts the media. The story is soon picked in the news and an escalating number web log posts, which (to-date) have reached 293 in number. The story results in a ton of high profile negative exposure for Comcast, the termination of two involved Comcast employees and multiple, public apologies to the customer.

This is just one of a myriad of emerging customer service stories that have corporations quaking in their boots - and well they should. In a recent "2006: State of CRM" presentation, Gartner claims that "always-informed customers will form new communities and will find new ways to protest and to exact revenge." Gartner goes on to predict that social networks, tracking and privacy management will rise to the fore in as key CRM competencies in 2006.

Customers are only going to get more sophisticated in their ability to rate, rank, assess, and talk about the quality of experience being offered by companies today. All the more reason to offer better experience, my dears. Unfortunately, we must be mindful that customers may be more vocal about bad experiences than they are about what's good. Are you ready for the challenge?

Companies that ignore social networks may be surprised in the future by receiving “public bloggings” in the new town squares of the Internet. Proactive, leading companies will rise to the occasion and find ways to better map and manage customer experience in the context of socially networks. They will find ways to positively harness social networks to resolve outstanding customer service issues and build stronger, more competitive brands as a result.

Seize the day.


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I’m Leigh Durst, a 20 year veteran in business, operations, customer strategy, ecommerce, digital & social media and marketing. Simply put, I’m a strategist that helps companies (start-up to blue chip) achieve business shift, create more compelling online and offline experiences. I also write, speak and teach about experience design and next-generation business. I’m a futurist, visionary, strategist, doer and connector with a passion for people and helping others. When I’m not on the road, you’ll find me in the San Francisco bay area, working, beaching it and hanging out with my family and dog.


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