Sometimes it feels like I have to sweat bullets in order to deliver a piece of creative writing. But if there's one thing I get fired up about and have no problem getting the writing flowing, it's when I write from the point of view of the disgruntled customer.
The other day I got royally fired up and wrote a nearly-500-word essay-email in one swift sitting.
I'd ordered an item online, and the US website I'd ordered from was dated, clunky, and rendering slowly. Twice it rejected a perfectly fine credit card (it processed the third time), it didn't use the usual convention of secure forms, and took its time showing the details for items I was buying. The online shop also gave off one of those aggressive 'if you don't buy from us right now you're an ignorant dick' kind of vibes.
Thinking I'd finally completed the ordeal of trying to simply buy two products, I checked my bank to find I'd been charged for an extra item, worth $60.
I then received an email saying I'd purchased some item I'd never even heard of.
What then transpired was several emails back and forth, starting out in the vein of me asking "Can you help me out? There's been a mistake, your site wasn't rendering and..." to, "Um, what do you mean 'Too bad if you haven't even heard of this product. It's not our fault. Our logs tell us you clicked it, so you bought it'?" to, a few emails later, me writing a long entreaty about it not being about the money, that I like your products and don't want to believe that I may have to stop buying them because you have a hard, unfriendly (actually pretty mean) and frankly outdated sales model. It's resolved with me thinking, "Ah, fudge it. I'm gonna cancel my two subscriptions and find another product."
Essentially, I stopped caring about the product, and stopped believing in the brand. None of the client service team even bothered to explain what the product was that I'd inadvertently ended up with (despite me asking three times), never tried to gently prod me into accepting it (which I was open to for quite a long window), and never showed a shred of empathy towards me for the pain-in-the-arse inconvience this all was. Over the course of a week and a half, I went from evangelistic believer, through backslider, to pagan.
Surely you can't go round being inflexible, obstinate and uncaring with customers in the age of social networking. Well, perhaps you can, but surely it's got to get ugly for you if you do. Ugly in that you will lose not only customers: you will lose yourself the opportunity to engage a giant merry band of enthusiastic, natural salespeople - people who simply like you and what you do and are happy to shout about it. So, worst case, and depending on how much you pissed them off, your now ex-customers may spout about their bad experience with their own expanding merry band of friends, acquaintances, and friends of friends (that didn't exist just a few short years ago). What's certain, however, is that they won't be sharing how great you and your gear is.
Here are the conclusions I drew from my intercontinental minidrama:
- Dinosaurs still walk this earth: yes, there are still companies out there running their business like it's the '90s, in a rundown, dated part of the Internet, with loud, obnoxious, hardheaded people put in charge of client services, by likeminded managers and owners
- These dinosaurs will die out soon if they don't evolve: taking a hard, inflexible, no-discussion line with your customers is just plain stupid
- Following the standard 'social media marketing plan' is not enough: a funny picture with your message; cool and interesting content; retweets and shares are good, but if you've got a reputation as an a$$, because you act like one to your customers when it comes time to get down to business, that's the reputation you'll earn. "Oh, look - the a$$ has posted a cool video. I'll watch it then go elsewhere to spend my money."
Funnily enough, I'd actually planned to write how being nice actually gets you a lot further in business this week. Sounds like a good topic for my next blog...
I may be wrong: being too open and willing to negotiate with your customers may be a can of worms not worth opening, bringing on all sorts of trouble and bother for your company, not to mention bottom-line staff costs. However, I'm not ready to take on Karma like that: being nice, being genuine and being helpful to your customers is surely worth it in the long run. I agree with fave marketing blogger Mark Schaefer that "People will shun advertising but seek out people, companies and brands who are authentically helpful."
But am I wrong? Is the company is just looking after their business by taking this set approach and not spending the extra time it would take to address my concern? It could be that I'm being impractical and unreasonable to ask a busy global company for individual attention. I'd be interested to hear what others think.