Allan Harkleroad owns and manages the website Dell Hell Again, not because he has to, but because he can. His website documents every failure that the Dell corporation makes. If a bad customer support interaction is made public, he reports on it. If one of their computers starts on fire in somebodies lap – he is one of the first to tell us.
This isn’t a brand new phenomenon either – Dell has been geting the backside of what the internet has to offer for years. As he documents in His book, What Would Google Do, author and journalist Jeff Jarvis once held a similar view to Harkleroad and took action. His shot heard around the world was a blog post titled ‘Dell lies. Dell Sucks.’ You can read the entire saga here. Don’t laugh too hard though, it made Jarvis famous and it didn’t do a thing for Dell.
In 2005, the year Jeff published his post, Dell was seeing a major backfire in their make em’ cheap and fast business model. Things were breaking down and their customer complaints had doubled. They eventually responded but the online lashback continues today.
The point of this isn’t to highlight Dell’s poor products, the point is that negative feedback has become more real than ever with the high speed connections that we all enjoy. I don’t need my blog anymore. There are no shortage of options for me to complain publicly about your business online (see yelp.com, epinions.com, or google.com/products). And, don’t get me started on employees complaining about there employers online. That is a whole different story, but it is just as real.
A few weeks ago, I did a post about how you could be missing out on positive praise online. This is the flip-side, the stuff we are all afraid of. I don’t know how many times I have been in a meeting with a client that wants commenting turned off on their blog. They are terrified of the nay-sayers and, let’s be honest, jerks. The problem with their thinking is that they still believe that they can control how people think, but they can’t. If they don’t let me complain on their blog, then I will just do it on mine or even worse, I will probably do it on Twitter or Facebook.
And this is the new worry for businesses. Complaining on Twitter and Facebook is easy. There is little consequence for the person doing the complaining. It only takes them a few seconds and they get a few virtual high-fives from their friends who appreciate the honesty.
The most powerful infulencer to me and my buying decisions comes directly from my personal network. The people I know best are the ones that are the most likely to convince me to buy or to not buy something. We trust who we know. Not a shock right? So what do you do when the negative feedback becomes a part of someones personal network?
You change the story
Sure, much of the damage has already been done, but there is no sense in crying over spilt milk right? You have to face it somehow and I believe that there are two primary steps that we can take to soften the blow.
1. Provide a channel
Where can your customers go to complain about you on the internet? Just like water, complainers will generally take the path of least resistance. If you have a Twitter account for me to talk to, then I am likely to send my comments directly to you. The same goes for a Facebook fan page or an online customer service portal like Get Satisfaction.
A simple contact form on your website isn’t good enough anymore. If I am going to complain about you I am most likely to do it where I spend most of my time. If that time is usually spent on Facebook, then watch out, that is where it will end up. The best we can do is to be everywhere. And, you never know, sometimes just being there will prevent the negative comment from even coming out in the first place.
2. Give a response
When we make it easy to complain we make it easy to respond and I strongly believe that a response is the best thing to do. One of my buddies that works in politics recently told me that the way they deal with negative feedback in a campaign is to ignore it. Perhaps this explains the abismal approval ratings that nearly every politician enjoys. Am I right?
The fact of the matter is that complaints against what you do are now documented forever. The pain doesn’t go away after a day or two. Google search will make sure that it hangs around for a lifetime. Our best defense is to respond quickly and publicly.
What you really want in these situations is for your response to the problem to be documented alongside the complaint. This often means that you must go to the complainer publicly by replying to them on Twitter, or commenting directly on their blog post. Going to them means that the same people who saw the complaint will probably see your response. It may not fix everything everytime, but it will go a long way to change perceptions.
Humility is the key word here. Business takes a lot of it and customer service takes even more. If someone has a cold cup of coffee and it is there fault, apologize anyhow and publicly offer them a free cup to make it up to them. Don’t think of it as giving-in either, think of it as an advertisement for your business giving a crap about your customers. The win isn’t in that free cup of coffee, it is in the simple fact that you cared enough be there and to respond.
How we can help
Now, I fully realize that being there isn’t always the easiest thing in the world. There is a lot to learn and a lot to monitor. At Todaymade we do this everyday and it is even difficult for use to keep the pulse of what the internet is saying. This is exactly why we have been working like crazy on our new product Todaypulse, which is designed to be the nerve center for all of your online and social media activity. You can read more about it here and sign up to notified when it is ready here.