Angry Customers Vent to 3,000

Discussion
Aug 15, 2008

By Tom Ryan

In the digital age, disgruntled customers are in the driver’s seat,
according to Pete Blackshaw, head of strategic services at Nielsen Online,
in his new book, Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers
Tell 3,000
.
As a result, building “credibility” in cyberspace – e.g., blogs, websites,
video postings – has become essential for brands.

In the book, Mr. Blackshaw
noted that in today’s world of high-speed broadband and commercial-free TiVo,
consumers have less attention and patience for advertising and marketing
than ever before.

“Ad saturation, deceptive messaging, and mismanaged expectations contribute to consumers’ dwindling trust in companies,” wrote Mr. Blackshaw.

Given this wariness on the part of the consumer, companies must do more to cultivate credibility and earn trust rather than simply spending ad dollars to buy awareness.

“There no longer exists a top-down relationship between businesses and consumers,” according to Mr. Blackwell. “While marketers used to have control over the message and could count on the masses to follow along whether they liked it or not, today, the consumer is the boss.”

What’s worse, a brand’s reputation can be run into the ground practically overnight by these web-savvy consumers looking to blow off steam about bad service or deficient products. The book details the many ways gripes are frequently magnified by consumers by the thousand-fold through “consumer-generated media” – blogs, social networking sites, message boards, product review sites and even more commonly in mainstream media.

To manage this cacophony of consumer chatter, companies should be continually monitoring and measuring consumer messages, and seeking to repair any damaged reputations.

“Whether you hire a major firm like Nielsen Online, Cymfony/TNS, Umbria or BuzzLogic, or use any of the various free tools available online, you should be religiously mining the web to understand what CGM [consumer generated media] is saying about your brand,” said Mr. Blackshaw.

But Mr. Blackshaw also noted that this amplifying the voice of the customer also opens up opportunities for brands to bond with consumers on a more personal level. That bond must be built around “credibility,” and the book details how to establish and maintain credibility for a brand by being authentic, listening and responding to customers, and forming relationships built on openness, transparency, and trust.

“Credibility may not be on your balance sheet, but it’s the best asset you’ve got,” wrote Mr. Blackshaw. “Credibility is the only valid currency in this vast and noisy marketplace.”

Discussion Questions: Do you agree that digital media, in particular, offer an opportunity to build greater credibility with consumers? What are the dangers you see in brands trying to monitor and possibly control WOM (word-of-mouth) exchanges? What are the best ways for brands to protect against and capitalize on the surge in consumer generated media?

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15 Comments on "Angry Customers Vent to 3,000"


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Phil Rubin
Guest
Phil Rubin
13 years 9 months ago

Digital media absolutely creates more opportunities for brands to bond, interact and have other dialogue with customers, but this comes at a price and with risk. It is also difficult, often a highly manual process and resource-intensive. Like anything else relating to customers, it has to be genuine in terms of commitment and action.

It’s one thing for companies to see what customers are saying, it’s another thing entirely for them to respond. Check this out from The New York Times and see how some companies are doing just this.

Giacinta Shidler
Guest
Giacinta Shidler
13 years 9 months ago

As others have mentioned, the Internet is everyone’s megaphone. I will say that savvy consumers recognize the difference between someone with a legitimate problem and a serial complainer whose claims are unfounded. It is possible for the good deeds of a company to be publicized as much as the missteps.

There are blogs such as the Consumerist, which largely feature complaints against various companies; but they also report good news–when a company delivers great customer service, or is able to resolve an issue satisfactorily.

Manipulating the information isn’t the answer; a company should simply act in a way that deserves to be reported and generates goodwill with consumers.

Steve Bramhall
Guest
Steve Bramhall
13 years 9 months ago

Max has it completely right. Customers have little sympathy when encountering problems with service and product. Humbleness and addressing the problems, personal touch and actioning solutions goes a long way to placate the customer. I understand products and service cannot be right 100% of the time and some customers will always complain.

I recently bought a piece of software which was offered by my security suite provider as a bolt on. I wish I had read the blogs before purchasing rather than reading the marketing hype. What amazes me more is that my security suite provider has not read them.

George Whalin
Guest
George Whalin
13 years 9 months ago

For retailers it all starts with the customer’s experience in the store, the web site or with the people on the telephone. Great reputations are won and lost in these three places. When the retailer fails to create a real relationship with the customer that is based on honesty and trust the retailer has opened their business up to problems.

The most successful retailers have always communicated the absolute desire to help customers get what they want. When the customer is not taken care of to their satisfaction they have always told their family, friends and acquaintances. Today they use the web to tell anyone who will listen.

Retailers that enjoy a sterling reputation with customer don’t have to worry. It’s the retailers that don’t understand or value the importance of the relationship with every customer who will continue to see customers turn to the biggest audience to tell their horror stories about a particular store or product.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
13 years 9 months ago

Building, enhancing, and ruining reputations of products and companies can happen quickly on the Internet. Therefore, companies need to monitor what is being said at the very least. With all the hype about the Internet, though, it is important to remember that some consumers don’t read blogs and reviews on the Internet. Knowing who your consumers are and where they go for information is also critical.

Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
13 years 9 months ago

Someone told me a long time ago that there are no whispers in cyberspace–only shouts. That being the case, any interactive website or blog is a powerful medium for consumer praise and dissent.

However, trying to control consumers via digital media is a mistake. Contrary to the opinion of some Jurassic marketers, people are not stupid. The herd mentality is diminishing and people are using their new-found power to express opinions.

As a marketer, you really can’t control this but you can change the story. Politicians do it all the time in order to take advantage of news cycles. You don’t like what’s being said; change the focus. This is also a good opportunity to correct the volumes of misinformation out there.

Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
13 years 9 months ago
Yes, I agree that digital media offers an opportunity to build better relationships with consumers, and is an important part of a brand’s authenticity. That’s why I’ve been harping on about product reviews. If you’re a retailer whose brand is partially about the great products you offer consumers, then you better listen when your customers rate products poorly. But I’m amazed how many retailers throw product reviews out there and then just let them sit. Yes it’s true that a low-rated product may still sell by the thousands, but doesn’t it say something about your brand’s authenticity if you keep selling low-rated products without either working with the manufacturer to improve the product or at least explaining to your audience why you keep it around? If you’re trying to build authenticity, or even maintain it, I would worry less about what you say – even to customers–and focus more on what you do. To provide the most extreme example, it’s like pasting a big banner on your home page that says “We care what our… Read more »
Gene Detroyer
Guest
13 years 9 months ago

For years marketers have been looking for ways to use the internet to build credibility. They have measured “buzz” to no end. They have rightly assumed that customer generated terrains such as blogs or message boards are very valuable. How valuable? To the extent that there are companies that one can hire to participate and seed these venues to the benefit of the marketer.

But, companies must understand that successful efforts to be part of their customers’ community have two sides. The good is very, very good. But, the bad is every bit as, if not more powerful.

The answer is that marketers should continue to build personal relationships with their target customers in electronic media. But, they must be equally diligent to be sure that they understand the “other side of the coin.”

Marc Gordon
Guest
Marc Gordon
13 years 9 months ago
I believe that any company trying to deal head-on with negative consumer feedback online is on a mission doomed to fail. In this day and age, all you need is one disgruntled customer with an internet connection and the desire to type to create a negative online campaign. Whether or not this campaign has any merit is besides the point. The fact is, companies that choose to deal directly with these types of grassroots campaigns will end up getting themselves into an endless game of cat and mouse. Companies need to understand that it is impossible–and many times due to no fault of their own–for them to provide a level of service and quality that will make every customer unconditionally happy. So why expend a great deal of energy into dealing with that 1% that will never be satisfied regardless of what they do? At the end of the day, the long-term success of any company will depend on their ability to understand the wants and needs of their market and effectively satisfy that to… Read more »
Max Goldberg
Guest
13 years 9 months ago
What builds the most credibility with consumers in 2008 is the same thing that built credibility with them in 1958: customer service. Rather than trying to control or spin what is said in cyberspace, companies (retailers and manufacturers alike) must focus on providing excellent levels of customer service. And when a company fails to deliver an excellent experience, they need to quickly acknowledge the problem, apologize and try to fix the situation. Last night I was shopping online at newegg.com for some computer memory. Before making a purchase decision, I read the positive and negative comments about the choices. I was impressed to see that two companies took the time to respond to every negative comment about their products. Each response tried to help the consumer solve the problem. When it came time to make a decision, I bought from one of these companies because I could see that they were ready to stand behind their products. Not every product is going to work every time. Not every shopping experience is going to be perfect… Read more »
Mel Kleiman
Guest
13 years 9 months ago
Information is power and now the source of power is held by the individual, not the company. As a speaker, I used to say treat one person badly and they will tell 20 others, treat a speaker badly and they will tell 10,000. I can show you many examples of speakers who have had a dramatic effect on organizations, both good and bad. Today, you no longer need to be a speaker, you need only to have access to the web and if you really get mad enough, you can spread your message. Companies are going to need to develop means to identify negativity on the web and then create some kind of positive spin. True life story. I recently was asked to speak to a company about better hiring. When I went to the web to do some research on the company and put their name in the search engine the third item to come up on the first page was a blog that has been running for over 2 years titled “X Company… Read more »
Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
13 years 9 months ago

Digital smigital? The place to build and maintain your reputation is directly with your customer. This is best done by training your employees, managers, buyers…everyone!

Make your employees understand that satisfying the customer is the only way you can build your business. Teach your people how to deal with difficult customers. If someone can’t be satisfied the tell them in a very polite way that Store B or C might be a better choice for them. I have never failed to see this calm down an excited customer. You can usually arrive at some agreement shortly after the difficult customer is made aware of his alternatives. Trying to “build” your business digitally either by depending too much on advertising and “come on” deals or depending on digital to provide service is, pardon my expression, stupid. Unless you have an absolute monopoly or a customer under contract, you can’t get away with “Press 1 for English”!

Srikkanth GR
Guest
Srikkanth GR
13 years 9 months ago

Yes, the customer is the King. But sometimes the customer is taking undue advantage of any incident and is blowing it out of proportion and in some cases the customers are even threatening to cause disrepute through media. The cyberspace is not only fast but also the worst medium to create a blur in the brand image due to one disgruntled customer.

Mark Lilien
Guest
13 years 9 months ago

Every retailer’s executives already know their level of customer service. They don’t necessarily admit it publicly, but they know. Certain industries and certain retailers and certain software companies and certain airlines and certain cable companies and certain cellular providers decided years ago that their customers wouldn’t pay for Class A customer service, so they can’t provide it and make a profit.

It isn’t the one complainer who hurts your reputation. It’s thousands and millions of folks who know that the one complainer speaks for them, too.

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
13 years 8 months ago

Retailers need to recognize that they can’t control word of mouth, but they can greatly influence it.

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