Jeremiah Owyang offers yet another case study of how a consumer brand was engulfed in — and then escaped from — a PR crisis caused by the unfortunate (for the company) combination of poor customer service to a customer who happens to have significant influence on social media — and wielded her million-plus Twitter followers to great effect. Add it to the growing list along with Dell, Motrin and Dominos.
Owyang’s point is worth heeding — that customer service departments need to gauge the relative power and influence of their customers as they serve them — and social media influence — like celebrity and loyalty and wealth — should be a factor that shunts a customer toward a different set of rules.
It got me thinking about the B2B market, and how I can find little of this online barking intended to break service log jams (beyond telecom and wireless — anyone and everyone feels free to complain about internet, mobile and phone service). We have a business culture that shuns allowing employees to call out their frustrations with their companies’ vendors online … with good reason — such behavior could damage large scale contracts and business relationships, and potentially give the complaining business itself a bad name in its industry or community.
Rest assured, there is plenty going on in the back channel. Poor media reviews and frustrated industry analysts absolutely slow sales. Chatter at industry conferences manages to get around at the speed of gossip. The many tech folks in IT have no problem telling the world what they think of, say, the quality of their backup system, on online forums. And a vendor’s poor reputation is usually played out in sales and inside their own niche.
But, so as far as I can tell, B2B based complaints in social media have yet to create a big PR nightmare case study.*
So no worries? Think again. It’s not going out on much of a limb to predict that this will happen. First, businesses are designed to compete — if social media will solve a problem that traditional channels won’t, it will be used. Second, our world is getting more social, and our business is getting more personal, not less. In other words, people will talk, even in B2B. Let’s make sure we’re listening.**
*Am I wrong? Let’s talk about some examples? Telecom, cable companies and mobile devices don’t count!
**Which is a clever way to finish the post, but let’s really end with some advice:
1. If you’re delivering great service, keep doing so.
2. Listen to what business and their employees are saying about you online. Use free tools like RSS, Google Alerts and, say, TweetDeck to start; monitor relevant Facebook and LinkedIn Groups. Move to paid services to manage higher volumes, get better dashboards, monitor competitors.
3. Be in social media. Establish ‘outposts’ in key social networks like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and…especially…key forums in your industry. Participate.
4. If you identify a problem, escalate it quickly and solve it.
5. If it becomes a broader “PR nightmare” before you knew about it, address it in social media as well as traditional media — your website and those social outposs. go overboard to solve not just the problem, but the root causes…tell people how you’re going to do it…then do it.