The Rare But Vicious Attacks Of The Online Customer (And What To Do About It)

I thought I had a marketing death-match for you. I had it all plotted out: Mitch Joel versus Hobson & Holtz. Battle of the marketing giants!

But, like so much that starts out grandiose in the mind, the premise quickly whimpered and died. Here's what happened...

Mitch Joel of Twist Image recently wrote about the small number of customers who complain online - 7%, in fact. He cited a Harris Interactive poll which also was in line with an earlier Bazaarvoice study. Most customers just don't seem to complain online. When they do comment on service, most times it is an incredibly positive reaction.

I howled after I read this because Neville Hobson and Shel Holtz of the For Immediate Release podcast had recently detailed the crippling damages that occurred within minutes of a well-deserved Twitter rant against uHaul (tune in around minute 14).

I had them now! Which was it: Do customers complain online or don't they? What's the effect? I thought I had my two spiders in a glass jar and was preparing to shake the bottle for my own amusement.

Reality Sets In

However, after another (more) careful reading, I realized that they were likely more in agreement than disagreement, though they do bring different aspects to the table.

Mitch is correct not many people complain via online social networks. Though the ones that do are quite damaging because the legacy of that complaint theoretically lasts forever.

But Neville and Shel are also correct in that squeaky wheels can be...pretty damn squeaky. Their examples of David Alston's tweet about uHaul was spot on - this one guy (and the many, many subsequent tweets from other outraged uHaul customers) likely costs them thousands of dollars in a matter of minutes.

Online Complainers

So how can online complaints effect your business? Here are some key ideas to keep in mind when forming an online complaints strategy (you do have one of those, right?):

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