Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

"Nobody answered my phone call. I waited on the line for 20 minutes. Company X sucks."

Wow. This should get the attention of the customer service department at Company X.

And it did.

This is a sad, but true story of the damage social media can enable when in the hands of selfish and unscrupulous people.

First, the good news. The company noticed this post almost immediately because they have an online presence. They actively monitor the popular ‘channels’ and track the chatter.  A customer service rep immediately reached out to the customer to get details.

And here is the bad news. The customer never called the company. He told the rep he figured he would get a better response if he posted a negative message online, rather than calling the customer service line. 

The problem got resolved, but the damage was done.  Two questions immediately come to mind:

First, how do you deal with negative online fallout? What can you say? "Calm down everybody, the customer was an idiot. We really do answer our phones?" Not likely.

Secondly, if this is what we can expect from increasingly impatient customers, what does that mean for the future of online media?  It really does take only a few rotten apples to spoil the entire barrel.

The first question is not easy to answer. I would suggest that customer service make an effort to explain the nature of the problem and how it was resolved.  It is fair to ask the customer to chime in as well, assuming of course, the problem was resolved amicably.  If the company really does have a good policy about answering the phone on time, some statistics to support this would be in order.  Getting into a spitting contest with a customer online, does not serve the company’s purposes, even if they are right.

The second question is more difficult to answer and one that has a huge impact for all us who live online. Word of mouth marketing has always been the most effective form of marketing, apparently even from online strangers.  The question is, "how long will it take us to develop a healthy sense of criticality from stuff we read from other online participants?" There are, of course, rating schemes to give online participants levels of credibility, but we all know that people are more apt to complain than praise, and it isn’t really hard to believe that big companies don’t always give us the service we deserve.  The ability to use the democratization of online channels to keep companies honest and to improve customer service is powerful, but it must be balanced with being fair. How can you really judge?

I would be interested in getting feedback on these questions as well as hearing about other similar incidents, and how they were resolved.

Also, I will be attending Web2.0 Expo in San Francisco next week. If you have ideas for cool things to see, let me know by email –