Published on: March 6, 2008Now available on iTunes…
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There was a terrific piece in Business Week the other day that ought to be required reading for anyone who deals with customers.
The piece concerns what Business Week calls “consumer vigilantes” – people who essentially have decided to take the law into their own hands when it comes to getting satisfaction from the companies with which they deal.
• A 76-year-old woman who got ticked off at her local cable company when it didn’t install her service properly, and then left her waiting in a hallway for two hours waiting for attention from customer service. Her solution – she went out and got a sledge hammer, smashed a computer keyboard and a telephone, and then yelled, “Have I got your attention now?”
• Or there was the guy who just lost it when Apple Computer didn’t give him the kind of customer service he thought he deserved…so he produced a video in which he destroyed the laptop – also with a sledgehammer, which seems to the weapon of choice for angry shoppers. The guy posted the video on YouTube, and more than a quarter of a million people watched it in short order.
• Yet another guy used the Internet to find the names and email addresses of senior executives employed by a cable company that he found to be lacking, and he unleashed what he called a “carpet bombing” campaign to get their attention.
While the people working for the targeted companies almost certainly were annoyed by the ways in which these customers registered their protests, it is worth mentioning that each of these customers got a measure of satisfaction from the companies.
And if I were you, I’d be worried. Because as Business Week reports, “Even if they're not all wielding hammers, many shoppers are arming themselves with video cameras, computer keyboards, and mobile devices to launch their own personal forms of insurrection. Frustrated by the usual fix-it options … more consumers are rebelling against company-prescribed service channels.”
I honestly don’t think that most retailers and manufacturers are prepared for this kind of civil – or uncivil - disobedience. I’ll give you an example of how unprepared. I walk into many stores, and they have signs near the front advising people not to use video or still cameras while on the premises. But, needless to say, almost every shopper comes equipped with both…because they are built into their cell phones! You make a mistake, and they are going to be there to record it…and then post it on YouTube, where it will exist for posterity.
I think customers are angry because so many companies take them for granted, paying attention to their own needs and priorities rather than those of the consumer. Even if you’re in the retail business, I’m sure you’ve had a moment when you just wanted to pop the guy behind the counter, or walked away grumbling, or sat there on hold while you waited for the next available operator. The problem is that these occurrences tend to mount up, and customers get angrier and angrier and angrier and finally they just can't take it anymore and they explode…and they might even end up taking out their frustrations on a retailer that hardly was the worst offender but happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
And I suspect that an economy in turmoil may make things worse, not better.
I’m not sure what to do about this, except to say that if you have customers in your business, you may want to redouble your service efforts and raise your standards. Make sure every complaint is answered by the end of business, and create an environment in which employees feel empowered to satisfy the shopper.
Oh, yeah…you may want to start frisking people at the front door for sledgehammers.
Just a thought.
For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.
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