Published on: October 30, 2012by Michael Sansolo
This being MorningNewsBeat.com, I’m betting that most of our readers are big fans of the Internet. No doubt some of you think we overdo it between Kevin’s focus on Amazon.com and other e-commerce companies, and mine on social media. But this is not something that is likely to change anytime soon.
One of the reasons we need pay close attention to social media is the almost daily recognition that the new level of connection allows disparate people to share feelings on a single issue at the drop of a hat. It’s not all about “binders of women” or “horses and bayonets,” thanks to our politicians.
Sometimes it’s about retail issues that annoy people far and wide that now get shared, discussed and mixed around like never before.
If you are like me, you’ve run into this situation: you go into the local Radio Shack (they seem to be everywhere) to buy something simple, like a battery. No matter how you pay they ask for your phone number.
If you Google the question “does Radio Shack still ask for your phone number?” you get 4.3 million possible solutions including a segment from Seinfeld. That suggests this may be an issue that bugs a lot of people.
Just how much this angers the general population was laid clear this weekend in the New York Times, which runs a column called "The Haggler" about a reporter trying to take on different consumer problems. This week, Radio Shack’s strange mania for phone numbers was on the line.
Actually, Radio Shack made the column for two consumer problems and a failure by the company to simply answer questions. But what clearly riled up the audience was the phone number request, especially when the reporter was only trying to return an item he bought with cash. Eventually he got the answer, but it suggests a management challenge that many other companies constantly share: in the process of correcting an internal issue, Radio Shack manages to annoy an incredible number of shoppers.
The reason for the phone number request on returns is simple: Radio Shack wants an audit trail on the money handed out of the registers. Like many retailers, Radio Shack understands the painful reality that an unscrupulous cashier can cause massive damage through theft, even if it comes by pocketing fake refunds or handing money to a friend.
As the Haggler noted, that seems entirely reasonable except that it irritates shoppers by making them divulge a simple piece of information for no apparent reason.
That, in turn, takes us to the power of the social web and why it matters so much. No longer do shoppers have to wonder if they are the only one irritated by a policy like that. No longer do they have to basically accept it. Now they can simply Google the phrase and find out that millions feel like they do. And now they can find articles, like "The Haggler" that give power to their complaint and an outlet to share their anger.
It’s a reminder that in this new world, we’re all on the front lines whether it’s an issue of product quality, customer service or well-meaning policies designed to prevent a problem. Business as usual doesn’t work anymore, which means you have two tasks you need to take on.
First, figure out if you have any policies that customers don’t understand and really dislike and therefore are talking about widely on the web. Second, fix it.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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