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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Are we changing how we complain, or just how often?

A New York Times article “Consumer Complaints Made Easy. Maybe Too Easy" sparked some dialogue yesterday on the nature of complaints, complainers and service recovery effort.

I joined Wim Rampen, Arie Goldshlager & several others to discuss whether social media has indeed made it too easy for customers too complain, and if this has led to “social bullying”.

My quick take: Social media hasn’t made customer complaints “too easy”. Instead, good service businesses are happy to have yet another way for a customer with a complaint to have that complaint heard and responded to. Companies suggesting that it’s too easy for customers to complain may not have the right service orientation in the first place, which leads to those scores of complaints that they’d rather not hear.

In a related post on Arie Goldshlager’s Posterous, he commented on the proliferation of easy, uncommitted complaints and “social bullying” as a potential resource drain on well-meaning service organizations that tried to serve all customers to their fullest extent.

With the rise of social as a venue for complaining, the ground may be shifting on this one. If a company responds to customers that are complaining for popularity reasons and aren't looking to engage them, they may waste valuable service resources chasing service experiences that can’t be recovered with customers that aren’t looking for resolution as much as they are a chance to use their social media bullhorn.

Pndering the issue for a few more hours, I’ve got one more issue to add to the body of work.

Complaining about failed experiences is easier with the availability of social media than it was before, no doubt. But in any service experience, customers themselves play a role in a successful outcome. When a customer with a failure complains directly to a company, the company has the ability to help fix problems that began with the customer not accepting their role or not playing it well. But when the interaction happens in full view of social media, there’s less opportunity for that type of customer coaching.

Will social media move companies toward limiting customer role in production of their own experiences, making service more servant-like & less collaborative?

I sure hope not. The customer, because of their unique knowledge of their needs, has the potential to be the most productive resource in the service experience, if & when we make good use of the shared effort. It would be a shame for businesses worried about the complaints that could be best fixed through better company-customer interface to design the customer out of the fulfillment process completely.

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