Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Who Complains Online, and When It Makes Sense

Why do some unsatisfied customers choose to air their grievances online rather than directly to a store employee or manager? Wouldn't going directly to the source be more efficient, more immediate, and more satisfying?

Well, maybe not. My highly unscientific analysis revolves around certain dangerous personality traits that a company definitely does not want (but can't always avoid) in an unsatisfied customer.

The Trifecta of Troublesome Customer Traits

Passive aggressive
A passive aggressive personality resists following logical behaviors in interpersonal or occupational situations. In my opinion, passive aggressive behavior is most obvious when one chooses to avoid direct conflict but still seeks to make their feelings known though circuitous channels and indirect modes of communication.

Highly Emotional
Highly emotional folks are tied to a personal exchange in a way that would make a more temperate person cringe. They take things personally and may overthink a situation ad nauseam. During a heated debate, or even a civil disagreement, a highly emotional person's lip might quiver, they might trip over their words, their palms may sweat, or their voice may shake. This person definitely wants to avoid face to face confrontation.

Web Savvy
Really, you could take either of the above traits and pair it with a web savvy proclivity to end up with a PR and image problem. It's this combination that makes an unsatisfied customer dangerous in an online day and age. Because this (not so) fictional person won't keep their agitation and anger bottled up for long. It must be let out. Either on friends and family, or more efficiently to the faceless -- though interested and listening -- masses on the web.

And being web savvy nowadays is not what it used to be. It's almost painfully easy to make a web page, post a comment, write a review, etc. Using a search engine is not daunting to most people, and finding a place to vent is relatively simple.

I recently blogged about the variety of ways the average web savvy consumer can complain online*. In a nutshell, beyond the predictable company website feedback page, leave your complaints at both well-known and niche feedback and review sites. Blog (or vlog using a site like Utterz) about a bad experience. Create a simple web page (and use some basic SEO best practices to improve page rank). Make a video and put it on YouTube. And let loose on your social networks like Facebook, MySpace, and my personal favorite not-quite social network, Twitter.

When Complaining Online Makes Sense
It may be cathartic, but complaining online may not always be your best bet to get you whatever you're looking for (attention, compensation, progress, etc).

For large CPG companies, for instance, losing your business really isn't that big a deal. You're one in a million (or 10 million, for that matter) customers, and even if you email a friend or complain to your spouse, your dissatisfaction most likely won't make much of a dent to the company's bottom line.

This type of company doesn't have the incentive to keep you, personally, happy, and may be less inclined to go through hoops to make sure you're satisfied. If you challenge yourself to meet face to face with the enemy, it may yield wonderful results. But it may also only get you a weak apology, or even a bored look of annoyance.

[I think this attitude may be changing, as companies are becoming more aware of the increasing consumer movement to social media sites, and the impact those highly personal exchanges are to their business.]

On the other hand, if you are one of a very small customer base, as in a B2B environment, that company has an incentive to bend over backward so as not to lose your business. As long as your business makes economic sense to their vision and goals. Passive aggressive or emotional people may find a more sympathetic ear in this circumstance.

The Customer Experience Goes Both Ways

Finally, these customer traits could wind up being a blessing, because feedback can be both negative and positive. One only needs to look at the Zappos story that was gained a lot of attention last year to see how great customer service can really pay off.

*I'd like to mention that my online complaining paid off, literally, while my earlier letters to the managers and company executives yielded nada.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

I'm No Good

I'm no good. I've been out of touch with this blog for too long. I love writing it, but am focusing right now on finishing up my MBA -- statistics, financial management, simulation modeling, and mastery of execution (I love the name of that course) are demanding a lot of time. I promise to be back. Thanks for your patience!