This video I just snatched off the tweetsteam like a Pooh Stick encapsulates a couple of things I've been thinking about of late.
This dude had his guitar damaged in handling on United. Shame.
These things happen though [I've never had the nerve to take a guitar on a flight], and, ultimately, I think he would have been cool with it if a United Representative had accepted blame [they appear to have accepted that it happened, but passed the buck endlessly around the system.]
This is what really, really, really gets me hot under the collar.
Customer service representatives that won't give you a name or way to contact them back directly, that bounce you around the system, leave you on hold, and finally drop the call when you become too irritating - and there's NOTHING YOU CAN DO.
Each individual wants an easy life, working in a call centre or late night customer service desk for minimum wage desk doesn't tend you make you especially invested in the BRAND, so you palm them off, get rid off them, drop the call.
In fact, most call centers bonus you on volume of calls handled - so it's actually going to cost you money to keep talking to this person with a problem you simply haven't been empowered to solve.
One of the the things that social media is driving is the breakdown of the corporate firewall.
Tony from Zappos tweeted recently:
Whilst this is a nice thought, it's a lot easier to be open like this if you are small and act that way from the start.
Big corporations have structures and legal departments and lots of other inertia that makes this harder.
But there is a huge opportunity here.
Until recently, these complaints were locked into an individual's sphere of influence, which was limited until social media gave everyone a voice.
Additionally, social media is, usually, overheard, as I mention in the cultural latency piece.
So there are two directions this can go in.
1. Keep acting like one person doesn't make a difference and see how much time, effort and creativity that one person will deploy to get his frustration out in to the world [as above] and see how receptive the world is to such messaging because we have all experience the same [as in this post and the tweets that sent it my way]
2. Decide Customer Service the MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU DO, because the only route to profit is MAKING CUSTOMERS HAPPY and do it in PUBLIC, reach out to people, don't put the onus on the individual to battle through the firewall, constantly monitor the social web for people who are unsatisfied with the product or service you sell and MAKE THEM HAPPY.
Then, customer service becomes marketing, and every person you make happy will sing your praises across the web.
[UPDATE: United have responded. One of my mentors, Nick Kendall [Global Head of Strategy for BBH], once told me that one of the things he loved most about brands were that they were accountable. You could always track back from the trustmark to the company and demand satisfaction. Now, in a world when an individual's voice can be as loud as a brand's, they are more accountable than ever.]
This deck I just saw from the Global Director of Digital Strategy touches on some of the same thoughts.