social media and service recovery… stick to your guns?

I’m kind of torn between polarities with the recent Wired Magazine cover and the subsequent reaction by blogger Cindy Royal, who contributes a scathing post on Wired’s use of a woman’s cleavage on its cover to draw attention to an article on the technological advancement of tissue regeneration. On the one hand, it’s kind of nice to see someone gather some momentum against this sort of salesmanship. I think that Wired subscribed to an all-too-often-used tactic to attract readers. Admittedly, it works. I picked up the magazine when I saw it in the grocery store. That being said, I didn’t buy it. Not because I was reacting to Wired’s choice of covers but rather because a) it didn’t interest me, and b) I typically don’t buy magazines that cost more than books (cost-benefit analysis, for me, says I get more out of novels…).

What I did appreciate, though, is the dialogue it spawned, as well as the service recovery efforts that Wired’s CEO Chris Andersen went to, as highlighted in updates by Royal at the bottom of her original posting. It was actually a topic of conversation in my e-Marketing class last night, which inspired this post. One of the students in our class commented that it is her company’s policy not to validate negative criticism posted in response to the actions of her company. Acknowledging them effectively validates the opinion, which can actually fan the flames of the commenter’s ire. In the instance that she cited, not responding seemed to calm the affected individuals, who subsequently contacted the company on a one-on-one level. Of course, this presupposes that the individual’s passionate outrage dampens a bit. It also relies on the individual to seek the company out. Both of these factors have to come together; if they don’t then the company would still have had a disaffected customer… and disaffected customers can be a lot more damaging to a company’s reputation than the strongest supporter (re. United breaks guitars… which lives on by virtue of linking you to the youtube posting).

Social media represents an interesting opportunity for companies to engage in dialogue with their customers. Often times, this open forum provides people with an opportunity to vent their frustrations, as Cindy Royal did. Most importantly, though, is that it then gives companies the ability to cement customer loyalty by addressing the specific concerns of the most ardent complainers. Proper monitoring of the internet not only provides the opportunity for service recovery but it also adds to the opportunity to garner considerable goodwill, not only with the affected individual but also a larger mass audience that could hear of the company’s efforts to fix the problem.

Basically, companies have to be aware of what’s being said to and about them on the internet. Customer service is nothing new for companies; when was the last time you were in a bricks-and-mortar store that didn’t have a customer service desk/department. It appears that a lack of customer service on the internet is admissible, but it’s also potentially very damaging. Service recovery takes acknowledgement of the commentary and a little determination on the part of the company. Negative commentary can be a positive or a negative if the company reacts positively to it.

Update:  November 17, 2010

In searching for subject matter for my next post I came across this article on Futurelab, a marketing strategy website, that speaks directly to the potential for disaster of poor service recovery in social media. Cook Source, a recipe magazine, decided to reprint a person’s recipe without formally notifying the individual. The editor, Judith Griggs, in a very poor display of judgement, decided that rather than attempt to reconcile her mistake with the disaffected recipe scribe she would launch a counterattack that was quickly posted to the person’s own livejournal. The result was quick and decisive. Still, the editor persists with her indignation at the recipe author’s persistence, demonstrating a clear misunderstanding of social media, glorying in the fact that the fiasco actually increased traffic to the Cook Source website. The question is whether the increased traffic a) is positive and b) if it is positive, will be sustained and translate into increased revenue…

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