Commentary

What Happens When We All Become The Squeaky Wheel?

One of the best things about social media is the ability to use it, when need be, to get results out of uncooperative corporations, particularly when customer service fails to live up to its name. Such power in the hands of average members of the consumer republic would have been unfathomable even five years ago.

My personal passion for the subject harkens back to the Stew Leonard's store in Norwalk, Conn., which has, for as long as I can remember, had the following posted on a rock at its entrance: "Our Policy: Rule #1. The customer is always right. Rule #2. If the customer is ever wrong, re-read rule #1." (True, Stew Leonard himself spent some time in the klink during the 1990s for tax evasion, but even then, the store never forgot its policy.)

Not that customers shouldn't be judicious in parsing out their finger-pointing at companies that engage in poor customer service; they should. But, in case you haven't noticed, we're not exactly living in a world where sanity rules.

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Stew Leonard's rock really resonates now, when consumers have begun to discover their voices, using all of the social network tools at their disposal. The father of the movement is probably Jeff Jarvis, who, through his series of "Dell Hell" postings in 2005, brought the behemoth computer manufacturer to its knees -- and the realization that it needed to start employing an actual social strategy.

But what Jarvis started is now trickling down from the social media early adapters to the rest of us, and the companies that don't have a rock like Stew Leonard's at their entrance -- and even many who do -- may start wishing they could crawl under it. As more and more consumers figure out how easy, and potentially potent, social media tools are, the volume of customer voices will, for many companies, be impossible to manage. It's wonderful that Comcast has someone like Frank Eliason out there on Twitter, helping customers in need, but how do efforts like that scale when all of us become the squeaky wheel?

I don't think they can. Instead, as social media proliferates, the best thing corporations can do is learn to be proactive, to empower their customer service personnel to be able to go above and beyond standard service without checking in with a supervisor, and to expect that any customer's angry voice has the ability to extend far beyond the phone lines that connect his house to the customer service headquarters in Bangladesh.

To that end, I suggest that everyone read Stew Leonard's rock. And if they don't get it the first time, they should reread the whole thing. 

 



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