Customer Relations - Am I Being Unreasonable?

By Bashford, Suzy | Marketing, February 20, 2013 | Go to article overview

Customer Relations - Am I Being Unreasonable?


Bashford, Suzy, Marketing


How to deal with challenging customers in the digital age

Now that consumers have a plethora of platforms via which to complain about poor customer service, Suzy Bashford asks how brands can turn negative into positive.

One angry mum, in the run-up to Christmas, posed the following question on Mumsnet: 'Am I being unreasonable to think the new Asda advert is the biggest pile of sexist crap in a long time?' Her words hit a nerve and the thread went on to receive 1000 responses. Most agreed with her, the level of fury rising as the debate progressed, with many describing the ad as 'misogynistic'. One even compared it to the Ku Klux Klan.

However, most respondents also admitted that they rarely, if ever, shopped at Asda. In fact, one declared that 'the thought of buying a turkey from Asda makes me dry-retch'. This begs the question, how much attention should a brand pay to this kind of online outcry, when it is mostly generated by consumers who are not, and have no plans to become, its customers?

Founder and chief executive of Mumsnet, Justine Roberts, believes that - customers or not - it is crucial to respond quickly and be 'in listening mode'. 'While I take the point that the loudest agitators aren't necessarily reflecting a broader view, the way you are seen to deal with criticism is judged by a broad audience,' she says. 'Even if you are not getting anywhere with a particularly unreasonable complainant, you're seen to be responding and receptive. That will get you brownie points.'

Mumsnet's research has found that there are 20 'lurkers' (members who don't post comments themselves, but observe from the sidelines) to every one person who makes a comment. It has also shown that, although the mothers involved in this particular discussion about Asda said they didn't generally shop there, a third of 'Mumsnetters' do. 'So it's often the silent majority you need to talk to when you respond,' adds Roberts.

Siobhan Freegard, founder of Netmums, disagrees, reflecting the views of a growing band of marketers who believe that brands shouldn't pander to unreasonable consumers. On Netmums, the Asda ad was well-received and voted second-favourite Christmas campaign after John Lewis' 'Snowman' spot.

'While 1000 festive Scrooges may have moaned about the Asda ad on Mumsnet, 18m people a week happily shop in the chain and couldn't care less what those miserable mums think,' says Freegard.

'The challenge for retailers isn't simply to reply to every tweet and post, but to work out what activity on social media really means for them and how to react accordingly.'

Unlike Roberts, Freegard says that if the vocal minority are not customers, then brands shouldn't bow to pressure to respond quickly and fully. 'Companies used to shake with nerves and cave in to every online demand, but this is changing,' she contends. 'The savviest firms have realised that in cyberspace it's often the emptiest vessels that make the most noise.'

Virgin Media Business' customer service director, Phil Stewart, differs from Freegard on response strategy. 'Any noise, whether positive or negative, from customers or not, has to be acknowledged and brands have to take part in the debate,' he says. However, he does agree with her that social media is losing its novelty factor.

'In the early days of Twitter, if we got a tweet, we'd jump on it immediately announcing to the office that 'we have a tweet',' he adds 'Now we treat it in the same way as a fax, letter or call. Someone tweeting us won't get a faster response. The key is consistency.'

Consistency is one of the most challenging areas for brands. Typically, brands are divided into departments and this can be problematic when dealing with the more demanding modern customer across multiple channels. They don't care if your business is siloed: they expect you to have their 'contact' history at your fingertips. …

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