Handling Customer Service Issues – Part 1 of 2

An area where company after company seems to mess up is handling the PR side of customer service issues. I know there are at least a few PR people who read Service Untitled, so pay attention!

The story usually goes like this:

  1. Customer does something that isn’t in the script.
  2. Company messes up.
  3. Customer gets mad.
  4. Company doesn’t do anything (right).
  5. Customer gets even more mad.
  6. Customer makes blog post about it, tells other people, etc.
  7. Company ignores.
  8. A few people read it.
  9. Company continues to ignore.
  10. If it’s a good one, it gets more mainstream attention (i. e. first page of digg).
  11. Many companies continue to ignore.
  12. If it is a really good one (like the AOL one), it gets mainstream media attention (ABC News, etc.).
  13. PR firm is enlisted.
  14. PR man/woman learns what a blog is.
  15. PR man/woman tells company to issue some worthless, generic statement.
  16. Readers/listeners/bloggers laugh at previously mentioned worthless, generic statement.
  17. Customer service disaster eventually blows over.

That is how it usually seems to be. Depending on the company and how much they monitor the blogosphere, some of the steps may be in a slightly different order. Many will respond much earlier, which usually helps quite a bit. However, the amount of companies that will respond before it gets on ABC News is more limited than one would think.

In a recent book I read there was a quote from the founder of Neiman Marcus that said “the road to success is paved with well handled mistakes.” I have heard and read a fair number of quotes about how important it is to properly deal with mistakes and I couldn’t agree more.

Here are some tips on how to deal with a situation like the one above. It is the entire process, but with my additional comments/suggestions in the brackets [].

  1. Customer does something that isn’t in the script. [Come up with a corporate and customer service philosophy that empowers employees to make decisions if something doesn’t go 100% as planned. Nordstrom has “use your best judgement”, Geek Squad has something along the lines of “protect our reputation.”]
  2. Company messes up. [Remember, the road to success is paved with well handled mistakes. Consider long term customer value instead of just that one situation.]
  3. Customer gets mad. [See above.]
  4. Company doesn’t do anything (right). [Ask the customer what he or she wants to resolve the issue. Often their suggestion will be less extravagant, and often more helpful, than what you were thinking. If you ask them, there is no room for error.]
  5. Customer gets even more mad. [Can easily be avoided with above step.]
  6. Customer makes blog post about it, tells other people, etc. [Everyone can blog now. It isn’t hard and more blogs than you would think have an actual audience of some size or another. They will be sure tell their friends about their less than perfect experience, and maybe even contact a few existing blogs and media sources to try and get the story covered.]
  7. Company ignores. [Monitor what people say about your company! Use Google Alerts, hire someone to do it, whatever.]
  8. A few people read it. [Best to get to the issue early.]
  9. Company continues to ignore. [See above.]
  10. If it’s a good one, it gets more mainstream attention (i. e. first page of digg). [If you have already dealt with it, chances are the damage will be minimal. If you haven’t, you look bad. Comment wherever the story appears.]
  11. Many companies continue to ignore. [I am assuming by this point you aren’t still ignoring the issue.]
  12. If it is a really good one (like the AOL one), it gets mainstream media attention (ABC News, etc.).  [Start writing your statements and be ready to send out lots of “We’re sorry” credits and such.]
  13. PR firm is enlisted. [Hire a PR firm that “gets it.” Your PR people need to know what blogs are, how important they are, how to deal with them, etc. Consider thinking outside the box and hiring a customer service consultant, having it dealt with internally by an executive, etc.]
  14. PR man/woman learns what a blog is. [See above.]
  15. PR man/woman tells company to issue some worthless, generic statement. [Tomorrow’s post will be about how to avoid worthless, generic statements.]
  16. Readers/listeners/bloggers laugh at previously mentioned worthless, generic statement. [See above.]
  17. Customer service disaster eventually blows over. [You hope!]

It isn’t hard when you think about it and actually work on it. Tomorrow’s post will be about how to write statements that aren’t bad and people actually don’t throw up at slightly when they hear.

4 Responses to “Handling Customer Service Issues – Part 1 of 2”

  1. Eric Eggertson said:

    Jan 02, 07 at 5:17 pm

    I’ve noticed companies that try to lay low when they’re the subject of a controversial blog posting. The people in the company get offended that their story is being shared openly, and become even less willing to discuss the matter.

    At this point, it’s very easy to deal with a customer service issue, but the company gets entrenched, feeling that the customer isn’t playing by the rules, therefore doesn’t deserve a polite response.

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    Jan 03, 07 at 5:50 pm

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  3. Common Sense PR - Clear, Quick Communications Supports Customer Service said:

    Jan 16, 07 at 9:17 am

    […] Part 1 of Handling Customer Service Issues, describes the all too common ostrich approach companies use when someone complains about their experience online. Either through ignorance, or because they feel offended at having their faux pas written about, companies too often remain silent, instead of apologizing and reaching out to customers. […]

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    Feb 23, 07 at 5:19 pm

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