Feb 29 2008

Corporate Blogging :The Risks of NQA Blog Service

Published by at 6:53 am under Interactive Marketing

I just took Jeremiah Owyang to task for publishing thumbsucking advice on corporate blogging — “Ask for feedback!” “Admit it when you are wrong!” — and challenged the growing legions of social media pundits to kick it up a notch with some news I could use. (and my apologies to Jeremiah for ambushing him like the asshat I am)
So, henceforth, with no book in the works on the next evolution in the Super Transparent Corporate Social Conversational Marketing Revolution, I can declare I have no commercial ax to grind and simply want to charitably share the wealth from someone who walks the walk of corporate blogging day in and day out.

If the books are publishing “101” level advice, let this be the first in a “201” series – the next level in the curriculum, the class you take your sophomore year. Jeremiah posted this post on his site – Web Strategy by Jeremiah. And being the thrifty Yankee I am, I figured I’d recycle the words here as well. Please comment over there and not here. (And no comments about my ongoing life a typographical error. I am petitioning the court to change my name is DahChuck Charbuck)

In partly pedantic jest, I suggested to Jeremiah that the type of topic I’d like to discuss is: contravening corporate policy by privately resolving a blogged customer support issue and having the blogger publically state the solution and thereby set a precedent for all future complaints

Let’s look at the scenario in less pedantic terms. The risk of a no-questions-asked (NQA) blogger appeasement policy.

Let’s say you are the corporate blogger at Newco and among your responsibilities is monitoring the blogosphere for expressions of customer joy and unhappiness. You hire a service, or you do it yourself, but eventually you are going to find a person who writes something like this:

“I just bought a new widget from Newco and it has three dead dingbats. I am a graphic designer and I must have a flawless product to do my job. I called Newco and they said their policy is only to replace widgets with five contiguous dead dingbats. This is bullshit. I am going to write a letter to the Better Business Bureau and Jeff Jarvis.”

You, the corporate blog person, check on the corporate website, and yep, there is the dead dingbat policy plain as day. This policy is essentially the same one that everyone else in the industry follows. Do you:

  • Acknowledge the unhappy dingbat person with a comment? (Thank you for writing about Newco. I’m sorry you aren’t happy. Have a nice day.)
  • Debate the blogger and cite the fact that Newco is following the rest of the industry with its dead dingbat policy (Sorry; suck it up)?
  • Invite the blogger to talk about it privately? (Hey, give me a call or drop me a line.)
  • Ignore the blogger?
  • Do you let customer service know that you have found a complaint about the dead dingbat policy in the expectation they will communicate with the blogger? Do you let PR know?
  • Do you arrange to have a widget with a pristine display over-nighted to the blogger in the hope it will shut him up?
  • Do you propose a new strategy to the business unit where users can pay more for a zero-defect widget?

Let’s say the blogger gets really upset and continues to post about the dead dingbats. Let’s say the blogger takes the case to The Consumerist or the Ripoff Report and the forums, and tells people to join him in a campaign against your company’s dumb policy. The comments on the post begin to fill with other people who hate dead dingbats. The noise level is rising. Someone in PR notices it in a Google news alert. You get an email asking if you know about this. The blogger posts your CEO’s home phone number. And calls it.

As you look for a way to make the blogger happy, you discuss the policy internally and learn that dead dingbats are a fact of life, and that due to the vagaries of manufacturing there is no such thing as a flawless, dingbat-free widget, and to identify one means hours and hours of combing through thousand of widgets to find a clean one. The bottom line is this: making flawless widgets would destroy the bottom line which is why no one in the industry guarantees it.

But the blogger doesn’t care about that. The blogger is mad and nothing is going to make him happy other than a pristine system. So you find one. You arrange to have it hand delivered by your regional manager. With a Tickler Bouquet and a box of chocolates.

And you ask the blogger to please keep the new machine to himself, this is a one-time special exception, so please don’t blog about it. Okay?

Ha. The blogger declares victory, tells the world that the campaign has paid off, that Newco has caved, and indeed you just insured that every person who Googles: “Newco Dead Dingbat Policy” is going to hear the story of how you made an exception.

Except now that exception is now the rule, in public, for everyone to see.

So, fellow corporate bloggers and customer service professionals. This is a question of pure situation ethics. When do you make an extraordinary gesture of customer satisfaction and when do you stick to your guns?

  • Have you ever stuck to your guns and regretted it (if only we had given the customer their money back ….)?
  • Have you ever made a concession and kept it secret?
  • Have you ever made a concession and changed your organization’s policy in the process?
  • Is No Questions Asked customer service (the kind that LL Bean and Craftsmen Tools and Nordstrom practice) a figment of some marketing consultant’s imagination?
  • When do you tell a blogger to pound sand?

Please comment over at Jeremiah’s blog.

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Corporate Blogging :The Risks of NQA Blog Service”

  1. [...] And from there, Churbuck dives into a great example of how appeasing a blogger’s gripe needs careful consideration–especially if it might set a new precedent on your company’s refund/return policy. [...]

  2. Scott Clarkon 29 Feb 2008 at 11:09 am

    I think only an experienced blogger would know the best type of response. I guess for me the best approach is to stick with the pursuit-of-perfection approach.. here’s a response that typifies this.

    “We pursue perfection with every waking hour and will continue to do so as long as there are unmet needs for our customers. We will be enforcing those policies as they are written and continuing on our quest for improvements – largely guided by bloggers like yourself who use those products in the trenches.

    We receive lots of positive feedback, and cherish it, but realize that the learning will not always come from praise. Issues that prominent bloggers raise are the fuel that keeps our R&D team’s workstations humming long after most people have gone home. You can be sure your issue was heard by every one of us as it is now on our internal team wiki, not a black hole. Thanks.

    PS: We hope you will join our beta program for the new version when it is announced. I’ll make sure you’re on the mailing list, I know you’ll have some good comments.

    1. No policy change.
    2. Admit an imperfect world.
    3. Give the ego a bit of a stroke.
    4. Explain how you have a continual improvement process.
    5. Appreciate all comments, good or bad.
    6. Always use a PS with some sort of offer to keep them informed of changes.

    Just my thoughts… I have faced this several times in my consultancy and this type of response seems to work very well. your mileage may vary!

  3. [...] of action on the company’s behalf. Dave Charbuck, the global VP of web marketing at Levorno, had this to say about Jeremiah’s post on “impossible conversations for corporations to [...]

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