Lead Article (Self-help topic – BAD SERVICE = REVENGE CUSTOMERS)

Everyone in any service industry seems to be in agreement that it is a good idea to deliver exceptional service. Times have changed though and it is no longer just a good idea to deliver good customer service. If you want to remain in business it is absolutely compulsory to deliver exceptional customer service to every single person that touches your business.

The stats from the pre-social media world were bad enough. If you deliver exceptional service, a client will only tell 6 people. If you deliver poor service, on average over 12 people are told the story.

Then came social media. Forget about a small circle of 12 friends that a dissatisfied customer might run into over the space of a few weeks while going to the pub or sitting at their favourite café. With 845 million monthly active users, Facebook rules the roost but you can still have untold damage done to your business by lots of other social networking sites. YouTube has 800 million unique visitors each month (with 48 hours of video uploaded every minute); Twitter has 175 million users and LinkedIn has 110 million users. Wikipedia lists over 250 social networking sites with the caveat that it only lists ‘notable, well-known sites’. These include sites such as MySpace, Bebo, Digg, StumbleUpon and, obviously, many more.

On top of normal social networks where followers or friends or viewers might see a story, there are now sites setup specifically to help clients take revenge on businesses that have delivered bad service (or have been perceived to have delivered bad service). There are sites such as gripevine.com; consumersrevenge.com; thepayback.com; vodafail.com and revengeguy.com. I am not entirely convinced that these sites are necessary as the intrusive nature of normal social networking sites makes it very easy to have dirty laundry aired in a very public way. There is a reason that David Thodey, the head of Telstra in Australia, recently admitted they have a full-time staff of 60 to constantly monitor social media sites.

In researching this article, I found some hilarious revenge examples – hilarious provided you weren’t the company that was targeted by unhappy customers.

Airlines damage and lose luggage every day. When Dave Carroll saw his guitar broken by United Airlines employees, United’s indifference led to Dave writing a song, United Breaks Guitars, that has now had 11.8M views on YouTube. Forget the 12 people that hear about bad service – it is now more like 12M!

David Thorne, an Aussie in the US, bought some waterproof ski gloves that lasted one ski run before he had soaking hands and ink running through his clothing. He walked back into the shop and asked if he could upgrade the gloves to ones that were actually waterproof. He was told “F_ _ _ off, you have worn them” and was made feel that he had caused the issue. After further discussions, his frustration led him to placing an online advertisement for the store offering a special limited offer of a free snowboard, boots and bindings provided a sticker for that store was left on each product. The store was inundated with over 5000 calls.

Possibly my favourite involved GASP clothing in trendy Chapel Street in Melbourne. Keara O’Neill went shopping for a dress with two friends and received terrible service. She did the right thing and sent off an e-mail to the store. The response was so insulting that she decided to post the response online – and it went viral. Three months later it had caused so much damage that GASP issued a public apology on prime-time TV and the Chapel Street store is now closed. This is my favourite because the customer gave the business feedback (which is what an owner should always welcome) and they chose to throw it back in their face.

What are the lessons from all of this? In much the same way as a backyard sportsman can get away with poor technique until he reaches the highest level, a backyard business can probably get away with poor service for a small amount of time – but not forever. There are some simple tips though to solve these issues.

Firstly, if your product or service fails, fix it. Customers typically don’t demand their money back. They wanted to buy a product or service for a reason so giving money back doesn’t deliver what they initially needed. Most customers actually like to know what actually happened and a reason why it happened.

Secondly, it is OK to say sorry. In our litigious society, everyone is scared to say sorry. Actually the best thing you can do is say sorry. It doesn’t necessarily admit liability but it does make someone feel better and makes them less likely to sue.

Thirdly, make sure your customer service team displays empathy and really wants to hear the problem. The answer may still be “no” but people want to feel as if they have had their problem heard. In The GASP example, I believe the problem would have gone no further if GASP simply responded to the original e-mail with an apology and a display of empathy. With a little extra effort, they probably could have even managed to get her back into the store and relieved her of some of her money.

Tell me the best revenge story you have heard (hopefully that didn’t occur to your company) at md@smallbusinessrules.com.


Science Quiz Question

Assume I am in the mood to make a terrible mess in the kitchen – and really annoy my wife. I can be pretty safe in assuming that if I inflate a balloon and then hold it over a candle it will burst – and pretty quickly and loudly. The mess isn’t too bad though with only a few balloon fragments scattered around the kitchen. To really create chaos, I decide that a balloon full of water will be a much better tool to use so I will end up with an explosion and water being dumped everywhere.

So the question is this. If I hold a balloon half full of water over the candle, will my marriage end when my wife hears the explosion and comes out to see water and balloon all over the kitchen – or will the balloon miraculously not burst and my marriage will be saved by science?

Science Quiz Answer

Miraculously my marriage is safe – and not just because my wife has promised her undying love to me. A balloon with a reasonable quantity of water in it won’t burst when held over a candle. In a balloon with only air inside it, the rubber is stretched thin and heat is quickly transferred into the balloon. Air is not a good conductor of heat so the heat is not readily dissipated away from the spot touching the flame – and the balloon partially melts or burns and…pop! Water has a much better capacity to absorb heat than air. This heat at the edge of the balloon is readily dissipated into the water and away from the balloon so the rubber does not heat up enough to melt or burst. Water has a specific heat capacity of 4.1813 J/(g*K) whereas air has a specific heat capacity of 1.012 J/(G*K) (both at 25 °C).

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