Monday, August 31, 2009

Customer Service

So, according to Heather Armstrong, there's been a shit-storm lately on Twitter about her approch to dealing with shitty customer service (for the record, a mum blog - don't trawl the archives unless you can cope with baby crap & breastfeeding).

The gist of the story is as follows: she has a newborn. Babies make for lots of washing. Decision is made to buy new washing machine, to the tune of $1300 USD. 10-year warranty also purchased. Within a week, said machine breaks. Not unreasonably, she expects the makers to honour the warranty and fix it. After a tortuous series of attempts, machine fails to get properly fixed; getting increasingly frustrated, she calls as many people as she possibly can to expedite the process, hoping to get a working machine in the interim. (Unsurprisingly) is met with standard 'oh, we have to follow our procedure' excuses.

This is where the story gets different. Dooce is one of the most popular personal blogs out there. Heather Armstrong has a million followers on Twitter, and she was recently named in Forbes' top 30 most influential women in the media. Her reaction to ongoing shitty service was to call out the company responsible online in a series of angry tweets here (damn, I hate using 'tweet' like that).

Cut to a shit-ton of people criticising that as a course of action. Which really frustrates me; I don't think it's a bad thing. Companies (especially the larger ones) get away more and more now with little or no committment to customer service; above and beyond that, they frequently seem to have little committment to honouring the contracts they form when they sell us stuff. Now, that 10-year warranty probably had some kind of 'fixed within a reasonable time' clause, and I'm not saying that the manufacturer of the washing machine was, legally speaking, negligent. But large corporations can, and will, get away with supplying below-grade service if they possibly can. I don't think it's particularly fair that Heather Armstrong was treated as a more important person than anybody else who's ever been scewed over by that company, but I think it's a REALLY good thing that she reacted in a way that shamed them.

As consumers, we have more power now than we ever have to affect the behaviour of the companies we buy from, but only if we're actually paying attention. The American airline industry is paying attention to dissatisfaction expressed by customers through Twitter; Heather Armstrong not only called out one company on bad service, but inspired good service from a number of others (I'm not so naieve as to believe that this was out of altruism rather than taking up a marketing opportunity, but it's still a good thing). So rather than calling an angry consumer a bully, why don't we think about the fact that large corporations engage in bullying behaviour frequently (even as a matter of course), and about the fact that our responses to this behaviour actually matter.

So think about thanking the next person you get great service from. Think about where you're buying things, what the company's track record is on everything from good service to honouring their committments to social justice and the environment. Start complaining when you're not getting good service, but do it constructively. Start giving a shit.

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