Losing a customer

(apologies for length)

For the past eight months I’ve been blogging about the intersection of blog monitoring and customer service/technical support and how an interactive marketing team can — and should – do more to influence the reputation of a brand by attempting to improve a company’s reputation through direct communications with customers and prospective customers. The secret comes down to the Golden rule of doing unto others … if you owned the product and it didn’t work, or failed to meet expectations, how would you want to be treated?

The company has created a small, informal, ad hoc team that monitors blog and forum posts scanned via Technorati searches aggregated into Bloglines or Google Reader. Someone – either myself, or Mark Hopkins — reaches out in private to quickly resolve tech support issues, delayed orders, and cries of pain. Of the contacts that our customer support team handles every month, only a handful emanate from blogs.

The company doesn’t necessarily prioritize blogged issues, but because a blogged issue is considered one of the most important tangible examples of “engagement” – a customer taking the time to write down their issue – I want make sure the organization replies in kind, personally, and with an extra effort to resolve the problem. What’s the motive? Simple: happy customers expressing their happiness is the single most valuable asset that the Lenovo brand can accrue. Customer feedback should be the most crucial feedback to our engineering and operations teams, and so we want to encourage the market to talk about our products and services honestly and openly.

I am not setting out to create a class-system where bloggers and forum posters get more attention than non-bloggers, or where more influential bloggers get more of a VIP experience than lesser known writers. But I take blogged incidents very seriously because:

1. A blogged incident is part of the public record. A phone-based incident leaves no record and is a one-to-one conversation, not a one-to-many. The phone incident is just as valuable, but doesn’t leave behind a trace detectable by the search engines which then enters the public record.

2. A blogged incident is a gesture of engagement that must be acknowledged out of respect to the blogger who took the time to write the post or comment.

I am concerned that our efforts to improve the customer experience for bloggers will create the perception that by blogging a complaint, a person will be rewarded and given priority over a customer who may not have a blog. The downside of listening and responding is that it could, in theory, reward the practice of a perturbed customer opening a blog simply to vent their dissatisfaction and break the service policies put in place to treat all customers equally.

We just lost a customer. He first appeared in the comments of our first official corporate blog and described a problem with his new system purchased from a retailer. I responded to him, put him in the hands of our support specialists and over the next three weeks watched as we tried to solve his problems. It seemed that nothing we did was going to solve the problem and suddenly the customer flamed us. A second machine was swapped for the first by the retailer and the problem persisted. Our best support people called the customer and were unable to duplicate the problem. Finally, we sent a service engineer to the customer and swapped a part and that partially solved the problem, which involved wireless access issues and could be complicated by the customer’s router, DSL service, any number of variables. Continue reading “Losing a customer”

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