When to engage?

What is the threshold for a person in charge of blog monitoring to step into a comment string and try to contact an aggrieved customer?

The notion of influence and “rank” has been used in the past to differentiate between bloggers, but for some online marketers, any negative comment from an upset customer can represent a permanent scar in the search index, something which, if left unanswered can linger, or, if ignored, flare into something more significant than the initial detection might predict based on the user’s Technorati rank or known influence.
Yet, what are the rules of thumb for engaging or ignoring?  If one takes the approach that all expressions of unhappiness – be it from a blogger on their blog, or from a commenter on another blog, or a commenter on an official corporate blog — are bad, then one can quickly project an extremely busy, extremely challenged operation trying to respond to all inquiries or complaints. Extend that to a multi-language operation and the challenge compounds quickly.

Triage, that emergency room cliche, carries a huge amount of risk. Some incidents, left untended, will flare into something dramatic. And, there is the Heisenberg principle of measurement — that detection and measurement of online community sentiment leads to a change in the nature of that sentiment, and indeed, encourages it to bloom as users quickly understand that a blogged comment can expedite resolution faster than the anonymity of a service phone call.

Just some random challenges I’m wrestling with these days.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

0 thoughts on “When to engage?”

  1. Or, how do you know when a blogger is screwing with you?I can think of one I know here on the west coast who uses the perceived readership of his blog to alter his lifestyle.


  2. There seems to be a parallel here with the “feedback” mechanisms used by eBay, as well as Amazon for its venders. Negative feedback in these contexts has real consequences, but is seldom a means for company improvement or addressing specific concerns. There are eBay venders with 98% positive feedback ratings but who do low volume sales and are compromised more by a single disgruntled customer than those who piss off 40 people a month but do 5,000 transactions. I’ve also seen plenty of retaliatory negative feedback from eBay vendors for customers who give neutral feedback. Why should I gush over the transaction when it was simply adequate? It’s like grade inflation, and there is dishonesty here that I find distasteful.

    Customer service is extremely important, but you will never satisfy everone, particularly unhappy people with an ax to grind and the bully pulpit of electronic anonymous comments. If I see a perfect company with no criticism, I smell a coverup.

  3. “..Triage, that emergency room cliche, carries a huge amount of risk. Some incidents, left untended, will flare into something dramatic.”

    David, how boring would shows like ‘House’ and ‘ER’ have been if everything were triaged and stamped out in the virtual waiting room? No, viewership demands that cases become extreme and flare into the dramatic. It drives the ratings.

    It’s kinda ironic, but you get accolades when something blows up and your fix it. If your good, and you mitigate everything in advance, then it’s like Y2K. A non-event, nobody invests, no glamor, and your left to shovel onward.

  4. It’s always going to be a call made on a combination of facts, experience, risk assessment and gut feeling.

    But how and where you engage can be done more or less elegant.

    Say a blogger raises an issue and you want to deal with it but not add to the bloggers influence (because he or she is negative), then deal with it on your own blog without referring to the original post or discuss the issue with a “friendly”.

  5. It is such a complex issue that I don’t really know where to start at. I’ll try to be as articulate as I can… which is a shallow promise since I’m not all that articulate to begin with.

    The Issue:
    -Bad Fuzz. Either in the form of blog posts, comments or forums.

    Now, the first thing is to see the source of the issue. Why Is W & Z posting negative comments? Line number 7 of this reply and already branches start to show up:
    -Bad User experience: the product did not work as intended, support was bad, shipping was bad, and of sort of things that can (and will) go wrong.
    -Overall unhappiness about the direction a company is taking: “I liked you more when you were all American IBM…”
    -Second hand unhappiness (borrowed unhappiness): “My roommate got one of your products… it didn’t work, you suck”
    -Talking for the sake of taking: You’d be surprised of the amount of people willing to talk cr*p just to listen to the sound of their own voice.
    -Looking to take some advantage: Once again a lot of people, once they hear you put in place some sort of proactive CSAT program will try to get something out of you just because they know they have such power.

    I think this pretty much sums up what scenarios you might encounter. Unfortunately you can only take action with the first, yet I think they are “mostly harmless”. Kudos to you for trying to bring joy to the life to some truthfully frustrated user. If you play your drill the way I’ve seen you’ve been doing you should have that pretty much covered.

    The other scenarios can do the most harm, and are the most difficult to tackle. You can’t do much if someone thinks the general direction of a company is wrong. They are entitled to their opinion and even if you sent them a “gift” or something they’d be able to turn it around and make you look bad. The same applies to “borrowed unhappiness”.

    Talkers you should just ignore. They can hurt your image, but they usually have low impact, since they go ranting around about almost everything, thus they loose credibility.

    The last case is probably the trickiest. This are dangerous people. Even worst: dangerous, smart people with an objective: personal benefit. Wolves in a lamb cloak, they’ll appear as truthfully unhappy customers, they’ll show their real intentions somewhere in the interactive CSAT process “why don’t you just send me an upgrade”.

    Yet if you don’t comply they’ll find several ways to hurt your company’s public perception, if you do comply, you’re left with a bad taste in your mouth and the sense you’ve just being blackmailed… which is what actually happens.

    That being said the core issue is much more deeply rooted. Problems with public perception are not the result of unhappy customers just posting, they start when things go wrong someplace before that customer even bought the product.

    The ramifications of this are infinite, and particular to every industry. You can have lousy help desks, bad manufacturing, poor shipping, awful testing, and a lot of other quirks… those are the things you need to tackle first. The public perception issues are just a result of this. Now, things can go wrong even if you excel at everything, but it is much easier to make someone happy if you have a solid product (and everything that goes together with it) backing you up. Otherwise it’s like preventing Titanic from sinking with just a cork.

    Now this is what my comment should of been if I knew how to abbreviate:
    -Look at each case, and fit it into a category; act accordingly.
    -You need good products to solve issues that might come up, act fast, and go an extra mile if the complaint is honest and deserving.

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