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Ruminations from open’s internal braintrust

Expertise is organic. It must be constantly nurtured if it is to grow and flourish. This is one of the fundamental pillars of OPEN’s internal culture.

Marvin Chaulk, Vice-President, Senior Consultant
OPEN Communications

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the opinions and musings behind the expertise

Blog Author: Stephen Wheeler

Finger on the Pulse – Customer Relations in the World of Social Media

Stephen Wheeler

Posted: June 27, 2013

Recently I have had two personal experiences with public relations via social media that I thought I might share as examples on how the two are intertwined and how real-time reputation management can mean the difference between brand loyalty and brand animosity. So allow me to share these social media anecdotes, one large scale and one more personal, as examples of good and bad customer relations and the role social media played.

Part 1 - Microsoft XBOX One

At the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) this year, Microsoft unveiled their new video game console, the XBOX One, to the gaming public.  They showed us trailers of exciting games and how advanced it was and how it was going to change the way you played games forever!

Then the other shoe dropped.

XBOX ONEThis new gaming wunderkind came with some unexpected provisos. First of all, it had to be connected to internet at all times. Apparently it needed to check in with Microsoft every day, and if not, it was a brick.  After that bombshell Microsoft announced their new Digital Rights Management policies were going to crack down on all this ‘lending games to you friends’ nonsense and ‘buying and selling used games’.  Everything you bought was tagged so it would only ever play on your system.  Best of all it had the Kinect system built in, a camera and microphone that would allow you to control your system with your voice and gestures, sounds great right? Until you realize that you cannot turn it off.  The cherry on the top of this Orwellian nightmare was a hefty $500.00 price tag. Best of all they had the audacity to call these ‘features’, like getting punched in the face is a feature of getting mugged.

After these revelations, Microsoft promptly dropped the mic and swaggered off the stage.  Fans were stunned.  Reporters covering the event were taken aback.  This is not what customers were expecting and definitely not what they wanted.  And thus the online backlash began.  People took the internet in droves to register their outrage.  Blogs, Twitter, Facebook and reddit were ablaze with hate for Microsoft.  Amazon, who had been running a poll at the time to see which system people would buy (Sony’s PlayStation vs. Microsoft’s XBOX One), took it down when 4 days and 40,000 votes later, Sony having crushed Microsoft 32,984 to 2162.

Microsoft’s attempts to spin the situation helped the situation go from bad to worse.  Xbox executive Don Mattrick held an interview to address the negative publicity and how the restrictions would affect players.  You can watch an excerpt from the interview here but in the long and the short of it, he told gamers if they didn’t have internet access they should just keep their old XBOX 360.  That’s right.  The man in charge of making people want to buy this thing essentially told future customers ‘if you don’t like it, don’t buy it.  What are you going to do fan boy? Not play the new Halo? I don’t think so!’

It was obvious Microsoft had fumbled the ball with their callous and cavalier attitude and Sony was right there to pick it up and run it in for a touchdown.  This video response from Sony says it all (it is 20 seconds long and quite frankly, brilliant).  By letting customers know they were attentive to their demands and that they valued their business, Sony built massive market credibility and won E3 hands down.

The Result
By selling their console $100 lower than Microsoft and capitalizing on their abysmal PR fiasco, Sony’s stock shot up 9% while Microsoft took a dip.  This is not what investors want to see after the unveiling of a flagship product. Once the mainstream media ran with the story, Microsoft quickly recanted their draconian DRM and internet requirements under the guise of ‘listening to public feedback’, but the damage was done.  The Xbox One would now be dubbed the ‘Xbox 180°’ in light of their forced about-face.

The Lesson
Listening to customer feedback early can save you from losing valuable market share to your competitors.  Your consumer base is savvy and vocal, so negative publicity should be handled quickly and with care.

Part 2 - Dyson

XBOX ONENot long ago I received a Dyson handheld vacuum as a gift, and as someone who enjoys having high-end appliances I loved the hell out of this thing.  The look, the feel, the power, the sound, it wasn’t a vacuum, it was a gun sent from the future designed to murder dirt.  (Hasta la vista, dust bunnies)

That is why after three loyal years of service, I was crushed when the battery quit holding a charge.  I was even further dismayed to find out, after running the customer service gauntlet on the phone, that the warranty was only good for two. The bad news kept on coming when I discovered that the cost of a new battery was worth more than the vacuum. So there I was with nothing but my anger and a dead Dyson.  A Ferrari in want of an engine.

So having exhausted all the proper avenues available to me, I was left with one… angry ranting on Twitter. 

@Dyson 3 years with my hand vacuum and the battery dies and costs $100 to replace?! This is NOT what I call top of the line! #dontbuydyson

Within one day of posting that, I was contacted by two different customer service representatives via Twitter asking if there was any way they could help me.  Since I was not keen on spending another half hour explaining my situation over the phone I contacted them via email.

Hi Jack from Dyson
I'm writing in response to your tweet.
I have a hand held Dyson that is three years old.  The warranty is two.  The battery will not hold a charge anymore and it is more cost effective to buy an entire vacuum than a new battery.  My parents have a cheap one they bought in a supermarket that has seen presidents come and go and still works.

I am not an irrational person.  Batteries die, we grieve and we move on with our lives as best we can with our fond memories. 

What I cannot reconcile is that there is nothing left to do with my high power, expertly engineered vacuum except give it to a friend of mine who will incorporate it into one of his sculptures. 

Watching this vacuum sit there is like watching an NBA top draft pick whose career is cut short by a knee injury and now he wishes he didn't have such a lame major in college. 

Dyson customer support has been very nice and understanding but were unable to help me.  So I am left to work through the 5 stages of loss alone. 

Yours truly,
Shaking his fist in impotent rage at a cold indifferent God in a house full of cat hair

Stephen Wheeler

Not long after that I received an email saying that even though the warranty was expired they would gladly send me a new battery as a gesture of good will and I should call them to arrange the details. After speaking with me on the phone they thanked me once again for being a Dyson customer and the creativity of my feedback (I am pretty sure that email has been passed around). They took the opportunity to tell me about the wide selection of other products that I might be interested in and assured me that my battery would be in the mail within 5 to 7 business days.

The Result
I had become a ‘toxic customer’ for Dyson.  It is one thing to lose someone’s business, but to have someone actively trying to prevent people from becoming new customers is something nobody wants, and I had three things fuelling my vendetta. A cause people could identify with, the will to spread my rancor to any and all who would listen and a forum, the internet. By addressing me quickly and helping me when they were under no obligation to do so, Dyson not only pacified me and brought me back into the Dyson fold, but also stopped a negative campaign before it gained traction.

The Lesson
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Reacting quickly to negative feedback and making a customer feel valued is the easiest and most cost effective way to maintain brand loyalty and generate corporate good will.