|It would seem that some companies are more prone to the online pressures of a cool melody strummed from the guitar of a disgruntled customer. Amazingly, the United breaks guitars story got so much media attention that it quickly became a household name.|
Interviews with Rolling Stones, the CBS early show, CTV and CBC, Canada AM, FOX morning radio, BT and the slew of other appearances on radio and television programs helped this reputation attack reach new heights. It even knocked on the door of my neighbour who is a self-proclaimed computer... well, lets just say the opposite of savvy. He's a good neighbour and I'd like to keep it that way :)
But something my neighbour said to me got me thinking about the overall impact of one of the most aggressive reputation attacks I (and others) have ever seen. The question posed by my neighbour: What's changed since the online attack? His view was that even if he decided to boycott United Airlines based on Dave Carroll's account of dissatisfaction with baggage handling (resulting in breaking a guitar), what guarantee would he have that the other airlines would treat his baggage any differently? And if faced with boarding a United flight because its the only option for a connecting flight, the lag from travel and longing to arrive home would very likely win out over any act of protest or request for a change in carrier.
This predicament made sense and might lead one to question whether this is an isolated incident, or a much bigger problem with an entire industry? I'm certain each one of us has a negative experience to share about any number of airlines that could lend itself to the belief that the industry has hit some serious reputation turbulence over the years. And while I reserve some judgement over the fact that many airlines have made improvements to their reputation and image, a question still remains: why do people continue to do business with airlines that continue to stick their heads in the sand, or worse, don't even care about what anyone thinks or says?
Perhaps what we are witnessing has less to do with brand resistance to online reputation attacks; rather, the beginning of a reputation management future where the social Web is inundated with so many human transactions and experiences that the negative incident ratio of a company or brand becomes less important in informing consumer choices. Beneath the surface of such a theory is the basic premise that while we want to command a high rate of pay at our jobs, we are more likely to gravitate towards spending low on goods and services. Taking this premise towards the path of logical conclusion, having a bad customer service experience once in awhile may be tolerable when it translates to having less of a financial burden on our pocketbooks. Sadly, this theory will eventually fall apart at the seams, and if followed blindly, may result in more than reputation loss.
The good news is that it appears some companies don't want to have any part in alternate futures where reputations are scattered in the wind, even when its meant earning the reputation of a thick-skinned survivor. We've all heard the "Dell Hell" story, but in today's Toronto Star article, Joseph Thornely of Thornley Fallis describes how Dell came through in repairing his computer. A feat complicated by long-distance travel, and rather than copping-out to excuses and geographical constraints, Dell chose to roll-up its sleeves and do the right thing. This is more than a good reputation turnaround story. Perhaps the past had much to do with informing Dell's future steps, especially in the way it approaches customer complaints.
The takeaway. Forget the reputation resistance stuff. It makes for good mythology (and even that's debatable), but that is about it. There is a valuable lesson to be learned from stories like Dell's. Companies that realize building relationships with customers as being inextricably linked to bolstering ones reputation are those at the forefront of taking reputation management to an art form. This isn't just some fancy cliche to drop at the end of a post (even though it conveniently finds itself here) - one can never overstate the importance of having a human touch point that is accessible and welcoming. It is the best ally to safeguarding online reputations and can make all the difference between consumers perceiving your brand as "second rate" when you'd much rather have them thinking "second to none."
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