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Embrace your online critics

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The play was awful, a rare swing-and-a-miss for the local theater company that I had supported for many years. Shortly after the curtain fell, I sent a warning tweet to other prospective theatre-goers: Fine acting and stage design can't overcome a “monstrously bad script.” The next morning a contrite tweet from the theater company awaited me. The production was an experiment, it said, and it hoped it wouldn't lose me as a subscriber over my bad experience. Not at all, I replied. This performance aside, they're still the best stage value in town. The company then retweeted my reply, thereby turning a customer lemon into marketing lemonade. It's an example more companies should follow. Two days later I faced a room full of nervous banking executives. The topic was social networks, and the fear was palpable. Many people said their small banks were staying away from Facebook for fear of customer criticism. I walked them through United Parcel Service of America's Facebook page, where customer comments had accumulated that would singe your eyebrows. “I'm going to file a complaint with the BBB about you guys!” snarled one. “You're awful. You know that?” barked another. The vast majority of comments on the page were complaints. They were fielded cheerfully by a UPS customer service rep named Amy, who patiently directed customers toward a resolution. The same scenario plays out every day on the Facebook pages of competitors FedEx and DHL. As it does for every airline and, yes, even some banks. Why do these companies put up with this kind of abuse? Because they know it's good for business. They know the customers who complain are asking for permission to continue as customers. Nearly all of them can be rescued with a little TLC. The big problem is the customers who just quietly go away. We can't rescue them because we don't know who they are or why they left us. Yet many executives would prefer that things be this way. Better not to know. The companies that are defining the new age of customer service make it their business to know, however. Listen and learn from UPS. Or from Dell, which has embraced customer feedback as few companies have. Writing on the B2B Lead Roundtable Blog, Andrea Johnson tells how Dell fields about 3,000 complaints through social media every week. All but 3% are resolved successfully. Even better is that more than 40% of those people later compliment Dell for dealing with their problem. You can invite your customers to share their opinions with you or you can watch them slip away to your competitors. Which do you think is better for business? And yes, the play was awful. But I'll be back. Paul Gillin's latest book is “Attack of the Customers: Why Critics Assault Brands Online and How to Avoid Becoming a Victim.”
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