"Never pick a fight," Mark Twain is reputed to have observed, "with a man who buys his ink by the barrel." It was certainly true.
|Photo illustration: John Kuczala|
Because if he is aggrieved enough, and righteous enough, and persistent enough, and connected enough, he can bury you. Or at least make your life miserable for a long, long time. He doesn't need to have a chain of newspapers; all he needs to have, basically, are fingers and rage.
For people with anger issues, the internet is a cathartic godsend and/or lethal weapon. You know the type -- people who might accept the ordinary indignities of life with reasonable equanimity but become suddenly radicalized when lied to, cheated, bullied or otherwise personally abused. This kind of person will cheerfully invite a shopper with two items to move ahead of him in the checkout aisle but will pointedly confront the jerk who butts into a movie line -- even if it means a loud squabble. This sort of guy might hypothetically even be disinvited from a trans-Atlantic flight on security grounds were an airline-counter employee to mishandle visa documentation, then lie to his face about seating availability, then, caught in the lie, choose to regard his resulting swearword and general seething as a sign of imminent violence and bounce the poor s.o.b. from the flight. And the next one.
In other words, a guy just like me.
Setting things right
Some of us -- no matter how generally sweet-natured and generous, no matter how friendly and thoughtful, no matter how empathetic and transcendently kind -- are simply not to be screwed with. Because when we are wronged, we will go to rather extreme lengths to be righted. Back in September, this was something Comcast Corp. did not know.
When they just plain pissed me off.
My story, sadly, is not especially unusual. Since personally being victimized by the company I call Qualmcast, I have read hundreds and hundreds of similar horror stories, so I will therefore not afflict you with the details of the arrogant, highhanded, dishonest, incompetent, inhuman and fundamentally asinine treatment I suffered at the hands of the cable monstrosity's "customer service." Just lots of not showing up, lots of broken promises, lots and lots of hold time, and an installer who left in the middle of a job "to get a drill bit" and never came back. So, in the spirit of the book I am writing on adapting to the digital age -- I call the process Listenomics -- plus maybe just a touch of vengeance, I fought back. It was just a brief post on my Ad Age blog. In it, I summarized the events recounted above and added a few personal thoughts:
Is this company so frantic to seize market share on voice and broadband that it is willing to disrupt customers' lives, fail to appear, repeatedly lie to them, walk out on them and then treat the customer as if he or she is a nuisance? Well, we shall see. This is the Listenomics age. We will not take it quietly.
Probably more notable than the text of the rant, though, was its headline -- which, in my view, had a nice ring to it: "Comcast Must Die: Seeking Ideas for a Consumer Jihad."
This apparently struck a nerve; within 24 hours there were 60 comments, which compared very favorably to my previous average of zero. Some were long-winded recitations of incidents far more egregious than mine. Some were words of encouragement and support for a holy war against the whole Co-axis of Evil. Yet others wrote in to give me exactly the help I solicited. Within an hour, someone had called my attention to a YouTube video of a cable installer asleep on a customer's sofa, where he had lapsed into slumber while on hold with his own company. And another had this to say:
"Perhaps what should be done is to buy the web domain comcastmustdie.com and establish a blog so that all of the folks that have been screwed by Comcast can tell their story. You could put a link to the new Comcast Jihad website and release a press release to drive traffic to the site. The anger and disgust expressed there would be huge."
Hmm. Using the web to galvanize consumer anger and disgust. An interesting idea. Of course, as I well knew, it had been done before. In November 2004, an English gent named Adrian Melrose bought a brand-new Discovery 3. It was a lemon. But his dealer, and Land Rover itself, were insufficiently responsive. So he began a blog called "Discover the Truth About Land Rover Discovery 3" and took his complaint public. For weeks, Land Rover ignored the blog even as Melrose began to accrue hundreds, and eventually thousands, of sympathetic comments. The notoriety became so embarrassing Land Rover replaced the man's car -- whereupon the replacement immediately broke down too. Then, while they were fixing that, a loaner broke down. Then a second loaner broke down -- and the whole misadventure was chronicled, of course, on Melrose's blog.
Finally they refunded him his money, triggering accusations that he had blackmailed -- or, shall we say, blogmailed -- the company into submission. But it wasn't blackmail at all. Melrose was simply exerting the leverage the digital age has bestowed upon consumers to make lemonade out of lemons. To this day, if you Google that model, you encounter Melrose's blog on the first page -- at God knows what cost to the company in showroom traffic. Yet, incredibly, the brand still has no online forum for FAQs and service bulletins, much less complaints. Melrose offered to turn over his blog for that very purpose, but the company declined. As he put it in the summer of 2007:
Land Rover U.K. needs an efficient platform to listen and care for their customers. The reason I am getting 700 hits to www.haveyoursay.com, mostly search engine driven, is because their existing customers want to talk to one of their favorite brands -- just like me. They want to be loyal -- but they are frustrated 'cause they think nobody listens.
Adrian Melrose achieved Google perpetuity more or less by accident. In what may have been a defining moment in Listenomics, someone else contrived to do the same thing on purpose. This was on June 21, 2005, when blogger Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine finally got fed up with computer seller Dell.