The Gazette today has an essay from Mitch Joel (so great they published it twice), republished and edited from a blog post, about how media has changed and companies should monitor the blogosphere and respond to people’s complaints as if they were news articles.
Joel’s essay makes several very valid points, about how Google can bring a critical blog post about your company into the limelight, and about how the media is spread out and includes a lot of online outlets.
But his conclusion is wrong. It makes little sense for big companies to care what bloggers say about them. And the reason is quite depressing: Customers don’t care about crappy customer service (at least until it happens to them).
Just look at Bell Canada. Their Mobility wireless and Sympatico Internet brands have by far the worst customer service reputation in the country, which is not an easy feat. (Imagine a company that responds to a service collapse by shutting down their customer service department temporarily.) Blogs and message boards are filled with complaints, vows to never do business with them again. CEO Michael Sabia lies through his teeth that customer service is their “number one priority,” but nothing seems to change.
And yet, ironically on the same day this article is published, we hear that Bell Canada’s wireless division is seeing soaring profits, in part because of new people signing up for wireless service. The article talks about how Bell has to focus on keeping and obtaining customers, and “increasing profitability.” Michael Sabia doesn’t mention “customer service” once.
Why is this? How could a company with the worst service be getting more people signed up?
- Customer service is expensive. And the better it is, the more expensive it is. Human resources are always the most important part of any large company’s bottom line. The more they can save on these positions, the better off they’ll be.
- One person doesn’t mean much to a big company. In fact, if you’re the kind of person with a complicated situation who’s going to spend a lot of effort fighting them on it, you’re probably the kind of customer they don’t want. When a company has millions of customers, it really doesn’t matter if one gets screwed.
- Few people have serious problems with service. While most people have had to deal with customer service reps once or twice a year, the vast, vast majority of customers use the service and pay their bills without talking to anyone at the company. The very few who have serious problems, bad enough to warrant a blog post, are considered acceptable losses.
- Everyone does it. Don’t like Bell Mobility? Who are you going to switch to? Telus? Rogers? They’re not much better. There’s an de facto industry standard of great sales but horrible service that everyone reaches eventually. And the few customers Bell loses to Rogers because of customer service nightmares will be offset by customers Rogers loses to Bell for the same reason.
- Customers care about price, not service. There’s a reason we buy all our crap from China, get the cheap imported fruit from the grocery store, eat at McDonald’s and shop at Ikea for borderline-disposable furniture. It’s cheap. And in the battle for cheap vs. quality, cheap will win almost every time. Lots of people check price lists but very few look Google customer service stories before choosing a service provider.
Complaining about customer service in blogs or the media does tend to work. Mike Boone and Jean-François Mercier both got Bell to solve their problems after going public with them.
So by all means, blog about your problems, because they’re more likely to get solved that way. But don’t expect the company to change the way it does business just because you’re unhappy. It’s easier for them to give gold-plated service to a newspaper columnist or two than to hire three or four more full-time customer service reps for the rest of us.
Much as we’d like to think that top-notch customer service is good for the bottom line, looking at the industry clearly shows the opposite. It’s like environmental-friendliness: Better to do something symbolic yet meaningless (like change your packaging’s colour to green) than sacrifice profits to make a difference.
Having a few bloggers trashing your company is just part of the game. Fixing their problems on an individual basis might help some people feel better about your company, but it’s not going to help your bottom line.
And any unnecessary expense that doesn’t increase profit is a waste of money.