Follow Up on Bad Customer Service

Yesterday we reported on Shel Holz’ nightmare experience with WaMu Bank.  Since yesterday’s post, there have been 26 comments on Shel’s blog including one from a competitor, United Services Automobile Association (USAA), a financial services company formed by 25 Army officers in 1922.  There’s also an apology from an employee of WaMu.  Hopefully Shel will keep us posted on how this all plays out.

The reason for this second post is to point out again the incredible power of your customers, using the Internet, to spread news, both good and bad, about your company.  It’s up to you to decide if this electronic glass is half-full or half-empty.

Included in the 26 comments to Shel’s post are several from fellow WaMu customers who have had bad experiences with the bank but none from anyone rallying to the bank’s defense, except for the one from the employee who offered the apology.  Shel’s post has been linked here at MYOB, and on Donna Papacosta’s Trafcom News.  Several of the other commenters are high-profile bloggers and podcasters themselves.  This story will spread.

Obviously the way to avoid negative publicity is to treat every customer like gold.  That goes without saying.  [Why do people say something and then say "it goes without saying"?]  But, as they say, stuff happens.  Sooner or later you’re going to make someone mad and they’re going to go off on you on the web.  There’s really nothing you can do to avoid that.  But if you treat your customers well, if you go above and beyond, if you do the things that WaMu Bank said they were going to do, then you won’t have an angry on-line mob when something negative does come up.  Two of the 26 comments on Shel’s post are from other unhappy WaMu customers.  Only two.  But if you read the original post and the comments at one sitting you come away with a very negative impression of the bank.  That negative impression is reinforced when you read Shel’s response to the WaMu employee. 

In 2007, positive and negative news spread at the speed of light and you have to know what’s being said about you and your business.  Here’s the time line on this story:

  • 11/18 12:25 pm  Shel posts his story on his blog.
  • 11/19  2:20 pm  Representative from USAA offers his help.
  • 11/19  5:58 pm  Chris Lynn, a blogger himself, comments that he had hoped to see someone from WaMu joining the conversation
  • 11/20 11:50 pm  WaMu employee posts his apology.

Remember, WaMu serves the Silicon Valley in California so they should be even more web-savvy than businesses in other parts of the country.

So how do you protect yourself?  What steps can you take to protect your reputation?  You have to be aware of what’s being said about you.  Sign up for Google News Alerts.  This free service will notify you by email when any phrase you choose shows up in an online news item or blog.  At the very least you should be tracking your store name and your competitor’s store names.  Notice that WaMu’s competitor jumped into the conversation eighteen hours earlier than they did. Also, add the brands that you sell and the brands your competitors sell.

Google yourself.  You should regularly search the major search engines for the same phrases. 

Of course, the most important thing is to build a base of insanely loyal customers who will come to your online defense or better yet, who will post positive things about you and your business.  Because they’re your customers, they have at least one common interest.  Many of them read the same web sites and blogs. 

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