“Now, the Web is enabling the market to converse again, as people tell one another the truth about products and companies and their own desires.” – The Clutrain Manifesto
The dark cloud of brand crisis can turn up quickly when customers feel angry, betrayed or dissatisfied. Organizations have become increasingly vulnerable to behaviors such as NWOM (negative word-of-mouth) and boycotts because of the social web. In Pete Blackshaw’s post on defensive branding, he notes “the digital landscape is littered with social-media roadkill.” 1 Twitter, Facebook, online forums and blogs have enabled customer conversations to share truths about companies with the world. While successful brands have leveraged these virtually free conversations to drive unprecedented growth, there are a rising number of companies falling as victims to negative customer expression online.
Here are a few examples of brands faced with tarnishing expressions from angry customers (read more):
Situation: Dave Carroll discovered that his $3,500 guitar had been damaged during United Air Lines baggage handling. Carroll repeatedly filed complaints with United Air Lines employees but no effort was made to resolve the problem.
Destructive Voice: Carroll posted a song on YouTube about his experience and attracted more than 10 million views resulting in brand humiliation and a PR nightmare. 2
Situation: In 2005, media expert Jeff Jarvis bought a malfunctioning Dell Computer and had some bad experiences with Dell’s customer service team.
Destructive Voice: Jeff posted a series of entries in his blog, BuzzMachine, around the theme “Dell Hell” 3. The posts reeled in as many as 60,000 visitors a month according to Quantcast. In his blog, Rick Segal, shares a conversation that he overhead displaying the viral impact of Jeff Jarvis’s online complaints 4:
“I happened to be sitting across from a couple of bank tellers from TD Canada Trust, the bank in our building. These two ladies I’d seen before so I knew where they worked.
Lady one: ‘I was going to buy a new Dell but did you hear about Jeff Jarvis and the absolute hell he is going through with them.’
Lady two: ‘Yeah, I know the IT guy told me that the cobler blog was recommending we stay away from Dell.’”
Situation: A Comcast technician fell asleep on a Brian’s couch while waiting on hold with the Comcast home office.
Destructive Voice: The customer, Brian Finkelstein, filmed the technician sleeping on his couch and posted it on YouTube, which has since received over 1.5 million views. 5
Situation: Bank of America has been plagued with recent customer service blunders beginning with the September 2010 incident of harassing borrowers and calling customers the N-word 6. More recently, the bank was found guilty of losing $30,000 of an elderly man’s social security money with no effort to resolve the problem 7.
Destructive Voice: Multiple unresolved problems have stirred upset customers to create a website called “bankofamericasucks.com.”