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Customer Code of Conduct

Cash register in Museum - Cameron Highland
Image by liewcf via Flickr

After reading Chris Brogan’s take on Doug Meechum’s incident with Best Buy that happened last weekend, You’re Always On, I couldn’t help but think of the other side of the coin. Does the customer bear any responsibility in these types of exchanges?

I would argue that they do.

After all, most companies I know of have standard customer care hot-lines… yet we Twitter users have decided that we want to let everybody hear our side of the story in real time, along with a company representative. So we forgo the telephone and jump on-line to let the world know that our coffee was too hot or our Happy Meals were too cold.

And we expect a lot from this behavior.

Although I am generally a fan of breaches in the status quo, I also recognize that it is still a breach. Just because somebody responds to my dissatisfaction on Twitter, doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re in a position to be of assistance, at that moment. This may change as companies compete for that ever elusive competitive advantage, but I don’t think that it’s quite a standard yet.

We can’t and shouldn’t assume.

Types of Feedback

There are ways to be a cool customer and there are ways to not be cool. So let’s look at a definitive list of the three ways you can come across as a customer on-line in real time:

you can gripe
So you have a beef with a business and you want everybody to know about it. Lashing out on Twitter can get you noticed by a company exec, but then what? Maybe they can offer you something for nothing to appease you. Maybe they’re able to talk about solving the problem with you but not actually able to solve it. Or maybe you both reach some sort of satisfactory conclusion… Again, then what? Has the problem been fixed, or has your problem been fixed?

you can enjoy hearing yourself talk
You see this a lot on message boards, and it appears that these kinds of “complaints” are starting to make their way into the twitterverse when it comes to customer service. If you want to feel smart about the level of knowledge that you have, write a book/blog, speak in front of people and/or answer questions on LinkedIn. Or better yet, apply for a job with the company you’re complaining to on Twitter and help them fix their problems. But if you’re complaining because you like the sound of your voice, then you are not a cool customer.

you can offer objective feedback
I realize that this may be difficult. Not only do you have to be civil when you feel that you have been wronged, but you also need to maintain that civility while dealing with a customer care rep who is working within a rigid policy structure, has limited to no decision making authority, who also has an intense desire to stay employed. But you still need to be civil. If you offer feedback and find that it is not heeded, then you definitely have a choice to consume elsewhere.

Deep thoughts

I know that we want all of our consumer experiences to go swimmingly every time, but the fact is that’s just not possible. Another fact is that we do have a choice. If Brand X continues to disappoint, there is always Brand Y. So instead of lashing out on-line, I think that we need to make conscious decisions, as consumers, when we’re faced with suboptimal experiences.

Is it worth it for me to help a company provide the level of service I require, at some point, by offering objective feedback? Or is it easier to just stop giving that company my business?

The choice has always been ours.

Your Turn

What do you think? Does being a customer give you the right to rant on-line for every trivial mishap? Or should we, as customers, hold ourselves to some sort of standard? Let me know in the comments below.

7 Comments

  • Peter Kim says:

    Yes, customers have every right to rant online. And by the same principle, companies have the right to expose similar behavior as well. If a customer uses abusive language or lobs “I’ll cancel my account” threats at a company, then those should be allowed to become public record as well.

    I guarantee you that this is much, much more detrimental to an individual than a company. Brands are gigantic and suffer minor road hazards every day. But the same level of hurt could destroy a single person.

    It’s not a pleasant line of thought – reminds me of the cold war arms race – so let’s hope the conversationsphere doesn’t devolve into this. But it’d be effective.

  • Peter Kim says:

    Yes, customers have every right to rant online. And by the same principle, companies have the right to expose similar behavior as well. If a customer uses abusive language or lobs “I’ll cancel my account” threats at a company, then those should be allowed to become public record as well.

    I guarantee you that this is much, much more detrimental to an individual than a company. Brands are gigantic and suffer minor road hazards every day. But the same level of hurt could destroy a single person.

    It’s not a pleasant line of thought – reminds me of the cold war arms race – so let’s hope the conversationsphere doesn’t devolve into this. But it’d be effective.

  • Anonymous says:

    “I need” has slowly replaced “Please” in customer requests these days. It’s no wonder that the first reaction to customers is defensive.

  • “I need” has slowly replaced “Please” in customer requests these days. It’s no wonder that the first reaction to customers is defensive.

  • Chris Hall says:

    Peter,

    I hadn’t thought of organizations crushing individuals but they obviously can, right? I agree with your sentiment and hope that we don’t move in that direction collectively.

    Gerard,

    I agree and think that the ability to form an audience around even mundane issues is adding to the mentality.

    Thanks for the comments. 🙂

  • Chris Hall says:

    Peter,

    I hadn’t thought of organizations crushing individuals but they obviously can, right? I agree with your sentiment and hope that we don’t move in that direction collectively.

    Gerard,

    I agree and think that the ability to form an audience around even mundane issues is adding to the mentality.

    Thanks for the comments. 🙂

  • […] wrote about a Customer Code of Conduct and think those ideas belong here as well. In the comments of that post Peter Kim mentioned that […]