I have a column in Business Week’s customer-service issue arguing that customers who complain about you are doing you a great favor. Here‘s the foreshortened version that fit in the magazine. And here‘s my longer draft. Snippet from the draft:
Here’s some free advice: Go to Google, enter any of your company’s brands followed by the word “sucks,” and you will see the true consumers’ reports. Brace yourself, for it won’t be pretty. Wal-Mart’s unofficial Google Sucks Index turns up 165,000 results; Disney 530,000; Google 767,000. What’s yours?
Now don’t get mad at these people. Instead, help them get even with you. For these angry customers are doing you a great favor. They care enough about your product or service to tell you exactly what went wrong. Other customers may just desert you and head to the competition. But these customers are telling you what to fix. Listen to them. Help them. Respond to them. Ask their advice – and they’ll give it to you. . . .
You see, this is about more than putting out blog fires or quieting complaining customers. It’s about more than customer service; indeed some say that customer service is the new marketing (that was the title of a conference this month in San Francisco). No, this is about collaboration with your customers in every aspect of your business. If you enable them, they will provide customer service for each other. They will help design your products. They will sell your products. They will create your marketing message – they always did control your brand.
So when you reach out to that kvetching blogger you found online, you’re engaged in customer service as well as PR, market research, marketing, sales, and product development. You are reinventing your company – and, if you get there before your competitors, your industry. That is why you shouldn’t relegate this vital task to one department or some interns or consultants. You need to reorganize the company around this new relationship with your customer, finally putting that customer at the center of everything you do because – thanks to Google – you can. If you don’t, well, you’ll suck.
: Also in the current Business Week: a collaboratively annotated and updated version of Steve Baker’s and Heather Green’s popular cover story on blogs.