Thomas Tripp and Yany Grégoire wrote an illuminating article for MITSloan titled When Unhappy Customers Strike Back on the Internet.  I recommend it for anyone trying to deliver customer service via social media channels.  A few of the more interesting points (there were many):

  1. Customers don’t Complain Immediately – Interestingly, most online complaints arise only after consumers (1) are victims of a poor product or service and (2) are then treated unfairly (in their perception) or ignored by the offending company.
  2. Complaints are Visceral – Online complaints are stronger than mere dissatisfaction and arise from a feeling of betrayal.  Customers want to extract revenge and may view their actions as serving a greater good by warning other consumers.
  3. The Best Customers Hold the Longest Grudges – When companies fail to recover from their missteps, customers feel the need to terminate the business relationship as quickly as possible.  I once came across a company that refused to do business with a vendor because of such an episode – 17 years prior.

The pivot point is that unlike John Belushi’s fraternity which gets placed on double secret probation in National Lampoon’s Animal House, companies today know full well when they have breached the perceived rules of client-company relationships.  Without the veil of secrecy, companies today must elevate their products, processes, and support mechanisms to prevent problems in the first place.  Failing those essentials, they must formulate and implement effective strategies to recover after the fact.

(Note that the MIT article suggests customers will wait a maximum of 4 weeks… after that, it’s too late.)

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