How to train your customers to destroy your brand

Anyone with toddlers dreads the public meltdown.

You’ve seen us, the harried moms with the kids in tow, just… trying… to get…  the shopping… done.   And then, just as we are coming down the home stretch at the checkout counter, the supermarket has helpfully placed chocolate bars precisely at toddler eye-level.

To the right, Mars bars and KitKat.

To the left, a shopping cart full of broccoli and brussel sprouts.

The escalating requests begin.

Starting with the relatively polite request “can I have a chocolate bar – pleeease?”  and eventually ending in tears and screams “AAAGHHH! I WANT IT!!!!”  And, just to shut the kid up.  We cave.

Ahem.  I mean other mothers cave.  My children are of course perfect angels at all times.

Sometimes, when we (*cough* I mean they) cave too often at the screaming phase, the child eventually learns to skip all the polite preamble stuff and jump straight to the wailing and thrashing.  In effect, the parents have trained their kids to make a public scene, because that is what gets results.

Dumb right?  But companies are training their customers in exactly the same way.

By providing very few ways of letting customers contact them, they give customers little choice but to air their grievances on social media.  Companies don’t like being publicly criticized, so they react very quickly to these kinds of complaints.

Last week I was struggling with my online meeting account shortly before a client meeting.  Try as I might, I couldn’t get the session started successfully.

I searched the help forums and the knowledge base. No help.  I looked for a way to contact customer service, no chat, no email address, no phone number.  Nothing.

With a meeting starting in 20 minutes, I took to Twitter to complain publicly.   It’s the adult white-collar version of the checkout aisle meltdown.  Companies will do anything to get us to just… be… quiet…

Within minutes after my Twitter complaint, I was on the phone with a service representative who resolved my problem in time for my meeting.

I asked the very nice, very competent service agent why they made it so hard to reach customer service on the website, and yet were so responsive once I took to social media.  He seemed embarrassed and suggested that I fill out the customer satisfaction survey to provide this feedback.

And then he laughed.  It was a sad kind of laugh.

Next time I ran into a problem, guess what I did?   They trained me to skip the polite requests and take directly to a public forum, because hey, that’s what gets results.

Here is the bottom line.  Customers will do what gets them results.  If the only way you listen to them is after they’ve publicly complained, you are training them to destroy your brand.  

Give your customers other channels, and easier ways to communicate with you.  Respond to polite, private requests just as quickly as you respond to angry, public ones.  Your customers will be happier, and so will you.

Photographer: Speedkingz