Sticking Your Head in the Ground is Never the Answer

This social media thing is funny.

It’s often unpro­fes­sional to use words like “morons” or “shit heads”, but for­tu­nately for com­pa­nies, not uncommon.

Why for­tu­nately? Well, they’re get­ting hon­est feed­back. And, while it’s best to keep it “pro­fes­sional” curs­ing in writing/online has a dif­fer­ent impact than curs­ing on the phone. Curs­ing a per­son is per­ceived as per­sonal and offen­sive. Curs­ing in writ­ing, in my opin­ion, shows frus­tra­tion more than offensiveness.

This arti­cle about Rogers’ hor­ri­ble cus­tomer sup­port is hilar­i­ous. As are the com­ments. Make sure to read those too.

I’m writ­ing this because I think there are some impor­tant lessons lost on exec­u­tives at big com­pa­nies. When I was in b-school, I was amazed that they had to teach peo­ple what a megabyte was, and what eth­er­net was. In fact, I reg­u­larly speak to peo­ple who don’t know the dif­fer­ence between wifi and their car­rier net­works (3G/4G, etc).

Non tech­ni­cal exec­u­tives, and exec­u­tives who (like me) grew up (older?) before tech­nol­ogy don’t have a frame­work for under­stand­ing how this stuff “works”. And by “how it works” I mean, “what mat­ters when they approach it.” Let me give a sim­i­lar exam­ple. I was talk­ing to a mar­ket­ing per­son yes­ter­day about what it’s like to plan an event. She had been talk­ing to some­one who was like “I fig­ured I just need a room big enough for 50 peo­ple.” Turns out there were a lot of other con­sid­er­a­tions (is the room easy to find, are there signs, is there enough space at check-in for 50 badges, what’s the park­ing sit­u­a­tion, and so on).

For what­ever rea­son, companies/executives fear tech­nol­ogy. I know that I often pro­cras­ti­nate when I don’t want to deal with some­thing. If I were a non-technical exec­u­tive, maybe I’d find other really impor­tant things to do rather than take a close look at social media and what it means to my busi­ness. After all, I’d have tech­ni­cal peo­ple who can tell me what to do (Block it! It’s inse­cure! It’s a time waster!).

I don’t think today’s exec­u­tives real­ize the effect and the power of social media to their business.

Do you think Rogers knows about Jim’s post?

Do you think they’d feel Jim was a jerk? Do you think they’d thank him? I think the for­mer mostly.

Do you think they have an “cri­sis man­age­ment” strat­egy for respond­ing to stuff like this? Or, an order of esca­la­tion so the right peo­ple know and can respond.

If this were a reg­u­la­tory related item (as it might be with a pharma com­pany, or a bank), and they don’t know it’s being said for a few days how is that going to look? “We didn’t know about the prob­lem” won’t work. It’s been out there for X days. And, look at the com­ments, it’s obvi­ously been a prob­lem for a while. Why wasn’t this resolved when cus­tomers first told you?

And, the big ques­tion why are these cus­tomers hav­ing these prob­lems in the first place?!

What should exec­u­tives be doing? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Have a cri­sis man­age­ment plan. Brain­storm about what might hap­pen, and how you’d respond. Doc­u­ment it, train peo­ple on the process. Then doc­u­ment the results.
  2. Fig­ure out a plan for lis­ten­ing. The feed­back that Jim and the com­menters on this arti­cle is invalu­able. It’s like they’re unpaid process improve­ment con­sul­tants. I’d send these guys a per­sonal thank you.
  3. In addi­tion to lis­ten­ing, fig­ure out how to mea­sure the results and ben­e­fits. In this case, it seems like there’s an oppor­tu­nity to improve tele­mar­ket­ing efforts and device acti­va­tion pro­ce­dures. They seem pretty impor­tant areas to me!

Of course, some peo­ple are never happy (I can be one of those peo­ple some­times, though do try to fight it.). You’re never going to please them. But… Jim is not one of those guys. You please one Jim, and you’ll out­weigh the hun­dreds of peo­ple you’ll never please. You have to lis­ten to know who’s who or which com­plaints are con­struc­tive (or if there’s a con­struc­tive mes­sage in a neg­a­tive deliv­ery). Com­pa­nies should love this oppor­tu­nity to do bet­ter busi­ness. But, like any­thing else, we need to learn to lis­ten. And, the only way to do that is to build our “lis­ten­ing mus­cles” by start­ing and prac­tic­ing. I wouldn’t expect com­pa­nies never to make a mis­take, but like my inter­ac­tions with peo­ple, really admire com­pa­nies who learn from their mistakes.

Ignor­ing social media by block­ing it from your orga­ni­za­tion is fright­en­ingly naïve. There are tons of excuses. It’s a time waster. It’s inse­cure. Guess what? You’re right. Being right (in this case) doesn’t mat­ter. You could be the next Rogers. In fact, you might already be.

Social media presents an unmatched oppor­tu­nity to con­nect humanly with cus­tomers and get hon­est feed­back. You can make the choice. Head in the ground or suc­cess. You choose.