Sunday, July 02, 2006

Revenge of the consumer: Think

In the old days, brands mattered. Brands had reputations, slowly earned and slowly lost. Companies had to be careful about what they did.

Then brands died. In a commodity world, only price matters. Every crooked angle, every corner cut, every hidden thing removed, goes to the bottom line. The result has been a plummeting drop in the quality of services delivered and goods manufactured, a drop so steep that I suspect it comprises a underground ocean of inflation (1/2 the price and 1/3 the lifespan is inflation).

For every action, there is a reaction. A countervailing force has emerged...
AOL Said, 'If You Leave Me I'll Do Something Crazy' - New York Times

...People who left online comments about Mr. Ferrari's AOL call expressed delight, more often than disbelief, in seeing public exposure of an AOL experience similar to their own. "The same thing happened to me" is a refrain among the posts. Before the advent of the Web, an encounter with inept customer service was ours to bear alone, with little recourse or means to warn others. Now, Mr. Ferrari can swiftly post on the Web a digital "documentary" that recorded his dismal experience, and news-sniffing hounds do the rest.

With the enthusiastic help of users of Digg, the much-visited site that lets readers rate news stories, the online world found its way to Mr. Ferrari's door. (Actually, too many curiosity seekers arrived that day: the server that hosted his blog crashed hard when about 300,000 visitors tried to push through the door at about the same time.) YouTube did its part in spreading the word, by making available a replay of the AOL call that was part of Mr. Ferrari's appearance on the "Today" show on NBC.

YouTube was also the place to enjoy a new one-minute gem titled "A Comcast Technician Sleeping on My Couch." The technician, in Washington, had arrived at Brian Finkelstein's home to replace a faulty modem and had to call in to Comcast's central office. Placed on hold just like powerless customers, the technician fell asleep after an hour of waiting.

How should Mr. Finkelstein have responded? By writing a letter of complaint to some distant regulatory authority that will require years before it acts? Far more effective means are now at hand. He recorded, then uploaded the video clip with some humorous asides about missed appointments and unfulfilled promises, and got immediate satisfaction in the act of sharing. More than 500,000 viewers have watched Mr. Finkelstein's video "thank you" note to Comcast.

AOL and Comcast executives in charge of customer service may long for the good old days when they had to deal only with a finite number of federal regulators...
Ok, so AOL is easy pickings. I remember when they were a quality company -- but that was before the internet when they were Macintosh only. I left them about 14 years ago.

They're not alone however. Dell has been just as evil, not to mention SONY and just about every manufacturer in a commodity world. Revenge is as close as A well written, factually oriented statement of the user experience, particularly when backed up by a 'true name' author, is a wicked right hook to a company that's making revenue by hiding quality cuts. Before you buy, always read the Amazon reviews -- particularly the negative ones. It will server you well.

If you do have a bad experience, see if the produce is sold on Amazon. Register your 'true name' so you get your posts up guickly. You don't have to have bought the produce on Amazon. Make your review factual and unemotional. Help make the world a better place, and get some satisfaction. Opportunities to combine good action and revenge are rare, so take advantage of them!

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