When Good Consultants Go Bad


As a communicator, you’ve probably learned a lot about the power of social media over the last 12 months. What would happen if you used that power to try and hurt a company rather than help it?

My Problem

I recently purchased a piece of furniture from a company in New York. It wasn’t anything special, just an ergonomic desk and monitor arm to improve my home work station. When I ordered it, the salesperson told me it would arrive in three separate shipments (from two carriers) and that it would take four weeks to ship.

I’ve ordered enough products online that I am accustomed to waiting for a week or so, but four weeks seemed like an eternity. Although I understood that it would take some time to arrive, I was not prepared for the lack of communication along the way. At the very least, I expected an email informing me when it shipped.

For one month, I heard nothing. Not a peep.

I’ll spare you the details, but suffice to say I received zero communication from the company. No tracking numbers. No ship dates. No estimated arrivals. Not one call or email to let me know they hadn’t forgotten about me. My first communication was from UPS informing me I had missed their delivery.

Finally, two weeks after I received both pieces of the desk (sans assembly instructions), I started emailing (passive) and calling (aggressive) to get updates abut the remaining shipment from a customer service rep who was less than enthused to help.

Seven weeks later, I am sitting at the desk still waiting for the monitor arm that the factory shipped to an address in Pennsylvania that no one seemed to catch until I started calling again. I’m frustrated that they company isn’t working to help me fix their error. I’m angry that they are shifting blame to the factory even though I ordered it from them. And most of all, I’m tired of wasting time tracking down this shipment.

Dave Dougherty and Ajay Murthy write in the Harvard Business Review that:

More than half of the customers we surveyed across industries say they’ve had a bad service experience, and nearly the same fraction think many of the companies they interact with don’t understand or care about them. On average, 40% of customers who suffer through bad experiences stop doing business with the offending company.

What would you do? As someone who has some experience using social media and who is familiar with the case studies about companies that ignored their customers at their own peril, how might you react?

My Solution

My first thought was to begin posting negative tweets to a couple of thousand Twitter followers and to write similar updates on LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. I could spread the bad word about this company to thousands of people in less than a minute. That would feel good. It’s also what most people do: they vent their frustration to anyone that will listen.

I realized, however, that most of my friends and Twitter associates are either not looking to buy a desk nor are they necessarily going to remember my updates when its time to do so. It was the right platform, but not necessarily the right audience. Also, I wasn’t looking to create a United Airlines type of situation (although I felt much the same way) for the company. I just wanted to share my own frustrations with other people considering buying their products.

I wanted something more enduring. Something that might show up in search engine results. My next thought was to write a nasty post here naming the company and hoping it would come up along with their name during a Google search. But one lone voice of dissent does not a purchase change. I started thinking about how I make a purchasing decision, and it turns out (obviously) I am very interested in what other communities of experts have to say.

If it’s electronics, I typically check CNET and PCWorld reviews (both the article and the user comments). If it’s books, my first stop is Amazon and if it’s a restaurant, I’ll see what people wrote on Menupages, New York Magazine or Yelp before making my reservation.

And that’s what I did. I added a customer review to some of the sites where I had done my original research. It might have taken a bit more time and ultimately, fewer people may read them. But I feel better. I shared my experience with the people that affect the company’s bottom line. Even if customer service doesn’t matter to this company, hopefully it will make a difference to their potential customers.

Image credit: Shutterstock

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