It's no secret that blogs have given people an unprecedented voice in terms of sharing stories of corporate blunders. Anyone who has been online for any length of time has seen their fair share of posts about bad customer service experiences or arrogant CEO's. Thankfully, there are also plenty of examples of great service. Stories of the company employee that went the extra mile can actually spread pretty fast as well. Mack Collier covers both ends of the spectrum today in a post about how companies deal with their online reputations.
Mack points to a couple of posts by people who have had bad experiences flying Spirit Airlines. One of those unhappy customers and his wife ended up missing a concert due to numerous flight delays. When he took the time to email Spirit Airlines CEO Ben Baldanza about his frustrations, Baldanza made the massive blunder of not only responding with all the arrogance of a typical big-shot CEO, but also of accidentally including the customer in his reply.
"Please respond, Pasquale, but we owe him nothing as far as I'm concerned. Let him tell the world how bad we are. He's never flown us before anyway and will be back when we save him a penny."
Oh man! Predictably, this story was already gaining steam as comments were flowing into Alex's blog from fellow Spirit customers that had also received less than stellar service. But this colossal email blunder simply lit the fuse.The Consumerist picked up on it. Then the Chicago Tribune referenced the episode in an article about customer complaints about the airline industry.
If that didn't spell enough potential trouble for Spirit Airlines, the actions of another of their employees fueled the fire.
And if you thought Baldanza's email blunder was bad, check out what Spirit spokeswoman Alison Russell told the paper when asked about James and Christy's complaint:
"We wouldn't respond to a blog post. This goes back to the larger question of the veracity of everything you read on Internet blogs. Our customer service is great."
No Allison, it goes back to the larger issue of when companies ignore their customers, especially their blogging customers, it always comes back to bite them. Baldanza flippantly quipped "Let him tell the world how bad we are". Well you got your wish buddy.
Interestingly, one of the original blog posts complaining about Spirit Airlines poor customer service now ranks second on a Google search for the airlines name. Incidentally, the name of the post (and the title of the search result) is "Do Not Fly Spirit Airlines."
How many people do you think will spot that title under the official corporate site and NOT take a moment to click on it?
On the happier side of things, Mack also posts a quick reminder of the "I Heart Zappos" post made by a customer earlier this summer. The story has been making the rounds through marketing blogs over the last week or so and serves as one of the best examples of GOOD (and perhaps unintentional) small business marketing I've seen in awhile.
The quick background...a woman buys shoes for her mother from Zappos.com. The shoes don't fit, she needs to return them, but her mother passes away and the shoes are a forgotten item on a to do list because she hasn't had time to take them to the post office.
When I came home this last time, I had an email from Zappos asking about the shoes, since they hadn't received them. I was just back and not ready to deal with that, so I replied that my mom had died but that I'd send the shoes as soon as I could. They emailed back that they had arranged with UPS to pick up the shoes, so I wouldn't have to take the time to do it myself. I was so touched. That's going against corporate policy.
Yesterday, when I came home from town, a florist delivery man was just leaving. It was a beautiful arrangement in a basket with white lilies and roses and carnations. Big and lush and fragrant. I opened the card, and it was from Zappos. I burst into tears. I'm a sucker for kindness, and if that isn't one of the nicest things I've ever had happen to me, I don't know what is.
The story has been spreading across the web at lightening speed giving mom and pop shop Zappos more press than they could have ever afforded to buy themselves.
Was this a marketing ploy? Perhaps, but somehow I doubt it. What this strikes me as is a genuine reflection of kindness from a company staffed by humans instead of automated systems.
There's a benefit to being small. Small businesses are flexible and they are personal. When you have a human being making a decision...a human being who can walk down the hall into the CEO's office and say "here's what I'd like to do"...you have an advantage.
I've said it before and I'll say it again. Sometimes the best viral marketing and social media marketing campaigns are the ones that take off because you treat a customer well and they let the world know. Perhaps a little less time and energy spent trying to force people to talk about you and a little more time and energy spent taking care of those who already love you would be a good course of action.
What's really interesting about these two situations are the comments. Take a few moments to scan the comments on the Spirit Airlines post. Notice the pattern of hostility? This company has clearly screwed up with more than just a single customer. Now go and scan through the comments on the I Heart Zappos post. Notice the warmth, the passion and the motivation? Zappos treatment of this woman may have been above and beyond, but it appears to be the attitude with which they face all customer interactions.
Building links, getting your business Dugg, generating buzz...each of these things can help your business succeed. But sometimes, small businesses need to remind themselves that the best way to have these things happen is to treat people very, very well.
Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.
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