Companies beware: social media bullies?

Will the number of followers on twitter, or your page rank turn you into a consumer protection force in the near future?

Will companies start being extra nice to those who have social media mojo?

We think it’s happening already- and wonder if ad budgets shouldn’t be slashed and diverted to “customer satisfaction” funds instead.

Peter Shankman is a micro-brand on his own. His Twitter account (skydiver) has 19,093 followers. He publishes the “Help a reporter out” e-mail blast which reaches pr pros across the country. He has a book on PR stunts, he has a blog. He’s web 2.0 connected and plugged in.

So when he tweets about a bad customer service experience from TiVo it gets 35 comments in a few hours.

What actually happened re:@tivo this morning thatI can’t fit into a tweet: - S O very displeased. Feel cheated.

It may have been seen by 15,000 people. If others have also had bad experiences, they would start piling up. Back in 2006, I watched this happen on a friends site- for a bad hard disk drive. I also watched Advertising Age’s Bob Garfield launch his rant “Comcast Must Die” after a horrible customer service experience.

No matter how big or small your ad budget is, refunding $29 makes more sense than feeding a web 2.0 PR bonfire.

Bottom line, TiVo can’t afford these kinds of mistakes to normal people, never mind someone with a posse.

Here are some pieces of Web 2.0 customer service advice:

  • Always have a customer service ombudsman contact for your site that is monitored 24/7 to respond immediately to potential complaints.
  • Have Google Alerts set up on your product and brand name.
  • Respond on the “offending” site- within the comments asap- even if it’s a “We’re looking into this”
  • Admit your own mistakes on your company blog- and make sure you give credit to the customer for pointing out where you screwed up so you won’t do it again. This was Dell’s solution to the Dell Hell scenario.
  • Have a company twitter account- where your fans can follow your brand.
  • Make sure you have support forums on your site that are moderated and useful. There is nothing worse than having customers going to other experts to solve problems with your products or service and having the competition recommended.

It wasn’t more than 8 hours before Peter had a response from TiVo. I don’t know if my e-mail to their Investor Relations department was part of the solution, but, in it- I said I didn’t think they really wanted to make a million dollar PR blunder over a $29 refund to a previously happy customer.

While many companies used to say “the customer is always right” we believe the new adage should be “the community is always right.” Offend one, and risk offending many.

Will having a huge network make you a one person consumer rights team? We’ll see soon enough.


If you are wondering how to build brand loyalty, increase market share, improve customer satisfaction, don’t do it the HP way.

Besides having an utterly useless, overly complex website, an arcane product naming system, and a penchant for dividing up products into categories that make no sense (what is the real difference between a desktop computer for home or business?)- they absolutely don’t get customer service and support.

I’m writing this while listening to an endless loop that is about 6 minutes long- this is after I paid $39 for “support.”

Frankly, no amount of advertising can make up for a horrible support experience. Instead of paying your CEO big bucks, shareholders should demand that HP hire enough support people to handle a call in less than 2 hours (yep, that’s how long I’ve been waiting).

If you’re wondering how much HP is paying current wunderCEOkind - here is an article about his original salary package:

Incoming Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd will get a $2 million signing bonus and a $1.4 million salary for taking the helm at HP, but he stands to make far more if he can successfully boost the company’s flagging share price.

According to documents filed late Tuesday with the Securities and Exchange Commission, HP’s new CEO will receive 700,000 HP stock options and stand to earn tens of millions of dollars more as part of short-term and long-term bonus programs. The options will vest over a four-year period.

The 48-year-old executive will be given an additional 400,000 stock options and 450,000 shares of restricted stock to make up for the equity compensation he gave up when leaving NCR. The stock will vest over three years. The restricted shares alone have a value of more than $8 million.

Hurd, who became NCR’s top executive in March 2003, took home roughly $2 million in salary and bonuses last year at NCR, up from about $1.5 million the prior year, according to NCR’s most recent proxy statement.

Hurd will also be given a $2.75 million “relocation allowance” in moving from NCR’s Dayton, Ohio, headquarters.

Hefty pay package for HP’s new CEO - CNET News.

Note, when calling Apple for enterprise support for an XServe, the longest hold time was 5 minutes. They offered a call back service, and the hold music- it was contemporary, great music- further showing that the brand is hip, cool and someone I’d prefer to do business with.

What’s even worse is I’ve already identified my problem as a bad HP jetdirect card, model 615n, that has an extended warranty. It would have been cheaper for HP to immediately look up the issue on their own site, admit, they’ve failed, and send the card than put me through this hell. The $10,000 printer that I bought is just over three years old. HP has been sending me marketing materials to try to get me to trade in and up to their new model. After this experience, I’d be hard pressed to buy HP ever again, even though I’d been generally happy with this product previously.

If Mark Hurd wants to boost the share price, he needs to make sure people have good reason to buy HP products. No sales, mean no profits. Investments in technical and customer support help stop people from writing their horror stories online for all to see. Mark, consider taking a pay cut- or try answering your phones for an hour a day.

[UPDATE] 9:35 am next day- STILL ON HOLD- but, they are still sorry I’ve been waiting and will be with me as soon as possible.

[UPDATE] 19.5 hours - same loop- have used the contact form for Mark Hurd, CEO at HP. Of course, after filling out my details- they still call me a “valued customer” instead of simply personalizing using my name. Still on hold. Their products must really suck if the call volumes are that large.
[UPDATE] 10:40 called on another line- have been assured I’ll be connected to a support technician. Hung up the other call- losing my place in the queue, but, we need to actually take calls in the office. At least this is music only on the hold loop.

[UPDATE] 11:38- after another hour on the phone, they determined what I already knew- the Jetdirect 615n was at fault. However, the “extension” of 5 years for the warranty ended on Oct. 31, 2008 (even though I’d only had the printer 3 years)- and that they would be happy to sell me a new card at the discounted price of $209 if I return the defective 615n. A quick google search found it at for less than $139 with overnight shipping. Of course, I could have taken this route yesterday if HP had answered their phones.

If buying an HP product, consider the horrible customer service and really worthless website that comes with their products. Apple shines in comparison.

Maybe my next large format printer will be an Epson.