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.