Customer Service IS Crisis Management

Erik Bernstein crisis management, Crisis Prevention, Crisis Response, Erik Bernstein, Jonathan Bernstein, online reputation management, PR, public relations, reputation management Leave a Comment

Quality service will do wonders for your reputation. Neglect it, and, well, read on…

Providing the type of customer service that you would like to experience yourself is one of the most effective, yet least-utilized forms of crisis management.

Instead of correcting a problem and moving on with business, many organizations will hem and haw over the silliest of details, or run into a self-imposed roadblock due to an unwillingness to bend the rules, even when the situation screams for it.

Customer complaints & the power of the ‘net

In the past, stymied consumers may have groused about their situation to family and friends, maybe even vowed never to use the offending service/product again, but it very rarely went any further than that.

Now we have the Internet, and that one upset customer has the ability to magnify their voice hundreds of times over. Those with an established web presence can do it themselves, but the average person is more likely to turn to a watchdog with a louder bark than their own, one like the NY Times’ David Segal, aka the Haggler.

A public tongue lashing

Recently, a couple asked for David’s help in getting some decent customer service out of Whirlpool following a six-month battle with a serious lemon of a microwave, including five different visits by certified Whirlpool repairmen and repeated replacement of parts, culminating in a denied request to exchange the faulty unit.

Let’s start off with a quote from the lead paragraph of David’s NY Times article, just the type of intro to make any crisis management pro cringe:

Before we hear from Whirlpool, the Haggler would like to cite a few numbers to provide a bit of context. The first is $216.25. That is the price of the microwave bought by Ms. Vintilla and her husband, Joe Sirott. The second is $869 million, which is the amount of operating profit that Whirlpool earned last year, on sales of $18 billion.

Got it? Good.

Mr. Segal goes on, ripping into Whirlpool’s overly-litigious return policies as well:

After being contacted by the Haggler, a member of Whirlpool’s executive staff e-mailed to Ms. Vintilla a document called a “Product Scrap Agreement.” In it, the company offered to send a check to refund the cost of the microwave — but with two stipulations. First, Ms. Vintilla would have to cover the expense of disposing of the microwave. It turns out that you don’t just toss a contraption like this in the garbage. You need someone to haul it away, for a fee of about $75.

Second, Ms. Vintilla would have to agree to a confidentiality clause. The Haggler knows that this sounds like an absurd joke, so let us quote directly from the document: “The undersigned further agrees that they will not communicate to any third party (other than their lawyers) or otherwise publicize, by any method whatsoever, any terms of this agreement.”

He even got in touch with Whirlpool’s vice president for consumer and appliance care, Kathy Nelson. Surely she would have the wherewithal to apologize profusely and quickly resolve the issue, especially considering she was now aware that the NY Times had gotten ahold of the story? You’d think that, wouldn’t you? Check out the quote:

“It’s very disappointing, as I look at how all this ended,” she said. It seemed a promising opener, but while Ms. Nelson uttered forms of company mea culpa, she also tried to deflect some culpa to Ms. Vintilla. Specifically, Ms. Nelson repeatedly said she wished that Ms. Vintilla had called Whirlpool, as though this whole crazy fiasco could have been avoided had the customer just dialed the company directly.

The Haggler noted, repeatedly, that Ms. Vintilla had made such a call, after summoning a service repairman for the fifth time.

This is the type of case that consumer watchdogs thrive on, and Segal did just that, publishing two brilliantly written pages of material that leaves no doubt as to just how little Whirlpool cares about its customers right there on the website of one of the most widely-read news outlets in the world.

If a Whirlpool exec had experienced half the problems this customer had, what do you think they would have done? They would have walked right in with their faulty microwave, and walked back out with a new one, no questions asked.

Why then, when it’s a customer, are things any different?

An open ear, a sympathetic tone and an RMA are all it takes to resolve the vast majority of consumer-related crises. When in doubt, remember that even on high-ticket items, the cost of providing a replacement is nowhere near what you’ll spend for just a few hours consulting with any PR firm worth their salt.

Above the doorway to every customer service center should hang a sign that reads simply, “Remember the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you would like to be treated.” Keep that in mind, and your chances of encountering consumer-related crises will hit the dirt. Ignore this advice, and you may as well forward your contact information to the Haggler now.

The BCM Blogging Team

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