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Do Whining Customers Negate the Power of the Social Customer?

Posted by Bob Warfield on February 16, 2010

Fellow Enterprise Irregular Vinnie Mirchandani seems to think so.

Vinnie tells the story of uber-Twitter-maven Kevin Smith’s troubles with Southwest Airlines.  Keven evidently ran afoul of Southwest’s 3 decade-old “customer of size” policy.   Smith was recently shown off a flight that was full because he wouldn’t fit between two other passengers and hadn’t purchased a second seat (there wasn’t one available in any case).   Smith went ballistic on Twitter for days as a result, but Southwest met him in the SocialSphere and ultimately wound up telling the world that Smith has known about the policy for a long time.  In Vinnie’s view, this made Smith a whiner who was suddenly revealed as abusing his tremendous number of Twitter followers to no good end. 

Vinnie sees this as bad in some way for the Social World:

If we just throw on-line tantrums, we are only making Paul’s crusade that much tougher.

Not at all Vinnie, not at all.  BTW, “Paul’s crusade” refers to Paul Greenberg, who is probably the foremost CRM expert I know.

From my perspective, the interaction Vinnie describes perfectly played out the system of checks and balances that makes Social work so well with business.  Southwest airlines had to react quickly and socially to a disgruntled customer.  Bravo, Southwest!  I have admired the company for many years, and its business results relative to the other airlines speak volumes about why.  These guys do it “right”, and part of that is having principles.  They didn’t just cave in to Kevin Smith’s uber-Follower-Lynch-Mob antics.  They had a well-reasoned policy, they offered him their well-reasoned response, and they were comfortable having all this out in the open.

As for Smith, he showed that Social is not all about giving the customer a totally lopsided advantage.  If they’re not careful about how they conduct themselves, they start to look like they’re spending more time conducting hostage terrorist negotiations than being good customers.  Smith crossed that line, at least as far as Vinnie was concerned, and the good news is it was there for all to see.  Some part of the world just wants to stick it to the Man, and will applaud whatever he does.  But the bigger part understands when the line of reasonability was crossed.  Social lets both sides be heard equally and judged by their peers.  Smith’s influence with the kind of peers Southwest is most likely interested in was reduced by excessive whining.  Southwest, meanwhile, if they conducted themselves well, had the opportunity to increase their influence.

Have a little faith in the system, baby!

2 Responses to “Do Whining Customers Negate the Power of the Social Customer?”

  1. vmirchan said

    Bob, my point is just as companies are learning the new rules of social and we need to beat up on those that ignore, sabotage the social customer, we also need to stand up and point out the social customer who crosses the line.

  2. The social web does give more power to consumers as it allows them to air their views to a much larger aundience. However, we are in changing times and companies should integrate social media into their crm and marketing software system. It allows for easy communication for both parties and can also be used as a promotional tool when good out comes occur. If you are a company that values its clients the ‘out in the open’ nature of social media should not worry you.

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