Remember the Chrysler TC? It was supposed to be Chrysler's image-building flagship. Lee Iococca had it built in Milan, Italy and tried to convince us it was a Maserati. Savvy American consumers were not fooled: Underneath the Italian leather and nice wheels it was just the same old K-car - a Chrysler LeBaron with a thirty-thousand dollar price tag.
So it is with a lot of businesses these days. Only instead of some fancy Italian leather or expensive wheels, they put up a blog. By doing so, and spouting a few social media buzzwords, they presume that their reputations will be transformed and the pubic will suddenly see them as honest, open, responsive, and customer-focused companies.
It doesn't work that way. The blogosphere - and people in general - are smarter than that. It doesn't take very many interactions to discover that under all that fancy social media upholstery, it's still the same old company that thinks things would run much smoother if its pesky customers would simply shut up and go away.
My favorite word associated with blogging is 'conversation'. My second favorite word is 'disruption'. That's because for many companies, truly listening to their customers - and then taking action based upon what they hear - is too much of a disruption. It’s easier to keep doing things the way they’ve always done them and ignore the complaints, input - and sometime insults - being hurled over the wall.
Delta Airlines is a perfect example. In a recent blog post, David Meerman Scott wrote about his experience with Delta. They not only ruined his family's vacation, Delta's automated email system then proceeded to make matters worse.
Now you would think that a company of Delta's size that was truly customer-focused would have mechanisms in place to monitor the web to detect anytime its company name is mentioned. I do it. I teach every one of my clients to do it. Heck, some of them even pay me to do it for them. We understand that if you reach out to that unhappy client quickly, you can not only avoid the problem 'going supernova' as Robert Scoble puts it, you can actually turn that unhappy customer into an enthusiastic fan.
Did anyone at Delta reach out to David? Nope. And the number of comments to David's blog post continues to grow with other people adding their own personal horror stories about Delta. (I refrained from adding the story of my own 'adventure' with Delta last fall.) Is it a surprise then that when you type "Delta Airlines" into Google, one of the entries on the first page of results is "DeltaReallySucks.com".
Now it so happens that Delta has recently started a blog. There is a lot of content related to improving Delta’s website and check-in kiosks and such. And the Delta employee bloggers charged with dealing with those topics seem genuinely interested in making them better. In the airline business however, websites and kiosks are just the leather upholstery. When it comes to really listening where it counts - getting passengers and their luggage to their destinations on time - Delta’s blog is no more responsive than its gate agents. Here is a comment on the Delta blog from an unhappy customer:
"In summary, here you have someone who has been loyal to [Delta] for years and years and is being pushed away by what I believe is nothing more than squeezing every penny of profit out of every seat-mile dollar. There is a limit to what you can take for profit, without biting the hand that feeds. In this case, I have been bitten one too many times."
The Delta blogger’s response was:
While I appreciate the direct feedback, I am not in a position to resolve specific customer issues."
Some companies do get it. Hugh MacLeod, a fellow blog strategy consultant recently retained by Microsoft, recently wrote:
"From some of the recent talks I've had with Microsoft, I'm starting to see more and more people internally beginning to believe a simple truth: That if Microsoft wishes to change the world, then changing themselves is also, most definitely, a big part of the equation."
Another company who gets it is Dell. It all started with that famous 'Dell Hell' post on Jeff Jarvis' blog. Dell initially ignored Jeff. The comments started pouring in. Dell suffered an enormous financial disaster. Then Dell started to blog. I remember reading Dell's blog in those early days and you could almost smell the tar and feathers. Much to Dell's credit, they left all the negative stuff up there. Better yet, they listened. And responded. In contrast to Delta's response to an unhappy customer, here is the Dell blogger's response to a recent unhappy customer:
"I'm sorry for the frustration we have caused. I do care and can say there are lots of people working here who feel the same way. I've asked someone from our Customer Service to contact you so that we can work through this situation."
All of us business owners need to heed this lesson. When you start blogging, don't just put fancy Italian leather in the same old car. Be willing to air your dirty laundry. If you've discovered that some aspect of your product or service doesn't perform very well, admit it. Then talk about how you are going to fix it. Then fix it.
If a customer uses your blog to lodge a complaint, don't metaphorically hide in your office. In fact, pray that someone brings you a legitimate complaint. First of all, that means your blog is working and your clients see you as open, honest, and willing to listen. Once that happens you will uncover problems in your business that you never realized you had. And you can fix them. And your customers will love you for it.
Blogging is disruptive. Have the cojones to use that disruption to make your company better. Your customers deserve it. Your Employees deserve it. You deserve it. Be a Dell, not a Delta.