Managing the viral spread of bad customer experiences

May 20, 2008 at 8:23 pm 3 comments

Sally Saville Hodge

You may have heard this factoid mentioned when it comes to customer service: A satisfied customer is likely to share the experience with one person, while one who’s dissatisfied will share it with ten.

Now, think about the implications of those numbers in a Web 2.0 world, when anyone and everyone has a voice and can make it heard resoundingly around the world. Whether through a blog, a Twitter, a YouTube feed, or a MySpace post. The possibilities for sharing positive, but (human nature being what it is) more often, negative experiences have exploded.

Any business that understands the value of a strong brand is going to do whatever it takes to consistently deliver a superior customer experience. Part and parcel of the deal is monitoring the conversation and seizing any opportunity to identify any disconnects – real or imagined – in the way the business is delivering. And find ways to make it right.

What’s amazing to me, though, is the number of businesses that still don’t get the power of the Web as more than just a messaging channel du jour. It’s also a great, grassroots way to keep the pulse of changing customer perceptions and to respond in real time and in authentic ways to shape them.

Or not.

Consider Brenda and Gerald Moran. These folks love cruises. They were such fans of Royal Caribbean that they booked two trips a year and even bought stock in the company. This despite a customer experience that was less than ideal for each and every trip.

Some of their complaints were laughable: Her birthday greeting was delivered to the wrong cabin. (Get over it.) Others? Not so much. On their most recent, two-week Alaska/Northwest cruise, their cabin reeked of sewage, which was blamed on other guests flushing everything from oranges to diapers. With no more rooms available at this floating inn, their balcony door remained open in 40-degree weather to offset the odor. Yet the Morans were happy with the cruise line’s offer of a 20 percent discount on their next cruise.

But here’s the deal. Brenda wrote, as she always did, a post-cruise review on Cruise Critic, which sparked an active viral dialogue. Royal Caribbean responded by offering the Morans an additional discount for their next trip…and, oh, by the way, now will you pull your review?

Brenda declined. Cruise Critic later declined to pull or modify it. And Royal Caribbean soon thereafter banned the Morans from its cruises – for life.

Even in the olden days before the Web boosted the power of word-of-mouth, such heavy-handed tactics would have been ill-advised. Royal Caribbean would have been much better served with a variety of other courses of action:

  • Apologizing in the discussion forum for the Morans’ experience and detailing steps being taken to make it right (and remember, it’s not always about money!) and create a consistently positive customer experience for all its guests.
  • Identifying the Morans’ (and others’) specific complaints about the customer experience, their relative degree of importance, and possible fixes besides discounting that would create goodwill.
  • Identifying and cultivating other satisfied customers (which the Morans really were, overall) who could serve as brand ambassadors and encouraged, among other things, to share their own positive experiences.
  • Monitoring the conversation and employing an ombudsman, perhaps (see what Comcast is doing), to run interference in real time as a means of enhancing customer satisfaction.

The Web’s current role and future potential to help make or break brands is only growing. For those that don’t like the way the conversation goes, killing the messenger isn’t the answer. Finding better ways to keep the negative word of mouth from spreading virally to hundreds or even thousands more is.


Entry filed under: Agency Management, Diabloguer, Marketing Communications, Marketing Strategy, Missteps, New/Social Media.

Don’t titter at Twitter – there’s a place for almost everything in this changing new media world Coming soon to a gas pump near you

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Bob  |  May 23, 2008 at 10:09 pm

    Royal Caribbean has not banned these passengers due to their review of the cruise. This is simply the way the Morans choose to see it. In truth, these guests, over their last 5 cruises have become more of a liability than a customer. Royal Caribbean recognized this and decided to avoid any future confrontation with these known faultfinders.

  • 2. Sally Hodge  |  May 27, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    The point was really that in an era when everyone has a voice, every business needs a strategy to monitor the conversations as well as to use them as a source of intelligence on disconnects — perceived and real — in the delivery of the customer experience.

  • 3. spader  |  June 3, 2008 at 2:35 pm

    Spader says : I absolutely agree with this !


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