The internet and almost instant access to information have changed our lives greatly over the last ten years. Today anyone can create a website or blog and connect with thousands if not millions of people. Often when someone feels they were mistreated they will turn to their blogs to tell anyone and everyone about it. In the past this action was mainly ignored by companies, but with social outlets such as Facebook and Twitter many companies created teams dedicated to seeking out issues on the net and solving them before they spread.
In part two of the series we talked about step 3, 4 and 5 from the eight steps important to being a member of the BBB.
- Build Trust
- Advertise Honestly
- Tell the Truth
- Be Transparent
- Honor Promises
- Be Responsive
- Safeguard Privacy
- Embody Integrity
Moving on to step six, Be Responsive, we devle into one of the main issues with companies and their responses to the BBB. Most of the time if you have an issue with a company, in this case a computer company, and you file a BBB complaint it will be sent to the company and directed to the person or persons in charge of the BBB complaint department.
Many larger companies create templates to respond to BBB complaints, but this is not just to save time. There are certain words or phrases that if sent to the BBB will be accepted as being responsive even if the overall issue was not solved.
For example if your system arrived damaged, but you did not report it within a certain time frame for whatever reason many companies will not be able to file a claim with the shipper. In this case they will tell you that due to you not informing them of the damage there is nothing they can do for you.
If you were to write to the BBB about this all the company would have to do is reply with a canned answer about the policy of the company and the policy of the shipper. They do not even have to reference your specific case. This will be accepted by the BBB and even if you file a rebuttal all they need to do is respond with the same answer and again it would be accepted. This is called ping ponging because this can go back and forth indefinably.
Many companies do not fear the BBB because it is easy to remain compliant which is why if you find a company that has a non-compliance with the BBB you know they have issues. Even large companies that receive many BBB complaints can have one agent answer them all due to the use of template answers. So what can customers do if the BBB fails them?
Originally customer complaints were limited to phone calls, e-mails and in some cases internal message boards. The main goal was to keep issues internal where they could be controlled. As the internet became more wildly used people began to create blogs and websites where they would talk about their daily lives and if they had an issue they would post about it. This was also done in public message boards.
At first these few incidents were ignored, but as some forums became wildly popular some companies created field teams to track down issues on popular forums and engage the customer there hoping to solve the issue and if not that bring the issue back under their control and out of the spotlight.
For the most part forums were happy to have representatives come to their boards because it would bring in more members. As time went on however, many board administrators would limit what these representatives could do. This was mainly done to keep them from posting about new sales or features or derailing topics.
In the end for many companies going out to forums backfired because now their representatives could do nothing to stop members from coming to those boards and posting about their issues. Sometimes information would even be leaked by disgruntled employees. Strong arm tactics aside these boards remained firm and the companies had no choice but to message the members in private hoping to solve the issue quietly.
Step seven, Safeguard Privacy, came into play not against the customer, but against the companies. Often when company representatives would contact customers they would offer free items or discounts to make the issues go away. Some of these members would post the e-mails, personal messages and chat sessions they had with the company representatives after they received compensation. This would lead to other members with issues demanding the same compensation which in turned caused some companies to withdraw from these forums.
When Facebook and Twitter became wildly used an old problem was given new life. Now anyone could easily create a blog, add hundreds if not thousands of friends via Facebook and followers via Twitter and post about ongoing issues with a company. Sometimes if the issue was serious enough other blogs and websites would pick up on the story and share it on their blogs.
This was a serious problem for companies because these complaints spread quickly as they were shared throughout the internet from website to blog to forum. Again teams were create to search out these customers and try to get them to stop posting. Some customers took it to the extreme and create hate sites which were only about complaining about a specific company.
At this point companies began coming up with different ways to deal with these issues. Some would give almost any compensation if the customer agreed to remove the criticism and or post something positive about the company. Large companies decided to abandon the field teams altogether feeling that even responding to complaints would just fuel the fire.
Step 8, Embody Integrity, also took on a different meaning depending on the company. Smaller companies would still seek to help their customer and engage critics on websites where as large companies felt it was not worth it.
It was easier to respond to BBB complaints and keep issues internal and ignore external complaints unless it was picked up by a major outlet. The result was larger companies receiving a lower customer service score, but this would be compared to sales and if the company felt the low score was not affecting the bottom line then no changes would be made.
Today there has been some pushback to larger companies who ignore or mistreat their customers, but as more and more companies merge there are fewer places for customers to take their hard eared cash.
It has become cheaper to cut back on customer service and instead put that money into marketing and sales. The idea is that if you only see commercials and ads you are less likely to see complaints. Some fault is also put on those who looked to take advantage of compensation policies by creating websites or blogs for small issues hoping to get something for free from the company.
Unfortunately the end result is customer service is looked upon even more as a waste of money for companies. This is why most customer service centers are overseas and the few located in the U.S. are understaffed.
The BBB can do little to help the customer and with economic hardships all around us many customers will return to the same companies that mistreated them because they have the lowest price.
The best thing to do is fully research any company you wish to do business with. Sometimes you will need to spend a little more if good customer service is important to you, but beware of some companies offering you “premium support” for a higher cost. These services are the same you would have received ten years ago for free, but have to pay out of pocket for today.
The Death of Customer service series will continue as we move into other aspects of dwindling support and service. If you have any issues you would like to see discussed please contact us via e-mail.