Neglectful Listening

I got a great surprise after a poor response to a bad surprise.

After updating Android on my cell phone, Google Maps began aborting. Being a reformed tech guru, I naturally wasted a lot of hours combing through message boards to determine if I could fix it myself instead of throwing the phone at my carrier and demanding that their technically suspect store clerks do the repairs.

After a while it became clear that the bug was in a new graphics driver, and thus was caused not by my carrier, Google or even the handset maker. I penned a letter to the president of the carrier company, politely explaining that as the vendor and integrator of record, they needed to fix their products, regardless of who broke it. Realizing that the solution lay somewhere between Google, the chipset vendor, the handset maker and my carrier, I was not expecting quick action, especially since reports of the problem on the carrier’s customer forum web site had been raging for a while.

So I was surprised to get a phone call from their product manager and four days later received a new phone with twice the CPU and memory, eight times the storage and a different chipset that didn’t manifest the same defect.

Every customer interaction defines your brand. Until I took the time to send snailmail to the carrier’s president, my interactions with them had been fruitless. It is damaging to prop-up a customer self-help forum and assign monitors when complaints and product defects posted there are not addressed. In other words, pretending to listen is worse than not listening at all (and to Google’s credit, they say up front that they don’t listen to many of their sponsored forums). The sense of abandonment customers experience when false fronts mascaraed as support ports is palpable. In the forum hosted by my carrier, some threads border on open rebellion due to long-standing issues with no feedback or help from the vendor.

Contrary, when the product manager called, I was more than satisfied. Even if a fix was not immediate, I was willing to work with the vendor and even assist in their debugging. Their willingness (albeit forced by my letter) was a sign of customer commitment. When the product manager took that extraordinary extra step to resolve the problem by giving me a better phone, I was extremely impressed. He single handedly rescued a negative customer interaction and salvaged his company’s brand.

Your brand hangs on every interaction, or lack thereof. When erecting online points of interaction, state clearly if you will or will not be participating, and if you are, do it fully. Listening requires upward or lateral action, not the mere appearance of participation.


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