Friday 15 December 2017

Everything has changed

Things have changed. Massively. Irreversibly.

Frankly it doesn’t matter whether you approve or not, the entire customer service landscape has been overturned by an earthquake. An earthquake called Facebook.

A member of our Facebook group recently commented that when consumers have a complaint about the service they have received, instead of posting their complaint on Facebook, they should:
“first consult people who are working in that place rather than rushing to this portal. How will we learn to correct our mistakes as service providers or as we serve you as customers? I have also realised that most people who rush to report, are those that are stressed with different stresses, eg money, being dumped. Know that where your rights end, someone’s rights start.”
To some extent I agree with this person. When we get bad service we probably should raise it with the people at the store, business or office where we feel we were abused or mistreated. But that’s not always possible, is it? If we bought a pizza or chicken meal and only realised it was sub-standard when we got home, must we really drive all the way back to the restaurant to complain? Must we really find the right phone number and stay on hold to speak to the right person to lodge our issue? Must someone who is naturally meek and reserved really summon up the courage to confront a store manager they find intimidating?

I don’t think so.

It surprises me that in 2017, almost in 2018, you still can enter a store, a government office or a bank and still see their framed complaints procedure nailed to the wall. While dictating how your customers were permitted to complain might have worked last century, perhaps even two or three years ago, it doesn’t work today. Complaints procedures have gone. Like carbon paper, floppy disks and smallpox, complaints procedures have been relegated to the past.

Despite this you can still see multiple-stage complaints policies being published. Recently a consumer sent us the complaints procedure she had seen in a public hospital. It had nine steps. The first person to receive your complaint should apparently be the Supervisor in Charge. If that didn’t resolve your problem you should then escalate your complaint to the PR Officer, the Hospital Manager, the Hospital Superintendent, the Ministry HQ toll-free number, the Deputy Permanent Secretary, the Permanent Secretary, the Minister and finally to the Office of the President.

My view is that any complaints procedure with nine steps has at least six steps too many. Until recently we suggested that instead of any complaints procedure like that one, consumers should; adopt the Official Consumer Watchdog Three Step Consumer Complaints Procedure.
  1. Step 1. Complain to the individual who offended you. Whether it was the nurse who ignored your suffering, the rude waiter or the vanishing bank teller, that person is the person to whom you should first complain. If they refuse to accept your complaint or don’t show suitable humility and contrition, go to Step 2.
  2. Step 2. Complain to the most senior person in the building. Their title will be something like “Branch Manager”, “Hospital Manager” or “Restaurant Manager”. Don’t bother with supervisors, administrators or team leaders, only the most senior person will do. If they don’t fix the problem, go to Step 3.
  3. Step 3. Complain to the most senior person in the entire organization. Their job title will be something like “Managing Director”, “Chief Executive Officer” or “Minister”. It must be someone who has the capacity to frighten the person who originally offended you.
But that was in the past. The Official Consumer Watchdog Three Step Consumer Complaints Procedure is now also a thing of the past.

It has now been replaced with the Official Consumer Watchdog ONE Step Consumer Complaints Procedure.
  1. Step 1. Complain however you feel like complaining.
There is no Step 2.

That means if you want to complain on Facebook, you’re entitled to do so, despite what anyone else might tell you. Whether you or suppliers like it, whether you’ve joined or not, whether you think it’s a good or a bad thing, Facebook is here to stay and everyone had better get used to it and if a consumer chooses to post their complaint there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

But there are still some people who are resistant. Some just have an aversion to technology while others seem to have a suspicion that Facebook brings with it threats to their way of life and that it offers nothing more than trivia, obscenity and offence.

I’ve got news for those people. That’s exactly what some people said about the internet. Before that people were saying it about the video recorder and television, before that about the telephone and the radio and going even further back in history, they said the same thing about newspapers, books and having holy books in the vernacular.

And they were right. All of those things did indeed bring greater levels of risk but more importantly they all also brought even greater levels of education, openness, communication and understanding. All progress comes with an upside and a downside. However, almost always the benefits of progress outweigh the risks and that’s particularly true of the internet and Facebook.

Facebook’s critics will say that the content is trivial, bizarre and offensive and again, that’s all true but that’s a bit like everyday life. Not every conversation we have is important. Most conversations are trivial, some are bizarre and others are occasionally offensive.

But think of what Facebook offers us. Never before have the majority of our population been able to converse with one another so easily. Never before has it been so easy to chat to friends, relatives and workmates when they’re far from us. Never before has it been so easy to meet and grow to understand people different from us.

So get on with it. I don’t know if Facebook will still be with us in ten years time but I know this. Something like Facebook will be. There will be an online conversation forum where your customers will be talking about you, sometimes saying nice things but much more often saying nasty things. Your choice is whether you want to listen to them or not. And perhaps even fix some problems and make yourself look good. Get used to it.

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