Healthcare Marketing: Are We Training Unhappy Customers/Patients to Whine on the Web?

Unhappy customers are often finding that using social media sites to complain gets faster and better results than ordinary customer service venues.

A disgruntled JetBlue customer was slapped with a $50 fee for checking a box containing a fold-up bicycle, clothes and some cheese. The box met the height and weight requirements for free baggage but JetBlue’s policy for checking a bicycle called for a $50 fee.  The angry customer called the airline’s customer service center but was repeatedly told the fee was company policy and there were no exceptions.  But then the customer went online to social media sites and complained. It was soon on Twitter and within three days JetBlue called the cyclist to tell him his $50 charged had been reversed.

In the past, a customer complaint was handled usually with a phone call or maybe by email and the matter in question was handled either satisfactorily or unsatisfactorily.  It was done quietly and just between the customer and the company.  But now, consumers have at their disposal, social media.  Now a dissatisfied customer can let the world know about his complaints.  And companies now monitor those online comments and in their desire to stop the flow of bad blood and demonstrate their responsiveness will quickly satisfy an angry customer.  Companies are much more likely to give a favorable response to a customer who has broadcast his complaint over the internet than one who follows the traditional lines of customer service.

Michael Bush addressed this issue in an article in Ad Age.  He cited the above incident as an example of how companies are training customers to take their complaints to the web.  He concludes that those who publicly flog a company on the internet by using social media get faster and better resolution to their issues.

He quotes Pete Blackshaw, EVP of Nielsen Online Digital Strategic Services. “The consumer sees two completely different faces, and ultimately that kills credibility, erodes equity and more.” As a defensive measure brands are much more likely to favorably satisfy a customer complaint that comes through the web than through traditional means and that is creating a huge credibility problem with the brand.

Perhaps companies are training consumers to whine about them on the web.  Why shouldn’t they?  They get a quick and favorable response.  But that is a dangerous precedent. Complaints that come through traditional customer service channels should receive the same treatment as those that appear in social media.  Otherwise we are inviting unhappy consumers to take their dissatisfaction to the web. It’s much better to address and resolve consumer (and patient!) issues in private through traditional customer service channels than to be unresponsive and read about it, on the internet.  Along with the rest of the world.

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