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BLOGSocial Media Carrot and Stick

by Randall CraigFiled in: Blog, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Management, Social MediaTagged as: , ,

While corporations are trying to figure out how to use the Social Media carrot to entice their customers to buy, their customers are using a powerful Social Media stick when it comes to expressing their disappointment and dissatisfaction.

In the olden days, corporate policy may have been the customer is always right. Today it is a bit different: no returns beyond 30 days, and no returns without the bill. At Costco, a ‘prison warden’ inspects your purchases and cash register tape before you can leave the premises. And if you wish to cancel your cell phone or internet service prepare to be soaked for hundreds of dollars. A wonderful corporate policy that assumes the customer is always wrong.

So it isn’t surprising, therefore, that customers are also developing “policy”: armed with smartphones with Facebook-a-ready, they are documenting, sharing, liking, commenting, and virally broadcasting their experience. Witness, several years ago when a sleeping transit worker was caught sleeping on the job in his subway booth. Embarrassing for all concerned.

With this in mind, I found myself on the transit system recently where a simple question to a subway booth attendant was answered in a “non-customer-friendly” and nonsensical way.  Here’s the dilemma: do you record the event on your smartphone? Do you take a picture of the offending employee? Or do you do nothing?

In this particular case I took a picture, but decided not to publish it. With 10K + readers of this blog, the “slap” of public embarrassment for the operator would (in my judgement) be excessive.

On the other hand, other people may choose differently. This is why customer service and Social Media training for all employees is so critical – especially those in front-line roles. It’s not just the CEO and the PR person who “speak” for the organization – all employees do. And those on the front line will always be held accountable in the court of public Social Media opinion.

Today, we find that policies designed to protect the organization (“The customer is always wrong“) have whittled away loyalty so much that it isn’t surprising that customers are so quickly wielding their Social Media stick.

Hint to Corporate America: fixing your real-world problems must happen in the real world. Investing in Social Media in order to build loyalty can only go so far, when front-line staff or the policies they enforce are idiotic, unfeeling, or disrespectful. (This brings to mind the idea of putting digital lipstick on a pig; in the end, no matter how much you put on, it’s still a pig…)


As an individual, how strong a stick do you wield? And do you also wield carrots? As an organization, how much easier would your Digital strategy be if you weren’t fighting a rearguard action due to poorly thought-through real-world policies and practices. This week, spend some time on the front-lines, thinking like a customer…with a smartphone.

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