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Is complaining publicly the best way to get customer service?

by David Spark on May 18, 2010

A few days ago I wrote a blog post regarding TechDirt’s story about the video Paramount had pulled down of a fan who shot a video of the filming of the third Transformers movie. The post was entitled, “Why do the ‘They still don’t get it’ stories persist?” In the post I asserted that Viacom was flexing its legal muscle, squashing commentary, and apparently pulling content down solely because it was tagged with certain metadata, such as “Transformers,” whether they owned it or not.

One can fight to get their content posted back again, but it’s an uphill battle and sometimes fruitless. If the content is timely, the action of pulling it down whether authorized or not, has castrated its impact. Often people don’t bother fighting to get their content reposted because they either don’t have the time, money, or it’s not worth the effort.

I compared the Paramount-Transformers fan video “take down” to a case that I had where Viacom pulled down a video I had produced about “The Daily Show” for the now defunct cable network ZDTV. Viacom had no right to the content. It was a news piece about “The Daily Show” and they pulled it down. I didn’t mention this in my previous post, but after YouTube pulled down my ZDTV video per Viacom’s orders, I sent a note back saying that Viacom had no rights to the video. I was completely ignored and I didn’t follow up because in the take down notice I was warned that if I tried to repost the offending video they would delete my account.

Conversely, I recently received a note from YouTube saying that one of my videos (see below) had surpassed a critical viewing mark (25,000 views) thereby making me eligible for their advertising revenue share program. Problem is I don’t have full rights to that video. It’s ultimately owned by The History Channel. But I modified it as an edited resume clip (45 seconds) of my entire appearance in an episode of “Man, Moment, Machine: Apollo 13.” It’s my one and only TV acting role. I played the part of Sy Liebergot, the scientist who realized that the crap was hitting the fan with the astronauts on the Apollo 13 mission.

You following all of this? Viacom tells YouTube to remove a video of mine that they don’t own. And YouTube is offering me money for The History Channel’s content.

Traditional customer service is broken. Satisfaction is possible through public complaining.

Today, I was contacted directly by a communications VP over at Viacom who apologized for my ZDTV “Daily Show” video being taken down. He also asserted that they do not pull content down purely based on meta information (e.g. the name “Daily Show” or “Transformers”). Understandably, they’re not eager to squash any discussion. Although I asserted that by demanding content be taken down that’s obviously not theirs, what is one supposed to think? Also, how does one get their content put back up when it’s removed? At the time, I went through the traditional channels to get my content reinstated, but YouTube ignored me.

Close up of a man talking on the phone

Four years later I write a post expressing my frustration with my video’s removal and a VP from Viacom contacts me to apologize. He goes through the extra work to find out the problem. Claims he doesn’t know how it happened but sends me a personal note apologizing and that they’ll repost it. Although he’s not sure when that will happen. I asked if I will receive a note alerting me to the reposting.

This is yet another case of broken or non-existent customer service. I tried to go the traditional route (contact customer service) and it failed, so I publicly complained (write a blog post), and it succeeds.

We now have a new outlet for customer service: complaining publicly

I’ve written about this type of behavior before with regard to HP (see “Why I love public transportation and hate HP” and the response). In that case, I was very frustrated with HP’s customer service and I couldn’t get any satisfaction through their normal channels so I wrote a public story. I wasn’t looking to get anything fixed because I ultimately got my problem fixed. It was just the process to get there, a two hour hold on the phone, was aggravating. So I wrote about that.

Multiple people from HP contacted me to apologize and they gave me a very dry official unsatisfactory response. Although one person person who contacted me from HP was extremely nice and went out of his way to help me get my wife’s HP notebook computer fixed.

On Mashable, I wrote about a similar case of a woman who complained to DirecTV customer service about an installation. She didn’t get any satisfaction so she tweeted out her frustration. That tweet was immediately seen by the higher ups and immediately she got two senior installation people to her home to fix the problem.

It’s so much easier to just complain

A company’s customer service department used to be the only outlet to get satisfaction. But now that we have social media, complaints through that channel get recognized through social media monitoring tools. And you know who looks at those search results? Marketing directors and VPs, not low level customer service people who really have nothing invested in the company, like a profit sharing plan. Here are the situations where people will lean on social media:

  • If somebody doesn’t get their problem solved through official channels, they’ll complain via social media.
  • If somebody can’t figure out how to get their problem solved through official channels, they’ll complain via social media.
  • If the traditional process to get their problem solved is too long or cumbersome, they’ll complain via social media.

You’ll never get a VP answering your customer service call, but they will monitor social media search results. And if it’s critical enough, they’ll contact you directly. No need for you to pick up the phone.

It is for that reason so many people have found greater customer satisfaction through complaining publicly.

Ever read a great customer service story about how someone helped somebody over the phone via a normal customer service channel?

Neither have I.

All great stories about customer service today happen over social media.

Photo attribution: CC Phil Dowsing / eco-photography

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