Thursday, October 2, 2008

Going Viral: Campaigning or Complaining?

We'd like to welcome another guest blogger to the NACCM Blog. Becky Carroll is the founder of Petra Consulting Group, a strategic consultancy helping companies grow through lengthening and strengthening customer relationships. Through her work with companies such as HP, Electronic Arts, and Ford, she has spent a lot of time improving customer experiences, driving increases in marketing results, and helping companies re-think their customer service and support. You can read her blog at

It can be easy to get customer service wrong, with the results sometimes splattered all over the Internet. When I hear this in the news, I think about viral campaigning vs. viral complaining. Here is what that looks like:

In Viral Campaigning... customers tell their friends and family how great your company is.
In Viral Complaining... customers tell anyone who will listen how much they dislike your company.

In Viral Campaigning... loyal customers are turned into raving fans.
In Viral Complaining... loyal customers are turned into frustrated screamers.

Viral Campaigning... spreads slowly, but surely, over time.
Viral Complaining... spreads like wildfire.

Success Factors
Which type of customers your company will have depends on several factors. The following are the top tips for building "viral campaigners":

  • Foster a strong sense of community among customers. Social media is a great tool for helping this to happen quickly. Be sure to go to where your customers are already hanging out online; if they don't have a good virtual meeting spot, invite them to your "house"!

  • Put together a proactive customer strategy. Understanding customer needs and differences will help you figure out how to treat them based on their own preferences. This can be a key competitive differentiator when done well.

  • Meet and exceed customer expectations. This doesn't mean "do everything the customers says". It does mean understand what customers expect and do all you can to exceed those expectations. In order to accomplish this, it is important to properly set expectations up front, empower employees to do what's right, and measure employees based on customer expectations.

A company that has been doing a great job of creating viral campaigners is The CEO of, Tony Hsieh (, has been personally using Twitter and blogging (along with many of his employees) to build stronger customer relationships. His customers regularly evangelize to others; you can see many of their testimonials, as well as their ratings and reviews, on the website. They are indeed raving fans!

Taming Complainers
What can you do when viral complaining happens? The first few company reactions to the complaints can stop the negative words from spreading further. Here are a few tips:

  • Act swiftly. Don't let things simmer for too long! It is important to try and contact the complainer directly or, if that is not possible, respond in the forum where the complaining started.

  • Be honest and sincere. Acknowledge what happened, don't be condescending, and show your human side as much as possible. Customers are more understanding when they are dealing with other people rather than corporations.

  • Keep your ears open for further concerns. Best thing to do is always to be listening to your customers; this way, you will be able to keep track of the "temperature" of customer sentiments.

A company that is working hard to do tame the complainers is Comcast. Frank Eliason ( is in charge of customer care and told me he has been successfully turning around the complainers into customers who care not only for him but for each other. He has had them answer each other's questions when personal matters have called him away from his duties. He also takes time to listen to the 'net. For example, whenever someone complains about Comcast on Twitter, Frank responds with "How can I help?"

Putting Customers First

Whether you have viral campaigners, complainers, or both, it is critical to always listen to customers first and then respond to them through their preferred channels of communication. This helps the campaigners feel that they are appreciated, the complainers feel that they have been heard, and your customer team remain focused on the customer.

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