Unhappy Customers Complain

02/13/2009

The last few days I’ve had a lot of interesting conversations about Twitter because what I am now referring to as “the incident”.  This has already discussed way beyond what it deserves but there is one point that has been missed that I feel like I need to clarify.

The reporter did not call me because I was in marketing.  He called me to comment on a story he was writing about an ex-employer of mine.  He called late in the afternoon and I returned his call the next day right after I picked up his message.  I happened to be in a meeting that went ran all afternoon and later into the evening.  If Obama had have called me that afternoon, he also would not have gotten a call back until the next morning. I don’t have an admin doing this stuff for me and I don’t do PR so when you call me sometimes it takes a day for me to return your calls.

He answered the phone and was extremely rude to me.  He yelled at me.  He cursed at me.  I have the feeling he had forgotten why he called me and thought I was a PR person who should have returned his call within an hour instead of a day, instead of a regular citizen that happens to be an ex-employee of a company that he covers for his newspaper.

He was at work, doing his job representing his company and I had just had an amazingly negative experience.  I complained about it on Twitter without mentioning the reporter’s name nor his publication.  He immediately called me back and cursed at me some more.  From his office.  As a representative of his company.  I complained about his behavior on Twitter again.  He then called me several times and left me an expletive-filled voicemail. From his office.  As a representative of his company.  I could clearly hear his co-workers in the background.  I complained about that one too, again without naming the reporter nor the publication.  Perhaps I should have at that point.

Why did I do that?  Because the exchange was interesting.  I wasn’t trying to egg him on or get him in trouble (I could have easily named him or forwarded his voicemail to his boss if that was what I was trying to accomplish).  It was an interesting example, in my mind, of old media vs. new media.  The reporter was clearly used to being in a position of power where he could treat people any way he wanted without worrying that someone might complain.  It was my way of saying “Hey look, people that work at newspapers think they can curse at people and nobody will write about it.  Didn’t they get the memo that you can’t do that anymore?  Maybe this is why the newspaper business is in trouble.”  This is what I do on Twitter.  I have conversations about things that are happening with me both personally and professionally.  If the reporter hadn’t cursed me out in public on Twitter, that would have been the end of it.  A little interesting conversation about old media/new media.  End of story.

Imagine for a moment that he was not a reporter and I didn’t happen to be in marketing.  Imagine he worked for the phone company and I was calling him back about my cable service.  Would you expect the person on the receiving end to complain about that experience?  You betcha.  Do a search on any brand name and see what’s happening out there.  The world has changed.  In the world today when people have bad experiences with a brand, they complain.  It used to be around the water cooler or in letters to the editor and now they write blog posts about it, they Twitter about it.  And they should.  It’s one of the reasons that larger companies are paying attention to and investing in social media.  It’s happening so you need to participate.

The publication was clearly doing its job when it promptly posted an apology and the reporter did the right thing by deleting the posts.  I understand that people have bad days (I know I have more than my fair share).  I think the reporter has been overly punished for what was really a very small incident.  There will continue to be small incidents like this on blogs, and on Twitter and Facebook and other platforms we haven’t even thought of yet.

As for me, if I am ever on the receiveing end of that kind of treatment from any company, I am darn well going to complain about it.