The Problem With Empowering The Customer

by Jason Falls |

My friend Edward Boches had a crappy experience at a Marriott Hotel last week. Like any good content producer, he blogged about it. Social media more than any other communications mechanism before has done more for placing market control back in the hands of the consumer. The barrier to entry to the web is a pulse and scant brain waves. If you are moderately functional, you can publish.

Boches, who has far more brain waves than most of us, offered a fantastic suggestion to any business in his post. He saw through his frustration to offer up a customer bill of rights of sorts for Marriott. He suggested it look something like this:

1. We guarantee your satisfaction.

2. We guarantee your room will be clean and that everything works: the clock, TV, lamps, bathroom.

3. If for any reason your stay with us was unsatisfactory we will make it up with comparable accommodations on us.

4. We will take any complaint and suggestion seriously and respond as quickly as humanly possible.

5. We encourage you to Tweet, blog, and post images and video of anything you find below standards or unresolved.

Edward Boches
Edward Boches. Image by Bob_Collins via Flickr

Certainly, the customer bill of rights idea is noble. Many of us in the power-to-the-consumer world of social media immediately nodded and virtually high-fived Boches for the concept, even if it was less original and more a reminder of what companies should be doing.

When Boches got his response from Marriott and they offered apologies and explanations and engaged commentors on his original post, he followed up with a lessons learned kind of story. In it, he offered these thoughts for customers to keep in mind as a sort of quid pro quo for brands who grovel accordingly:

We should make our issues public.

It’s smarter to offer suggestions than criticism.

We should welcome any brand or individual who tries to learn and engage.

If we want brands to deliver better service, it’s partly our responsibility to guide them there and hold them to it.

And the congregation said, “Amen.” Right?

Maybe not.

While I’m certainly supportive of the idea that brand should treat their customers with the utmost care and respect, least they flee to hungry competitors or even to the interwebs to vent their frustrations with them, I think enumerating these ideas as requisites for the general consuming public is idyllic and naive. For every consummate professional out there (like Boches), there exists about 15 dipshits who will only bitch to bitch. Or bitch to get free stuff.

The customer is not always right. In fact, sometimes the customer is quite an asshole.

Should consumers hold brands to a higher standard? Yes. Should we unleash the huddled masses, trailer trash and mouth-breathers on Twitter and Facebook and blogs to whine about every misstep or oversight they encountered while buying Natty Light and Marlboro Light 100s at the Circle K? I’m thinking no. Half their problem is that they wouldn’t have hurt themselves stepping on the pop-top if they were wearing shoes, or were paying attention to where they stepped rather than yelling at their baby-daddy on the prepaid cell.

Yes, the portrait is exaggerated, but to illustrate a point. Not everyone is a civilized consumer. Not everyone plays fair. And this country is as mired in moany, bitchy negativity as it frankly needs to be, in my opinion.

Maybe I’m just having a bad week, but there’s a big difference is a polite blog post pointing out a bad consumer experience and a web full of Springer plots.

Thanks to Boches for opening the dialog. Thanks to Marriott for learning from the experience and participating in the conversation. But don’t we owe it to our sanity to establish some limits? Or is sufficient brain waves to figure out how to publish online enough?

A penny for your thoughts … unless you’re barefoot in public. The money would be better spend on footware. Heh.

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About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).