Companies like to boast about ‘listening’ to their customers, but in my experience most of it’s just hot air. Have you ever changed a company’s mind, or got them to answer your question honestly?
A while ago Hannah Jolliffe wrote about social networks, and how companies weren’t engaging with their customers as well as they could. I think that’s a bit of an understatement.
In my experience companies tend to use social networks, blog posts, and videos to make themselves seem friendly and approachable, while at the same time masterfully avoiding discussion of the issues that really matter to their customers.
A typical comment exchange might go something along these lines:
Customer: Hey, why have you started charging extra for paying by card?
Company: Thanks for your question. Along with other companies in this industry, we’ve recently started charging extra for paying by card.
They must know this sort of answer won’t satisfy the average consumer, but it’s the sort of response people regularly receive, not just in the public sphere but in letters and emails too. Why do we put up with it?
British Gas – what was the question again?
When British Gas announced soaring profits of 24% last week there was obviously a scramble in their web team. Their managing director quickly appeared on YouTube offering to answer questions if people posted them in.
This is the sort of thing I love to see – companies who are willing to go a step beyond just putting out a press release and then running away. When they join in the discussion we know we’re not just throwing money at a faceless corporation. So my hat is well and truly off to them.
But, and it’s quite a big ‘but’, in practice British Gas wasn’t nearly as open as I’d hoped. They edited questions down to simple bite-sized chunks, then gave media-savvy answers that didn’t get to the meat of the issue. Having promised “We’re listening!” this was a bit of a let-down.
Could customers post follow-up comments? Of course not. British Gas, it seems, is only listening sometimes.
Twitter – the 140 character distraction
Some people have reported success with pestering companies over Twitter, receiving refunds or free products when their complaints have been picked up online. But not everyone’s doing it well – we alerted Thomas Cook to a customer request recently, and they responded by helpfully linking to the ‘contact us’ page on their website.
Part of the problem with this is that most companies have web teams to run their social media accounts, and the web teams are almost never in the position to really help. I always give bonus points to real bosses using social media, and chatting to their customers directly.
So are companies really listening? I’m sceptical. Most of the time I feel upset for their no doubt frustrated web teams – they’re trying to placate customers, but have little or no power to do anything about their problems.
Often the ‘listening’ face of a company is nothing more than an extra hurdle for us to jump over. I live in hope that someone will prove me wrong.