Happy Customers Tell 3 Friends, Unhappy Customers Tell Google

Last year, I spoke of the need to synchronize Social Media and Customer Service channels.  The topic continues to come up.  Jeremiah Owyang of Altimeter Group took up the issue a few months later.  And Pete Blackshaw wrote a book about it, called, “Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000.”  More recently, Jeremiah reminded me of this issue again with a tweet that nails the challenge:

When brands support customers on Twitter, they’re reinforcing the behavior of “complaining to their friends” to get brand attention.

And of course, as you can tell from the title of this post, what marketers need to fear is “complaints among friends” that occur online will translate into a search engine result that could haunt them for a while, especially as real-time results from Twitter, etc., become an increasingly higher-profile IStock_000008257842XSmallpart of the mix of organic search results.

But while Jeremiah is absolutely correct that brands are reinforcing “bad” behavior by supporting their customers in public, as we recently learned from Apple, it’s an even worse idea to try to circumvent what has become natural consumer behavior online.

For my part, I think you need to fish where the fish are: if customers complain in public, the brand should triage that issue in public, so that the millions of potential online bystanders can see a diligent, respectful effort is being made. 

That doesn’t mean “engage the haters.” 

The rule of thumb that SHIFT advocates to clients is, “Engage anyone 1 – 2x in public forums; take it offline when possible to resolve the issues in a more practical way; know that ‘haters’ will reveal themselves, so any reasonable person will see that at least the brand made a solid attempt to appease them.”

Yea, this is wildly hard to scale for a consumer company, but it can be done in stages.  Most folks just want to know they are being heard; they’ll be patient for a solution that they know is coming, but tend to grow heated when they feel ignored.  It’s the I-Feel-Ignored customers that you need to be most wary of; they will make it their mission to shame the brand into a public response.  Thus even the most resource-strapped organization should scrape together the resources to be able to monitor and respond with “placeholder” messages to their customers: “Sorry to hear about your frustrations! Let’s take this offline and see how we can help.”

That’s the Google result you want your prospects to see.  Anytime a Google search result rolls up “(Brand) Sucks” the next thing prospects should see is a polite and friendly response.  “Sorry you feel that way.  Let’s talk offline about how we can do better?”

Posted on: July 14, 2010 at 3:00 pm By Todd Defren
18 Responses to “Happy Customers Tell 3 Friends, Unhappy Customers Tell Google”


  • John davis says:

    There is also the fact that if you have the unfortunate fortune of landing up on Rip-Off Report (http://www.ripoffreport.com), and you are not a large entity like Apple, it will completely destroy your business and it is impossible to get off the first page of Google searches.

    I had a client who had a dispute with one of their customers. When it didn’t go in the customer’s favor, he took to Rip-Off Report and made libelous claims about my client’s business, even going so far as to create multiple aliases to appear to be different clients. Even though my client eventually won a small claims suit against his customer, six months later my client was out of business, and has yet to find a job because of the claims made on Rip-Off Report.

    The information age is a two-way street, and sites that may help people from fraudulent businesses such as ROR are also used to destroy reputations.

  • great post, thanks!

    An example that proves this point is Kodak. I read this article: http://www.businessinsider.com/kodaks-new-mojo-jeffrey-hayzlett-on-social-media-and-sharing-2010-5 in which they show the evolution before and after they joined the conversation on social media.

    Before they answered, about 40% of the online comments were negative. As soon as they joined these discussions, the percentage of negative comments decreased to 7%.

  • Kelly Rusk says:

    I definitely agree that a response asking to take it offline is the best response…

    I also think that brands can work pro-actively to create happy customers via social media that can out-weigh complaints as well.

    A great (even if a little old) example is @Freshbooks, who, after a client tweeted that she had been stood up on a date, the company sent her flowers with a cute note that said something like “we’d never stand you up!” She was so touched by this, she felt the need to blog and tweet about it.

    Also important to note this customer was not a big online influencer by any definition, just a regular old customer who spends time on Twitter.

  • Very interesting post. The real danger lies in the bravado of the social media pioneers who want to establish their influence and will increasingly pick fights with companies to demonstrate their pulling power: “help me or else…” As you say, learning how to handle these influencers has become critical

  • Paige Holden says:

    Hi Todd,

    Great post and so timely. I agree with every point you’ve made and, actually, got into a debate on this very issue not too long ago. You can see it here if you are interested (although, it’s a little long) http://www.movingscam.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=19327&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=0

    It’s hard for the moving industry to consider addressing complaints online because of rules and regulations, but also because the industry has caught a really bad rep with all the bad movers out there now. Still, I think it is absolutely critical and will continue to encourage engaging where the fish are, no matter what.


  • This can be a tail wagging the dog. It’s a place where social media needs to be careful. I had a conversation with a large restauranteur, with a variety of different places catering to different market segments. I was partly surprised, but not stunned when he said about negative comments, “most of them are from competitors. We check our products constantly and have customer service training and performance reviews regularly. We counter act negative comments with positive comments of our own or friends.”

    In many situations I have seen the successful business owners treat social media as a potential distraction. I’m not throwing social media baby out with the bath water, it’s just a condition that needs to be understood.

  • Arik Hanson says:

    Just had an example of this yesterday–nice timing. I was having lunch with a friend at a local restaurant. First thing she says when I sit down: Have you seen this restaurant’s Twitter stream? After taking a quick peek, we both noticed a number of replies noting “sorry you feel that way, what can we do to improve your next experience.” My initial reaction was, “Wow, maybe this place isn’t so great after all if all these people are complaining.” But, then I thought–what are they supposed to do–ignore people who are tweeting them about their experience? Of course not. It certainly doesn’t do their stream any favors, but it does show they’re listening and responding in a timely manner. And, I think there’s a lot to be said for that when it comes to consumer perception.


    • Todd Defren says:

      So how was the meal??

    • @Arik – Gosh! I wish more companies would do this with their Twitter streams. It seems like perhaps they might get a lot of negativity in the beginning, but once the crowds realized they were listening and were responding I think they would get a lot of positive feedback if more people would just “man up” and embrace the criticism.

  • The rule of thumb that SHIFT advocates to clients is, “Engage anyone 1 – 2x in public forums; take it offline when possible to resolve the issues in a more practical way; know that ‘haters’ will reveal themselves, so any reasonable person will see that at least the brand made a solid attempt to appease them.”

    Wow, that is really sound advice, Todd. (For the record, I don’t mean wow like “I can’t believe you actually came up with sound advice”. I mean “Wow, that captures it perfectly!”)

  • This is so timely! I have a client who just purchased this book. I’m working with a retail chain who grew very quickly, without ever taking a strategic approach to PR or marketing. They just grew. Now, they’re beginning to realize how fast word (good and bad) spreads, and that it’s SO permanent. You can’t erase google! :) This realization has totally changed how the company approaches internal and external communication. I think that’s the first step to achieve what you describe, where that second result shows that the company is listening and paying attention.


    • Todd Defren says:

      I love it when you stop by, thx.

      Re: This realization has totally changed how the company approaches internal and external communication.

      How awesome is that? They’re figuring it out early, and will reap the benefits!

  • I think the important thing when it comes to responding in public is to try to treat everybody equally. It seems like brands who will drop everything for a big influencer will happily ignore someone without several thousand followers.

    I had a bad customer service experience with a big brand about a year ago and was griping about it on Twitter because I just had an exasperating phone call. I wasn’t looking for an instant resolution over Twitter or anything, because I don’t necessarily believe that complainers should automatically be pacified, but I’m followed by several people who work for said brand (including their community manager) and none of them so much as blinked an eye at me over my comments. It really soured my opinion of them.

Leave a Reply

Show some social media love would ya?

RSS logo Subscribe by Email

RSS logo RSS Feed


PostRank Topblogs 2009 - #3 in PR

View Todd 

Defren's profile on LinkedIn