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Why companies are more prone to social media crisis

 Why would a business deflect the opportunity to speak to customers?

I got an email today, no two, from vendors.  You know the kind…the emails from no-reply@company.com.

Digital River sent me one today that closes by saying, “This email message was sent from a notification-only address that cannot accept incoming email. Please do not reply to this message.”  Likewise, Dominion, who has had social media crisis events previously, wrote “Please do not reply to this message; it is simply a courtesy reminder.”

Companies are full of tactics like this – the endless phone tree mazes of press this number or that number – that customers must navigate in an endeavor to reach a live human being.  It’s a waste of time.  No wonder so many customers turn into social media complainers.

Just yesterday, PR Daily’s Michael Sebastian wrote a post titled, For brands, it’s the Teflon Age of PR disasters.  He begins by saying, “Mini-public-relations crises flare up constantly” – and that’s true, but there’s a cause.  I’m suggesting when companies send emails from no-reply addresses, it’s logical to wager that’s a systemic indication that that company is also going to be prone to online flare ups.

I understand why this happens – companies want to reduce cost.  Call centers with real people, even the offshore type, can be a costly business expense, but it can also set up for long term disasters.  In other words, businesses are not solving the problem, they are just shifting costs from one department to the other and that creates the illusion of savings in the short run.  It’s dangerous territory.

Jeff Jarvis writes an excellent case study about Dell’s call center turnaround in his book, What Would Google Do?  It’s a great story, Jeff, but about Google…have you ever tried to call Google?  Good luck!

The question that rings out in my mind is this:  why wouldn’t a company want to use that opportunity to talk to customers? To learn what’s on their mind?  Do product managers have all the answers that conversations with customers are no longer needed?  I’d contend that anomalies developed in customer absentia, like Sony Walkmans and PostIt Notes, only come once every 20 years.

Live humans are one thing I like about my bank, USAA, which is one of the few companies that in my humble opinion, does it right.  I can always press zero for a real person, and given the Web tools that we have today, when I call, it’s usually because it’s a problem that only a real person has to solve.

There’s one more thing, when USAA has solve the problem they always finish up with one question:  is there anything else I can help you with?

Sure there’s a place for automation to keep costs low, but there’s got to be some middle ground too, or a company is just begging for a PR disaster.  And disasters cost money.

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2 Responses

  1. GrantCrowell

    Enjoyed this post and share in your lamentation-cum-indignation in how many Enterprises still  make person-to-person engagement difficult if not impossible, which defeats the whole point of doing social media or any other aspects of social business. My question is, does PR need to evolve where it comes with a promise of direct engagement with individuals who are part of the market they want to reach, as well as those who are affected otherwise and want to be heard and responded to? 

    1.  @GrantCrowell Well a couple things here — first, businesses that avoid direct engagement via traditional methods (phone, email, etc), are probably less likely to be engaged on social media.  They’ll never see the hit coming until they have a groundswell. 
      If they are involved in social media, they are just shifting the cost from the call center to whoever is managing the social world.  In terms of process, companies should have several groups active on social media.
      PR pros need to be adept at customer support, but if support is also online, they can hand that off so PR doesn’t spend it’s entire day being reactive; ideally PR is proactive. 
      In my view of the world, I like to think PR is the social champion — they get buy in, they lobby for policy, they coach other departments and ensure cross-function integration (support, sales, marketing, HR, etc.).

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