Today, when I read the news on CNN.com, one of the stories I came across drew my attention and got me thinking about how customer service has gone horribly awry. The story was entitled “Kansas teen won’t apologize to governor’s office for Twitter post“. The premise behind this story was an eighteen-year old girl named Emma Sullivan apparently wrote a tweet that Kansas state governor Sam Brownback‘s team felt was disparaging and took action against her.
Wait, the governor’s office took action against an 18 year old girl because of what she tweeted? What could she have possibly done that could have sought retaliation from the leader of the state? Clearly the tweet sent must have endangered state or national security, right? Nope. Was it threatening or harassing to the point where legal steps had to be taken? Nope. Was it defaming or was it libel in any way? Nope. So what was this damaging tweet that forced Governor Brownback’s office to contact Ms. Sullivan’s high school principal, which resulted in this girl being asked to write a written apology for?
Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.
Perhaps that wording was probably rude, but I think that this tweet did not warrant the state governor’s office to implement crisis control to get a handle on the situation. The fact that they collaborated with Ms. Sullivan’s high school principal to try and force a written apology from her was weak and ill-advised. Moreover, it trampled on the student’s First Amendment rights. In fact, this effort highlights a few things about how to handle social media…first, the governor’s office overreacted, which they clearly acknowledged with Governor Brownback issuing an apology today; and second, that trying to browbeat your dissenters, regardless of the industry that you’re in (politics, consumer packaged goods, non-profits, automotive/transportation, etc.), is never a good idea because it will come up and bite you in the end – you’re going to need to learn how to engage instead of trying to silence your critics.
Engagement works out better than censorship when it comes to customer relations. By making yourself feel like you’re part of the conversation and dialogue that’s taking place, you’re going to help promote your presence and your critics won’t necessarily feel threatened that you’re not listening to them. Kill their doubts with your sincerity and you’ll have a more constructive dialogue. By trying to make all feedback about your brand and products rosy and full of sunshine does nothing but to cause people to suspect that it’s not all truthful. And trying to do that through the use of social media is also definitely ill-advised. Companies should not think that they can control the message in the world of social media — in fact, it’s quite the opposite: the customers are the ones that have greater control over your message. They help interpret what your message is and whether you’re successful or not.
The next time that people decide to criticize your brand or product, make sure that you are listening to what they’re saying and acknowledge their feelings. Open a dialogue with them and try and convince them of what you think is the right course of action and how you might be able to convince them your way is correct.There’s nothing wrong with being civil with each other. What’s more, monitoring what you see online and when people say some harsh things about you, don’t try and censor what is happening as well. Social media cannot be censored as that will only enflame the situation further.
If you want respect from your customers, then find a way to earn it from them. Don’t force people to retract what they said just to make it more positive than what it really is.
No one likes a bully.