In modern times, when everyone and their grandmother is online and the internet is a primary resource for information about a product or service, it’s more important than ever to ensure that you are aware of your online reputation. As I reported a few days ago, Facebook, a leading online service, has proven recently that it uses modern channels to listen to what its users are saying and to join in with online discussion.
More and more businesses are actively monitoring the internet to see what people are saying about them and their services. Companies like Cablecom – who have had a difficult time with their customer service reputation here in Switzerland over the past couple of years – are not only following up on blog posts and online discussion but also contacting those who report bad experience in order to try and improve the situation and fix problems. Merely being pro-active in trying times is a good sign that even where a company has made mistakes, they are doing their best to correct what’s gone wrong.
Opening up online discussion has pitfalls and it’s important to remember that it’s just as important to make sure that online customer support follows the same general guidelines as in any other customer service environment. Customer-facing representatives must be fully trained in how to deal with complaints, as they as the public face of the company in situations which are potentially stressful and ripe for negative publicity.
A recent example is that of airline Ryanair, who have a less than perfect record for customer service, which won’t be improved by a recent online episode. Jason Roe, a web developer in Ireland, spotted a suspected flaw in the online booking system which appeared to allow users to book flights for â‚¬0.00. Jason posted the flaw to his blog and was spotted by an anonymous member of Ryanair staff, who promptly proceeded to show why only trained members of the customer service team should deal with potentially problematic situations. In a series of comments on Jason’s website, the staff member (who was confirmed as a member of Ryanair staff through tracking the I.P. address of their computer to Ryanair headquarters) begins by responding in perhaps the least professional terms I’ve seen:
jason! you’re an idiot and a liar!! […] what self respecting developer uses a crappy CMS such as word press anyway AND puts they’re mobile ph number online, i suppose even a prank call is better than nothing on a lonely sat evening!!
The “anonymous” commenter (or commenters) continued in a similar vein throughout the comments section; whereas Jason and the visitors to the site have perhaps justifiably angered Ryanair by publishing a potential security hole in their system, the situation would be better handled officially from the start. The original blog entry, which went online a few days ago, had drawn nearly 120 comments at the time of my writing this article, and it has already begun gaining more online visibility; not just from bloggers, but also from respected British national daily newspapers The Telegraph and Times Online. Searching for Ryanair at google.com already returns a series of negative responses within the first few results.
The official statement from Ryanair, published in the aforementioned Telegraph article, will do little to help improve the corporate image of the airline:
Ryanair can confirm that a Ryanair staff member did engage in a blog discussion. It is Ryanair policy not to waste time and energy in corresponding with idiot bloggers and Ryanair can confirm that it won’t be happening again. Lunatic bloggers can have the blog sphere all to themselves as our people are far too busy driving down the cost of air travel.
Update: Hans Kullin of Burson-Marsteller Sweden has written the following two blog posts on previous Ryanair customer service issues: