The mutuality of networks

Relationships have to be two-way to be meaningful, otherwise they aren’t a relationship. We need to both give and receive for the connection to be real, for the connection to be purposeful. I’m wary of posting anything that might sound like a diatribe on social media, there other people better qualified in diatribes than I am, but there seems to me to be a disconnect developing between the online and offline approaches to people’s networks.

I’m very lucky to have a close group of neighbours and if one of us is away, another will step in to check the mail, feed an animal or just make sure that everything is ok.  But it is a shared commitment that we all have, unspoken, unrequested, bit critically important to the living breathing community that we have become.  If one neighbour were to constantly be asking for help, but never providing then unless they had some specific reason I’m certain that after a period of time it would become awkward.

Likewise, the business  people who I know in and out of my business also have this mutuality of commitment at the base of their relationships with me.  If I need something, I can call on my network and they will, if they can, come to my assistance.  And of course, I will come to their’s too if it is within my power.  The phrase “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” is often seen in a dim light, but in reality this is at the basis of everything that we do.  It doesn’t have to be now, it doesn’t have to be tomorrow but I’d like to believe that people are there for me.

I had a conversation with Jon Ingham last week about a subject not a million miles away from this.  We don’t hold the same views on influence and connectivity, but we share a lot of overlapping thoughts, opinions and beliefs.  In an online world it is easy to confuse “connections” with connection.  We can have a gazillion followers, or a bazillion “friends” (ok so I made that word up) but the quality of this interface is something that is a lot harder to get at, to measure, to understand. I’m quite happy to connect on LinkedIn with people who I know, know of, or have met.  Likewise I am happy to recommend people who I genuinely WOULD recommend.  Less so those people who wish to do so because I work in HR and they feel that there might be some benefit for them.

But isn’t that a bit…..selfish? If I can help someone, then shouldn’t I try to do so?

Well yes, and no.  I’d like to think that over time, I’ve been helpful to people who I’ve met online. Can I write this? Can I speak at that? Would I have a look at this and tell them what I think? Of course.  The difference is that these people have interacted with me beforehand and I have a belief that if I were to need something in the future, they would reciprocate.  I haven’t “got” anything from them, other than the time of day and a bit of a chat about XY and Z, but the intention in approaching wasn’t about what they could get, that came later.

But giving can be more than acts, it can be content and thought, it can be support and advice.  I’m open to friend requests on Facebook or follower on Twitter (haven’t quite got my head around Google+ yet which seems a bit of a free for all) but at the same time as I hope I contribute to a conversation, I look to others to do so too.  If you follow 11 people and have a thousand followers, you are going to be in transmit mode constantly (I saw a senior Head of Resourcing with this sort of profile the other day and thought…no thank you).

I guess where I’m getting to, what I’m starting to think is that there needs to be some level of value. And value isn’t a number, but more a sense, a feeling an emotion. It isn’t about frequency, I have some great friends and contacts that I speak to only time to time, but I know that should I ever need anything, they would be there.  Networks, relationships, communities are all about mutuality, not just of purpose, but of contribution.

Offline and online should be no different in that respect.

How not to engage with customers

I don’t profess to be any sort of marketing or customer service guru. That said, having spent the best part of a decade working in retail, I know a little about managing customer relationships and expectations. 

At the weekend my daughter fell in love with a certain pair of Converse shoes (for those of you that care, they’re the waterfall blue, double tongued variety).  The thing is, the shop that we were in didn’t have her size and so when we got home we went on the internet and eventually found a pair at a shop called Ozzy’s & Archive. Click, click, credit card. Job done.

Until Monday evening when I received an email saying,

“Hi Neil,

Thanks for your recent order of the Converse shoes!

Some bad news im afraid. We have just gone out of stock with this shoe!

We are changing our stock system and some so we are having to manually change stock levels on the site for now, unfortunately you placed an order before we had chance to change your items stock levels online.

Its upto you what you would like to do. Whether you want to choose another item to replace the shoes, or just have your order cancelled. Whatever you want, just let me know!

Again, sorry for the hassle,

Something about the tone really got to me (maybe the excessive use of exclamation marks).  As a customer, I don’t really care what your systems issues are, that is the rational explanation that YOU have for YOUR service failure, it isn’t the emotional attachment that I had with the product that (in my mind) I had already bought. And to compound this, there was there was no recognition of the disappointment – just a choose something else or get your money back standard response.

On the bottom of the email, however I noticed a Facebook page. So I thought I’d check it out. I “liked” the page (which felt somewhat counter intuitive…but hey!) and saw that there was a post about not winning a Retailer of the Year award. At this point you’ll understand I felt obliged to post something, so I wrote a comment on their wall:

Sadly rubbish customer service from Ozzy’s and Archive. You are a long way from Retailer of the Year if you can’t show your stock levels correctly on the site, take an order and then respond with a “choose a different product or have your money back” routine. One lost customer.

I checked back a little while later and lo and behold……my comment had disappeared.  Censorship? Well hang on a minute….so I wrote another comment:

Hi there, I wrote some feedback on here about the poor customer service that I received from Ozzy’s and Archive but it seems to have disappeared. Surely you haven’t deleted it?

And then things just got worse……within 10 minutes that comment was taken down too and my ability to post anything on that page was revoked.

Clearly someone didn’t want people to see any bad comments about their service. Which is what brings me here to write about this today.  The world with social media is a conversation, you might be able to constrain what people see or hear (to a certain extent) but you can’t control what they say.  And ignoring a negative situation, surely doesn’t change how people feel.

Engaging with customers that are disappointed and upset is as, if not more, important than engaging with customers that are advocates.  You can try to control the message, but somehow it will always get out. So wouldn’t it be better in the first place to engage?

Ozzy’s and Archive gave me bad customer service. It wasn’t abysmal, but it was pretty ropey. Through the way that they’ve handled it, however, they have turned a disgruntled customer into someone who wants to write about it and tell the world what a rubbish company he thinks they are. They had a choice how they reacted and treated me and they chose to try to make the problem go away.

Sadly for them, it didn’t.

As a side note, Ozzy’s emailed me again last night elaborating on their justification for their failure, but sadly I can’t reply as their Mailbox quota has been exceeded (how many more customer service crimes can one company commit?). If you want to see the screen prints of the various comments then you can see them below (I don’t normally take screen prints – as you can tell from the other tab open on the first one! – but funnily I had a hunch about this. Oh and I no longer like their page……but Maddy does have a new pair of Converse on the way to her……just from a different shop.

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