Are we perpetuating a ‘name and shame’ culture?

As the old adage goes, s**t happens. Sometimes when we buy items and services in-store or online, things go wrong. Gadgets can break, manufacturing faults – although few and far between – still happen. And despite living in a digital world, human error can still creep into the mix, meaning our mobile network provider may mishear us when we give our longwinded address or very-hard-to-spell surname. Oh well, that’s life right? More often than not, we can forgive these mistakes; but not the way it’s dealt with when we bring it to someone’s attention.

Nobody likes poor customer service. Why should a consumer have to incessantly bombard a retailer or service provider with emails, phone calls and Tweets to get a problem fixed? We should be heard the first time around. Brands should want to fix problems promptly before they’re faced with a mob – pitch forks in hand – angrily and yet reasonably demanding answers to ignored requests for help. Unfortunately, it seems that not all brands were created equal when it comes to dealing with customer complaints.

Enter Kelvin MacKenzie; former Sun editor, who has heard the plight of the forsaken masses and created a new social media service. According to PR Week, the aptly named ‘A Spokesman Said,’ enables consumers to name and shame companies that mistreat them. You simply sign up using your real identity and enter the details of the offending firm. Your complaint needs to be approved before you can then upload photos and video links to support your complaint. Companies then have two days to respond to the complaint and will receive a ‘Customer Powerscore’ that measures the speed and quality of the response given.

The premise behind the website is to ‘level the playing field’ between the consumer and the ‘brand that let you down’, but are these type of services just perpetuating a name and shame culture? Have we become a nation of complainers simply because, thanks to the proliferation of the internet, it’s just so easy to do? Or do we just deserve better as consumers?

It’s certainly interesting timing from MacKenzie, as he has chosen to launch A Spokesman Said right after the Twittersphere exploded into turmoil over Cadbury changing the recipe to its beloved Crème Egg. Not so beloved anymore though – chocolate lovers flocked to Twitter to show their dismay over such a move from Kraft. Yet consumers were met with little consolation and very repetitive holding Tweets such as: “You know Creme Eggs were never made with Dairy Milk, right? It’s not and has never been Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Creme Egg.” The whole debacle even prompted a passionate Guardian article about how to spark a chocolate revolution. While perhaps a little far-fetched, there was an important message for brands hidden underneath the gooey mess of the Cadbury affair; feedback can help brands to change products and services for the better. If listened to that is.

While Brits are often parodied as being too polite and not wanting to make a fuss, that perception is changing. We like a good moan about things now and again and there is a veritable place for websites like A Spokesman Said and social media in getting answers from brands. Whereas initiatives such as Money Saving Expert and Which? have previously championed consumer rights, it’s clear that the brand-consumer relationship is still somewhat fraught.

Yes it’s naming and shaming, but consumers wouldn’t have to name and shame if brands were a bit quicker off the mark. Proactive reputation management and PR is vitally important for brands in an age when, at any second, you can have a customer in Brazil, Finland or Australia storming your social networks or support email address for help. Brands might not like the negative attention, but the customer is always right. And if you’re not listening to your customers, the naming and shaming will continue until you do.

Consumers have already started using A Spokesman Said to get their complaints heard. And, judging from the website, the majority of complaints lodged are still awaiting a response. So much for ‘a spokesman said…’

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