Guest Post: Lenovo’s Web Strategist David Churbuck “Corporate Blogging 201 – The Risks of NQA Blog Service”

Yesterday, David Churbuck dinged me for writing for novices, and also suggested I wasn’t near the trenches.

I could have fired back, but that would have been foolish, looking at his profile, I realized he knew what he was talking about. Instead, I left a comment on his blog, and offered for him to set the bar higher by being a guest poster.

He accepted.

David is digging in at Lenovo where he’s managing the web strategy, and is fighting the good fight day to day. He took my offer, and submitted via email I think he’s certainly set the bar higher for me.

Here’s what David submitted to me, (including a thoughtful email apology) the following relevant post is all his words:

Corporate Blogging 201 – The Risks of NQA Blog Service
by David Charbuck, A Web Strategy Guest Poster

I just took Jeremiah Owyang to task for publishing thumbsucking advice on corporate blogging — “Ask for feedback!” “Admit it when you are wrong!” — and challenged the growing legions of social media pundits to kick it up a notch with some news I could use.

So, henceforth, with no book in the works on the next evolution in the Super Transparent Corporate Social Conversational Marketing Revolution, I can declare I have no commercial ax to grind and simply want to charitably share the wealth from someone who walks the walk of corporate blogging day in and day out.

If the books are publishing “101” level advice, let this be the first in a “201” series – the next level in the curriculum, the class you take your sophomore year.

In partly pedantic jest, I suggested the type of topic I’d like to discuss is: contravening corporate policy by privately resolving a blogged customer support issue and having the blogger publically state the solution and thereby set a precedent for all future complaints

Let’s look at the scenario in less pedantic terms. The risk of a no-questions-asked (NQA) blogger appeasement policy.

Let’s say you are the corporate blogger at Newco and among your responsibilities is monitoring the blogosphere for expressions of customer joy and unhappiness. You hire a service, or you do it yourself, but eventually you are going to find a person who writes something like this:

“I just bought a new widget from Newco and it has three dead dingbats. I am a graphic designer and I must have a flawless product to do my job. I called Newco and they said their policy is only to replace widgets with five contiguous dead dingbats. This is bullshit. I am going to write a letter to the Better Business Bureau and Jeff Jarvis.”

You, the corporate blog person, check on the corporate website, and yep, there is the dead dingbat policy plain as day. This policy is essentially the same one that everyone else in the industry follows. Do you:

  • Acknowledge the unhappy dingbat person with a comment (Thank you for writing about Newco. I’m sorry you aren’t happy. Have a nice day.)?
  • Debate the blogger and cite the fact that Newco is in line with the rest of the industry with its dead dingbat policy (Sorry; suck it up)?
  • Invite the blogger to talk about it privately (Hey, give me a call or drop me a line.)?
  • Ignore the blogger?
  • Do you let customer service know that you have found a complaint about the dead dingbat policy in the expectation they will communicate with the blogger? Do you let PR know?
  • Do you arrange to have a widget with a pristine display over-nighted to the blogger in the hope it will shut him up?
  • Do you propose a new strategy to the business unit where users can pay more for a zero-defect widget?
  • Let’s say the blogger gets really upset and continues to post about the dead dingbats. Let’s say the blogger takes the case to The Consumerist or the Ripoff Report and the forums, and tells people to join him in a campaign against your company’s dumb policy. The comments on the post begin to fill with other people who hate dead dingbats. The noise level is rising. Someone in PR notices it in a Google news alert. You get an email asking if you know about this. The blogger posts your CEO’s home phone number. And calls it.

    As you look for a way to make the blogger happy, you discuss the policy internally and learn that dead dingbats are a fact of life, and that due to the vagaries of manufacturing there is no such thing as a flawless, dingbat-free widget, and to identify one means hours and hours of combing through thousands of widgets to find a clean one. The bottom line is this: making flawless widgets would destroy the bottom line which is why no one in the industry guarantees it.

    But the blogger doesn’t care about that. The blogger is mad and nothing is going to make him happy other than a pristine system. So you find one. You arrange to have it hand delivered by your regional manager. Along with a Tickler Bouquet and a box of chocolates.

    And you ask the blogger to please keep the new machine to himself, this is a one-time special exception, so please don’t blog about it. Okay?

    Ha. The blogger declares victory, tells the world that his campaign has paid off, that Newco has caved and the Customers are in Control! Congratulations: you just insured that every person who Googles: “Newco Dead Dingbat Policy” is going to hear the story of how you made an exception. And they will all expect the same

    The exception is now the rule, in public, for everyone to see.

    So, fellow corporate bloggers and customer service professionals. This is a question of pure situational ethics. When do you make an extraordinary gesture of customer satisfaction and when do you stick to your guns?

  • Have you ever stuck to your guns and regretted it (if only we had given the customer their money back ….)?
  • Have you ever made a concession and kept it secret?
  • Have you ever made a concession and changed your organization’s policy in the process?
  • Is No Questions Asked customer service (the kind that LL Bean and Craftsmen Tools and Nordstrom practice) a figment of some marketing consultant’s imagination?
  • When do you tell a blogger to pound sand?
  • The integration of customer service into social media marketing programs is a logical imperative and usually will follow right on the heels of integrating corporate communications. The effects of the “new Better Business Bureau” are the ones that are going to strike your organization between the eyes first. How you invite your customer service teams into the medium can spell the difference between harmony and hatred.

    Jeremiah: Thanks David for starting Corporate Blogging 201, certainly a dilemma, I’ll leave my comment in the comments below, and I encourage everyone else to as well.

    Update: Ugh, I’ve misspelled David’s name and gotten it wrong a few times. really sorry. updated the posts now.