Losing in the Court of Online Opinion
I spent a good portion of my formative years in a law firm, as a number of my family members were part of the bar. While I chose a different career path, my time in that environment gave me a few legal insights, including:
- When "Law & Order" is getting it all wrong. Seriously, trials are rarely that entertaining and never end in 13 minutes.
- That some matters conclude with no clear winner, regardless of the verdict.
The latter has remained salient, particularly as I've heard more about the woman who's been sued by Chicago-based Horizon Realty Group for tweeting about mold in one of its apartments. The Twitterverse has been ablaze about this development, and you probably can guess whose side it's favoring.
Horizon has issued a press release justifying its actions, but there's probably little it can do to salvage its online reputation. Twitter justice is swift, brutal, and only occasionally rational. Even if Horizon wins in court, it's already lost.
It's how you play the game
While the hand-wringing over the Horizon story may be a bit excessive (This ain't a constitutional battle over free speech, folks.), it highlights an important point about customer service in a wired world. Sometimes, it doesn't matter if you're right or wrong—just that you don't only address complaints with "No" or "You've been served."
Consider the bad PR experienced by United Airlines after a frustrated musician named Dave Carroll scored a viral hit with his song about the airline deflecting responsibility for a busted guitar. His story describes the run-around he faced when trying to address the matter with United, and the biggest shame is that we all have a similar tale.
Most consumers are reasonable people, and they expect reasonable efforts to address their concerns. Failure to engage them likely will result in embarrassing backpedaling or some version of the SODDI defense. In the above cases, I would imagine it would have been cheaper to just fix the mold or fix the guitar.
What do you think? Have online tools given the consumer a little too much power?