During one meeting of my Not-for-profits in the Digital Age class this summer, the instructor spent 15 minutes (literally — we watched the clock) telling us about a bad experience at a chain hotel on her vacation. While her husband argued with the concierge, she tweeted about the incident; she felt the hotel treated them inconsiderately and suspected it was because they’re an interracial couple (they were in Tennessee). As she did this, she and her husband, if I remember correctly, informed the concierge and even the manager that she was telling her 3,700 FOLLOWERS about the TERRIBLE EXPERIENCE.
This lecture — the longest “lecture” period of the term, I might add – should have been about managing a nonprofit’s brand and reputation in an age of instant, nonstop communication. If you’ve heard about @ComcastCares and others, you know you can get better service from a company by complaining to the right people. Sure, it works better with companies, not dot-orgs, but there’s a lesson in it.
Instead, the instructor told us she just wanted to have her points refunded to compensate for her bad experience. That’s right — it was already a free stay, thanks to previous travel. She threatened to try to damage a corporate brand because they wouldn’t just give her another free night. Even after her trip, she continued to use Twitter to tell people about the experience…and she used up 15 minutes (about $42 worth) of class time to complain to us about it.
The whole story made me uncomfortable. Threatening, right off the bat, to tattle through Twitter to whoever will listen in order to get your way just sounded…like a techy temper tantrum. I’m all for reporting bad service and being compensated for lost money or value, but this was a threat, and a rather empty one.
Plus? We heard one perspective on the story. The valet may have had good reason to make them sign a waiver before parking a car he thought was quite scratched up — it’s his job to watch out for that. The bell staff that “rushed out to help the white couple” that pulled in next may have been on a break. We just don’t know.
We also don’t know if the insult of the parking issue and having to carry their own bags (her husband has a bad back) is really “enough” to demand compensation. I usually park my own car and carry my own bags…and my boyfriend has a bad back and a white cane. He carries his own bags.
So maybe I’m a little biased.
To my knowledge, my instructor’s demands went unfulfilled, at least until the end of the term.
Heather Armstrong (Dooce) saved up and bought a state-of-the-art washing machine and a 10-year warranty. The brand new, state-of-the-art washing machine broke. A repairman screwed around, ordered the wrong parts, got pissy with them, and still didn’t fix the machine. After about two weeks of trying to work with the repairman, Heather finally called Maytag and was treated very rudely…I think she could have lived the rudeness if they’d actually tried to solve the problem or honor the warranty she’d paid for, but they put her off and were jerks about it.
Finally, at her wits’ end, she said (to paraphrase), “I have a million people following me on Twitter. If I complain to them instead of to you, then will someone help me?”
I got a little twitchy about this, too, but there’s already a difference: Paying a lot of money for a brand new product that doesn’t work is even more frustrating (particularly to a family with a poopy infant) than a minor inconvenience and perceived slight in a hotel carport. The good people of Maytag said, no, telling Twitter about it will not make any difference.
It did, though. Heather tweeted about her terrible experience with Maytag, and it got enough attention that she finally got the service she had every right to expect from the beginning. Whirlpool, which owns Maytag, called her up, sent a repairman, and had her brand new washing machine working in a day or two.
And then the interwebs called her a bully.
For expecting a brand new, expensive washing machine under an extended warranty to work? For expecting service from a customer service department? For calling out a big company in public? Should she have just accepted a faulty product and bad service and waited patiently for the mega-corporation to get around to honoring her purchase?
I call bullshit on the bully label, and I suspect the people who think she’s a bully may be a little envious that no one listens when they have similar problems. For better or worse (and I think better), this is the new face of consumer advocacy. Word of mouth means a whole lot more now, and it’s in our best interest to use whatever means we have to protect the value of the dollars we spend.
The bad example above? That was someone trying to be a bully. This is just someone who expected a brand new machine to work.
Other companies wanted to give her free washing machines, and she felt weird about that — she’d saved up and could afford what she bought. But one of her followers suggested telling them to donate the washing machine to a local shelter, and she pounced on the idea. Thanks to her online complaining, the suggestion of a stranger, and a corporation’s need for good PR, the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake is getting a new washer and dryer for free.
I know. It’s dumb of the companies to offer her products just because she’s an internet celebrity and she might tweet about it, but Twitter is the only change from generations of free stuff for celebrities who might be willing to pimp the stuff later on. In this case, though, and in some other, smaller ones I’ve read about, this worked out well for two companies and for a nonprofit in need. Heather got verbally abused for a while, but that’s nothing new. This, my friends, is using celebrity for good.
A word about Dooce.com
I started reading in early 2001. I’ve “known” Dooce longer than I’ve known some of my closest friends, scary as that may seem. I don’t know my cousin’s new daughter’s middle name (yet), but I could pick Leta Armstrong out of a crowd. Welcome to the blogosphere. (I remember when that word came into use, too. I am oooolllldddd.)
What gets people riled up about Dooce.com and Heather B. Armstrong is that she’s famous and supports her family just by BEING HERSELF. She’s nothing special, email tells her every day…in fact, people tell her a lot worse. The haters love to tell her that she’s not as perfect as she thinks she is.
You know why I read Dooce? Aside from the writing style that’s just compatible with my sense of humor, that is. She is fully aware that she is not perfect. She knows she’s nothing special. Her readers (and we are devoted) read her because she’s just a person. She gets constipated and fights depression and loses her temper and eats Doritos. She stubs her toes. She saves up to buy an appliance and is frustrated when it doesn’t work. She has an awesome husband that she can love madly and complain about AT THE SAME TIME.
She’s not trying to be anyone else — being herself is hard enough. I think that’s true for a lot of us, and that’s why it’s important, to me, to see her example…and to appreciate that she lets people see it.
If I’m envious that she can make a living talking about her life on the internet, that’s on me, not her.