A couple of months back I came across a Facebook ad and clicked on it. It was for a $6 dollar T-shirt emblazoned with Bruce Springsteen’s head that said “The Only Boss I Listen To.” Obviously, I had to have it.
I made my way to the checkout found that the $8 shipping cost was more than the product, as the only option for delivery was UPS. I ordered it anyway. A few days passed.
Curious as to where my awesome shirt was, I shot an email to the vendor, 6 Dollar Shirts, asking what was up. Two days later I received a response. Turns out, my order was processed on Dec. 26 – but was not actually shipped until Jan. 6 (12 days later). Oh, and it was sent via USPS. Wait a minute… I followed up again and asked what my adjusted shipping charge would be, given that it was clearly not shipped by UPS.
No response. I finally got my shirt on Jan. 8. No one ever got back to me on the adjusted shipping rate. I didn’t press the issue because frankly, I didn’t want to waste any more time on a few bucks. I was just happy to have my sweet Springsteen t-shirt. End of story? Nope.
I hadn’t really put much thought into my experience until last week, when Google Buzz broke out onto the scene. I started perusing the interface from within my personal Gmail account, reading updates from some of my friends, when I came across some Buzz activity from 6 Dollar Shirts and sister company ThreadPit.com.
This brand was particularly excited to be testing out Buzz, and had emphatically sent out an update: “6dollarshirts.com is BUZZING with NEW SHIRTS! :)”
Within 24-hours the Buzz had garnered about 15 comments, many of which were negative and recounted poor customer experiences. Some examples:
- Daniel – your shirts are so cheap i also use them as toilet paper.
- Noel – … i ordered 10 shirts on the 6th of dec. received them on about the 18th… the shirts were completely ruined, colors had bled through on to other shirts. I called they said they would take care of the problem … i didnt get the shirts until the 12th of january.
- Travis – Terrible company and everyone needs to know this. Ordered shirts on December 5th, was promised delivery by the 12th. By the 20th, I was notified they weren’t coming for another week … Shirts eventually arrived (wrong sizes as well, with terrible printing) on January 15th. Terrible terrible terrible.
A brand’s presence on Buzz is not that much different from its presence on any other social platform in that the marketer doesn’t really have tons of control when it comes to what people say about you. However, the difference here was that I had not opted in to receive updates from 6 Dollar Shirts – rather, the vendor was automatically added to my Gmail contacts list (and subsequently to my Buzz list) because I had exchanged several of emails with them.
As I’m guessing was the case with some of the negative commenters, the email exchanges were a result of poor customer service – so, it’s ironic (yet understandable) that Google assumed I’d want to follow them based on the fact that I “knew” them quite well.
Sidenote: 6 Dollar Shirts has 111 followers on Buzz. To put this in perspective, Samsung, a MUCH larger brand that also received some press on TechCrunch about its enthusiasm regarding Buzz, has about 570. Now, there’s no way of knowing how many of the followers selectively chose to receive 6 Dollar Shirts updates, but my gut tells me that a big number of the brand’s followers were default opt-ins via Gmail Contacts.
For an online vendor like 6 Dollar Shirts, a vocal presence on Google Buzz has the potential to directly solicit such negative feedback because as Gmail users some of their not-so-biggest fans are automatically compelled to follow their updates.
And, as a result, some brand evangelists have even emerged to defend the company. Comments Agustin Vazquez-Levi: “Give these guys a break … Have you ever tried to run a business? Threadpit is the first company that is already active on Buzz. To me that says something about their customer service.”
I’m not sure how accurate the claim is that the brand was first to get in on Buzz, but Agustin does have a point regarding their willingness to jump into conversations and connect with customers past and present, happy and not-so-happy. Since the initial incident, the company has not received much negative chatter at all.
Perhaps if Buzz were around back in December, I could have sent 6 Dollar Shirts a very quick (and very public) comment about the status of my order. I’m guessing a public comment for all to see would have helped my order proceed with a bit more alacrity – not to mention I would have likely received a near real-time response from the brand’s new customer service rep. This process seems similar to a CRM effort on Twitter, but Buzz is more powerful since anyone following the brand can see all comments to an update, regardless of whether or not they’re following the commenter.
In the end, this anecdote is an important one as social media and CRM continue to collide. Google Buzz blurs the line by integrating everything within the Gmail interface. And, as evidenced by 6 Dollar Shirts’ early challenges, brands using Gmail for customer service should take note that some of their earliest followers might not be their biggest proponents.
That aside, marketers should also look to the brand’s swift response as a smart example of how negative feedback can lead to stark improvements in how customer service is managed within a company and across social platforms.
This week Google revisited Buzz in the face of widespread public outcry regarding privacy concerns – and moving forward, Google will suggest people to follow instead of automatically adding them. This assuages a number of risks for brands, but not all of them. As social media continues to evolve and influence more areas of our lives, it is increasingly important for marketers assess the possible implications of each emerging platform as part of their broader brand reputation management efforts.