AOL, Customer Experience and the „new“ realities in 2006.

Posted in digital,experience,media, culture and society by thomas on the März 15th, 2009

If members…are trying to provoke the Consultant into being unprofessional, immediately cancel the account. (AOL Offer Matrix 2006, according to Consumerist.com)

The dominating perspective my three courses at Sauder School of Business (Market Research, Consumer Behaviour and Integrated Marketing Communications) use to look at their topic is advertising. Even though market research and consumer behaviour teach other topics and usually look at the broad picture, it often comes down to research about questions concerning the framing and/or distribution of messages. This is great on the one hand, as I never had courses the rigorous, strategic and marketing-orientated North-American way. On the other hand, the consumer behaviours course – as great as it is – hasn’t talked much about experience, satisfaction, post-purchase behaviour, word-of-mouth and all the other things that exist next to advertising. Apparently, this is going to change now. To finish our discussion about overpromising/underpromising, we watched this little clip:

What did Vincent do? He recorded, he blogged, he got his story on Consumerist.com, he was on national TV not long after that. Hunderts of thousands of people could see first-hand how AOL treated a customer who didn’t want to have the service anymore.

What did AOL do? First, they fired „John“ and declined any corporate wrongdoing. Then, after serveral other customers and even employees came up with similar stories, they pledged to change the internal procedures. Did that happen? I don’t know. But it is nice to see how the communication model AOL and so many other companies still believe in clashed big-time with the power of losely connected individuals. As AOL’s retention manual was posted on the Consumerist in the course of this events, a perfect example of how they perceive(d) „communication“ as a one-directional and not necessarily human distribution of a message were revealed.

This happend to AOL in summer 2006, without twitter and a way less developed „social media“ environment. Now, almost 3 years later, things are even faster and even more „unpredictable“ for companies. As David Armano described in detail in his case about the Motrin Moms, brands can get in serious trouble within few hours, with all the details saved on the web forever.

So, what’s the good thing? There’s light at the end of the tunnel. Budgets are reallocated, broadcast media is losing and new companies with a more egalitarian view on people’s role in marketing emerge. And hopefully even more business school students are going to see the following bullet points in consumer behaviour courses:

  • Listen to the squeaky wheel
  • Look for complaints – make complaining easy
  • Accept responsibility
  • Quick action
    • Replacement
    • Repair
    • Refund
    • Exchange
  • Empower and train employees

In my case, they were accompanied by the words „Earlier in the days, you could’ve ignored things. There were not enough journalists to write about everything. Nowadays, everybody is a journalist. There is no way you can ignore things now.“