Many traditional thinkers believe it’s ideal to conceal errors, issues and other inadequacies quietly. Unfortunately, all it takes is one person to sound off on their experience to obliterate hundreds, if not thousands of Public Relations dollars. Allow me to explain …
First, let me take a step back and help define, “Consumer Advocacy,” for you. Consumer Advocacy is the practice that upholds sound and reasonable business decisions that heir on the side of consumers (customers, users, etc.); ultimately standing up for consumers in all business decisions. As companies and their products transform into services on the Web, the quality and communication about those services become vital to public relations.
Despite this, the eBay-owned B2C financial transaction broker, PayPal, seems to be having an important but simple problem for the past two weeks affecting their customers, effectively letting international sales leads fall out of the pipeline. According to the blogosphere, PayPal has been experiencing a problem that prevents sales between two different countries. I thought the whole idea behind PayPal (probably a slide on their Business Development deck), was to leverage international sales between their users and collect their 3-6% off the top. I checked to see PayPal’s side of the story, or at least an acknowledgment on the PayPal Blog. What did I find?
Nothing. (I’ll give them a break, it was a holiday weekend, after all.) But that doesn’t account for the 10+ days that this issue has been non-functional.
No, this entry isn’t only about PayPal not properly handling international transactions; it is about poor communication. Would their users accept an acknowledgment to the fact there’s a glitch, a fix is due in the next development iteration and even a workaround they can do. You bet they would, in fact, I probably wouldn’t be selecting them for this example if they had done that.
I’d love to see great examples of consumer advocacy, but it’s so hard to find because company mesh it so tightly with their PR and communications. But when does it cross the line? Well, the actions have to be on par with the words given to users. If a company pledges to change to remedy an issue; they ought to execute on it, quickly.
What does the future holds out for companies on the Web (or not) and consumer advocacy? I foresee that there will be more angry mobs forming, opinions forming from snarky headlines and companies will be in reactive-mode. Twitter recently experienced this angry mob effect as well as Psystar (open Mac) had their fair share of community backlash, and let’s not forget the wonderful moment in PR that AOL experienced with Vincent Ferrari.
Companies must be open, accessible and transparent in disclosing information that empowers their consumers. It’s one thing if information was difficult to find (often, reputable reporters will seek out that information and tell their tipsters); but when a company fails to communicate openly, there’s nothing that speaks louder than that.