A HERO'S SPARK: the final book in the Wicked Women series!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Printed Word: A Powerful Weapon, Even in the Hands of the Misguided.

Good evening!

It isn't often that my writing life and my real life as a customer service rep collide.

Okay, that's not completely true, given how the next three or four books I'm releasing will be stories taken directly from my life as an office drone. 

Rough copy of upcoming artwork...Yes, I did purchase the image.
So I have to clarify:  It isn't often that my life as a writer and my life as a customer service rep collide for serious reasons.  However, lately, I'm seeing a not-so-surprising, and yet troubling trend in customer service that is going to affect global business, and not in a good way.

The Internet.

I know, I know.  I love the Internet.  I spend more time than I should wandering around the Internet.  It's a wonderful tool.  a great playground, a fun place to shop, meet people, and find out what's going on in the world.

In the wrong hands, it's a terrible weapon, and in misguided, or stupid hands, it's a weapon of mass destruction.

I work for a company that does specific home remodeling projects.  The company is nation wide in the US and Canada, but most of the branches of this company are franchises.  Which means, no matter what the corporate office demands in terms of customer service and work standards, for most of the offices those things are pretty much up to the individual owners of the individual branches.

The owner of my branch runs a very tight ship.  There is almost no margin for error when it comes to installations.  And I, as the customer service person, have to field calls every day with a cheerful note in my voice no matter how unreasonable the person on the other end of the line is.  Our branch has done nearly 10,000 installations since 2005.  Not bad for what many would consider a small market.  Oh, and our customers, most of them, love us.  We have a referral list of more than 7,000 people and we give out gifts countless times a year to customers who refer us to friends and family.

In short, we do it the right way.  The same cannot be said for other branches.

I'm not here to judge or really to discuss what's wrong with other branches.  I'm hear to talk about how some people view the Internet when it comes to customer service and dealing with a company you may not be all that happy with.

Let's say a customer in Pennsylvania has a really, really bad experience. That customer writes a horrible review of the company in Pennsylvania on just about every consumer protection website he can find.  That's with in his rights.  Now, let's say a customer in Wisconsin reads those reviews.  While the comments are directed to an independently owned business several hundred miles away from Wisconsin, the Wisconsin customer is now unhappy because of what he read about the Pennsylvania customer.  If one person is unhappy...well, that must mean every branch in the country is terrible!

I find myself talking more and more often to people who were, at one point delighted with us, but then started reading online about other people's experiences and decide, before they ever contact us to handle some small issue, to instead blast us online.  Then they call us, threaten lawsuits, stomp around, write horrible things about my coworkers and in one case my mother online...and all they had to do was call me and I would have taken care of the issue in 20 minutes or less.

Meanwhile, someone on the other side of the country is now reading what this person wrote in the heat of a moment of complete unreasonable rage, and taking the comments seriously.  So business for another branch is lost in California because someone in Wisconsin wrote something horrible because they assumed that what they read about how someone in Pennsylvania was treated was going to happen to them.

People, this is going to shut down commerce because businesses cannot take the constant online bashing.  Now most of us realize that the Internet is the great unfiltered wild west where everyone says everything all the time.  But there are a lot of people, most of them older, who remember a time when the printed word was the God's honest truth.  If someone put it in print, it had to be true.

If they read it on the Internet, it has to be true.

Which brings me to how this relates to writing.  Publishing on the Internet is great.  Well, it can be.  But what was true in the days of pen and paper remains true in the digital age:  We shouldn't write anything we wouldn't want our grandmother to read.

Comments made online can be hurtful, whether you're reviewing a book you didn't like or whether you got shut out of an agency or a book sale you thought you deserved.  Writing a knee jerk response to any slight, especially in the publishing world, is a very, very bad idea.  People will think you mean it!

Worse yet...people will think that what you didn't like...because you didn't like must be garbage.  Because NO ONE would write a review or a comment or a blog online about how something was terrible if it wasn't truly terrible...right?

Am I guilty of writing negative reviews?  Yes, for a couple really awful movies, you bet.  But, when writing comments, whether positive or negative, I always try to keep from making personal comments about the intelligence of the person behind what I'm reviewing, and I try to explain in detail why I didn't like something.  Frankly, if I didn't like a book because it just wasn't my sort of book, I just say, this wasn't my sort of book.  (I got a review from a woman who preferred her romances to be a bit more...well let's just say kinky, for sake of a better word.  She really hated "Dream in Color."  It clearly wasn't the book for her.   But did she really have to be so mean?)

So, folks, as you slog through the waters of the Internet, whether you're looking for a good book or for a home remodeling company, don't assume everything on the Internet is a bit more homework for yourself.

And let's all just be polite out there, okay?

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