Companies Should Check Out Online Chatter, Say Experts


Earlier this month I wrote about the growing trend of companies employing workers to monitor what their customers say about them on blogs, forums and other online channels of communication.


The idea is to keep any negative feedback percolating online from escalating and causing real brand damage. But Comcast goes a step beyond monitoring to personally contact some of its disgruntled customers, reports The New York Times. The company's digital care manager, Frank Eliason, has reached out to more than 1,000 people.


While Comcast is emulating the efforts of companies such as Southwest Airlines, it faces a formidable challenge. It ranks dead last on the most recent American Customer Satisfaction Index, which tracks consumer opinions of more than 200 companies, and there's a Web site called ComcastMustDie.com. This helps explain why Eliason's staff has grown to seven people, with plans to add three more.


Some customers end up feeling creeped out when an online rant results in a communication from someone like Eliason. A blog called (tellingly) Contempt for the World published a post called "Comcast Is Watching Us" earlier this year, notes the article.


It also occurs to me that these efforts are little more than a band-aid if companies don't address their larger customer-service issues. The article mentions a customer who had a no-show technician and an indifferent phone representative. When the incident came to Eliason's attention, a technician showed up within half an hour and two more called to offer assistance. Isn't this an awfully ineffective and expensive way of addressing a problem? Comcast obviously can't afford this approach in all, or even most, cases.


Still, another good reason for companies to monitor online comments is spotlighted in a Computerworld article that offers a brief discussion of a Twitter account created by someone claiming to be an Exxon Mobil Corp. employee. Exxon Mobil hasn't authorized the activity and doesn't know if the person actually works for the company, says a company spokesperson.


While the messages thus far have exhibited a largely positive attitude toward Exxon Mobil, the spokesperson says they have also contained "several inaccuracies." The spokesperson said Twitter officials have agreed to reserve any potential account names associated with Exxon Mobil's various business brands for the company's use.


This would appear to be yet another case that demonstrates the alarming dearth of legal precedent related to online communications. At the very least, say experts, it reiterates the importance of monitoring such communications. The viral nature of the Internet means that inaccuracies or other damaging statements spread more quickly than ever.