Ask Bullmore: How should I handle public criticism about my company?
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

Ask Bullmore: How should I handle public criticism about my company?

I am a marketing director at a major online brand, and friends on Facebook have taken to posting on my page with customer service problems.

I am a global marketing director at a major online brand that has millions of consumers and, despite our great customer-service record, friends on Facebook have taken to posting on my page should their children have problems – real or perceived – with my company. Is it time to delete my page (which I value and use to keep in touch with friends) or should I take this public criticism, and the subsequent time I devote to solving these often non-existing issues, on the chin?

Once upon a time, when Mrs Cynthia Warburton of Selby, Yorkshire, was dissatisfied with the quality of the plimsolls she had purchased for her daughter Wendy, she would either put up with it or write a letter of complaint to the manufacturer. And even if the manufacturer received 47 such letters, only the manufacturer would know of them. Mrs Warburton might mention her dissatisfaction to a few friends but, otherwise, the poor quality of the plimsolls would remain known only to those individuals who had bought them. The manufacturer could over time replace the offending plimsolls with an improved model and no lasting damage to the manufacturer’s reputation would have been done. 

Today, however, anyone with internet access can speak to the world. Everyone is a publisher. Everyone has a megaphone. Today, Mrs Warburton, at zero cost, can rally the support of all those other dissatisfied plimsoll purchasers from around the globe and publicly embarrass the manufacturer. And among those claiming compensation will be a significant number who make a practice of claiming compensation when they have no grounds for doing so. Instead of a modest file of 47 unshared private letters, there’s a public clamour fronted by thousands.

Once upon a time, it would have been surprising if even 47 Mrs Warburtons went to the trouble of finding the address, writing the letter, affixing a stamp and posting it. So all a manufacturer had to do was employ one person on a part-time basis to respond to the occasional complaint with a standard letter and the occasional voucher. 

Today, as you’ve discovered to your cost, it’s not the anonymous complaints department that receives the occasional complaint. It’s the named, identified, pilloried global marketing director who’s held personally and publicly responsible in front of an audience that may amount to millions; and who, on pain of further obloquy, is expected personally and publicly to respond. 

The good news is that consumer dissatisfaction can no longer be brushed aside as the green-ink effusions of a few bored discontents. Justified consumer dissatisfaction can keep a company on its toes as never before. The bad news is that a highly paid global marketing director should have to spend even a few hours a week composing online responses to modern Mrs Warburtons. That’s not what you’re there for.

So insist that you see every complaint that’s made, however specious; read them as carefully as you would if you were responding to them in person; and instigate remedial action when you sense that it’s necessary. Then close your Facebook page and appoint an intelligent, thoughtful, full-time person to respond to them on your behalf.

You don’t need Facebook to keep in touch with friends.

Do marketers make good chief executives?

Good marketers understand the soft. They’re not ashamed to talk about brand personality. They know the value of things they can’t measure. They know that good pack design is not just about standing out on the shelf. But sometimes they become so infatuated with the soft that they neglect the hard. CEOs need not only to understand the hard but revel in it. Any CEO who neglects the hard will enjoy a very short tenancy indeed. That’s why not all marketers, even very good marketers, make equally good CEOs.

Dear Jeremy, Do you cry at Christmas ads?

Only when they try too hard.

Have you been to an office party in a restaurant that involves a three-hour train journey? The idea is to play party games on the way. Will this be fun?

No, I haven’t. And no, it won’t.

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or by tweeting @Campaignmag with the hashtag #AskBullmore.