Friday, October 10

Pushing Vendetta: When Past Clients Go Bad

Yesterday, I received an e-mail from one of our clients with a rather cryptic lead. And, as it turned out, it wouldn’t be the last e-mail I received from other concerned parties.

“I think she got it wrong about which company decided to change.”

Scrolling down, it became all too clear what she was referring to. One of our accounts, an image consultant we resigned several months ago (before sending her to collection), had decided to use an e-mail blast and blog to paint an inaccurate picture.

“… After reconciling for a short period, we decided to go ahead and divorce. On top of that, the company I was using to edit my posts and I decided that our working relationship was no longer working,” wrote the image consultant, making the case that, perhaps, she let us go.

In most cases, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought (just like I didn’t give it a second thought several months ago when she posted it). Except this time, she sent the blog link to a compilation of e-mails from a speaking engagement that our company had arranged for her just prior to resigning the account. In other words, the audience just happened to consist of colleagues and clients. Ho hum.

What I Wish Everyone Would Take Away From Social Media

A few days prior, Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Al Gibes shared what some of my students at the University of Las Vegas, Nevada might take away from my half-day social media class. (You never really know until you see the post commentary.) An excerpt:

"It's not an opportunity to create 'spin,' but rather authentic information. Be real about your communication," [Becker] said. "We're bombarded with so many messages per day that every message has to count. If you don't manage your message, your message will manage you."

Of all the lines and slides, the one above is precisely what I hope students and professionals take away form what I teach. And, it seems to me, such a shame that the image consultant never did. She would have been better off moving forward instead of looking back.

At the same time, I suppose it raises an interesting lesson for future social media consultants who may one day face a former client who decides to use the tool you taught them against you. What can you do?

A Few Tips For Social Media Pros When Past Clients Go Bad

1. Privately address any concerns that exsting clients who brought it your attention and thank them for doing so. Beyond correcting any inaccuracies, do not use that communication to attack back. It’s not worth it.

2. Privately notify the offending party that you are aware of the inaccuracy, providing them an opportunity to correct the error. If there will be additional consequences, outline what those consequences might be.

3. Consider the audience that is receiving the erroneous information, with the knowledge that most people who spin tend to communicate their own ignorance more than they communicate anything about you. Generally, it’s not worth expanding the audience.

4. If the offending party makes the matter more public (our former client resent the e-mail, without any correction, after being notified), then consider your options including whether or not the incident is a foreshadow of a crisis communication to come. (Fortunately, my example is not.)

5. In some cases, a well-thought out response in the comment of a post might be enough. If comments are moderated on that blog, you can always discuss it on your own after conducting the appropriate assessment.

6. Be prepared. On the off chance that the past client aims to escalate the drama, the general principles of crisis communication may apply. In the end, you always have to have faith that truth has a tendency to win.

For additional insight, consider a few past posts, here and here. Hopefully the takeaway from those will be that social media, especially when it is used for professional communication, is no place to seek out a personal vendetta.

As for the example I shared: since any concerns from those on the list were immediately quelled when the consultant resent the e-mail, I’m inclined to forgive it. After all, we cannot control what people say about us, we can only manage what we say about others and ourselves.

Digg!

6 comments:

Amitai Givertz on 10/10/08, 9:31 PM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amitai Givertz on 10/10/08, 9:35 PM said...

Rich, I think you've hit on a problem that has bothered me for some while.

When you consider the virtues of social media -- transparency, authenticity, conversational messaging, trust-based transactions, community, collaboration and so on -- one wonders if "human nature" isn't hardwired to sabotage those things as they represent the antithesis of what drives most people/society: greed, competitiveness, assorted insecurities and what-have-you.

A question for you: Isn't sending a client to collections -- one of the possible triggers that led to this passive-aggressive behavior -- kinda prehistoric in an age of 2.0 values?

I don't know what sums were involved or how significant they are in the overall scheme of things but perhaps forgiving the debt [at least in the likelihood of never recovering it] may have been a move more consistent with the values you so nobly represent as a social media advocate. Maybe not, I don't know.

Whatever, now it seems you not only get shafted in the pocketbook but stabbed in the back to boot. Things 2.0 or business as usual? Well, look on the bright side: there's always karma.

Amitai Givertz on 10/10/08, 9:40 PM said...

Hmmm....reading my comment over I should probably make it clear: When it comes to getting paid I am not a mamby-pamby, wishy-washy, "oh-well-I-would-have-spent-it-anyway" kind of a guy. You know, just in case a cleint of mine gets wind of the conversation ;0)

Rich on 10/11/08, 11:03 AM said...

Amitai,

So many good questions, with your clarification well noted. Ha!

It's difficult to answer some of them without disparaging the account, which is not my intent.

So, I'll try to answer you in a more general way and hopefully not trap myself in the process. :)

Sending an account to collections is never something we do lightly. As a company that is fully vested with some of our clients, we've helped many weather financial hardships based on no more than their openness and honesty about their financial condition. So we tend to ask a few questions:

1. Are they benefiting from the work produced, perhaps even generating income from it?
2. Have they since hired someone else after the account was resigned or are they ordering other products and services, all of which they seem capable enough to pay promptly or perhaps will default on, as well, in time?
3. Are they honest and open about their financial condition or are have they made promises that never materialized?
4. Have they abused past generosities such as rate reductions and previous waivers?
5. Did they demonstrate integrity while they received short- or long-term assistance.

The answers to some of these questions generally dictate a course of action.

For example, we have a few accounts that have fallen behind given the current economy (one of them typically runs in the 360 days column), but none of them are at risk of being sent to collection because they continually demonstrate principles and values that we respect.

Of course, there is another consideration.

When a company's core competencies are service-based like ours, it loses twice. It loses the receivable as well as the time that could have been invested in another account, or perhaps donated to any number of non-profit organizations that directly benefit people. And, it loses a third time if the company ensures all third party venders are promptly paid, regardless of the account's status.

Hmmm ... would debt forgiveness have been a move more consistent with the values so nobly represented as a social media advocate OR would it have merely enabled someone who doesn't exhibit an appreciation of such values and thereby free them to repeat such actions with no consequence?

We have to be careful, Amitai, that we do not unwittingly encourage or enable such behaviors or else we leave others, who may be less able to weather it, to become victims of our own inaction.

So is this business as usual or Things 2.0?

Personally, I think Things 2.0 have a tendency to amplify behaviors, or if not, character. My best guess is without the tools of Things 2.0, the image consultant would have been less willing to write a letter, sign her name to it, and send it out. Yet, for some reason, some people seem to struggle in developing a level of cognitive thinking that might recognize that using Things 2.0 not only is the same thing, but tends to have a longer shelf life.

In this case, I'm more disappointed than angry in that I obviously failed to implant a little wisdom in before we resigned the account. I'm also disappointed in that I do take responsibility for obviously enabling someone who may have professed to understand Deepak Chopra, but apparently has no regard to what they attract.

So my post, at least I hope so, may turn a negative into a positive if it serves some people a reminder that social media is best not used for vendettas. And when it is used as such, then perhaps those who are on the target can take some comfort in knowing that, if not karma, then the truth can be their shield.

All my best,
Rich

Amitai Givertz on 10/11/08, 1:51 PM said...

Rich, you are always so generous in your replies!

For brevity's sake:

...but none of them are at risk of being sent to collection because they continually demonstrate principles and values that we respect.

To my assertion regarding "the values you so nobly represent as a social media advocate" I rest my case.

Thanks again, Rich, and all the best to you too. You are a class act.

Rich on 10/13/08, 7:24 AM said...

Amitai,

Your questions are always appreciated. They make me think, one of the benefits of a conversational platform.

All my best to you too,
Rich

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