Note: this was going to be a story but for what ever reason it doesn't want to be. I'll fix it in a bit.
What Does "Blog Flame" Mean for Corporations?
Anyone who reads this blog regularly (Hi Dad!) knows that I have a perspective perhaps described as "I flame therefore I am". Seriously, I'm a huge believer in good manners. Yes, manners. Flaming has manners if you don't go off half cocked and you give the reader all the facts. People are so smart today that if they have the facts (not lies, innuendo, etc) that they can make rational decisions. Anyway, here are some flames I ground out in the last 30+ days:
- Microsoft is a Pornographer
- Lost Productivity due to the "High Density" of Microsoft Restarts
So, the question becomes "What do I do once someone in Blog Space flames my corporation?".
This is interesting. In some ways this is a regurgitation of old "domainsucks.com" approach. It's different since blog publishing is a) so damn easy which increases the flame quantity by what 10x? b) blogs are spidered more quickly than domains c) blog authors are prolific, touching on the same topics regularly pumping up the likelihood of Google displaying them.
Anyway, what do you do?
Answer: You do what Verity did for my "VerityFlame". You speak up and be honest. Admit that perhaps there was a problem but you're not Satan. Blogs are conversations after all (that's my thesis). I've now had two people from Verity, both Systems Engineers, who took it upon themselves to speak up and deal with it. They did a fantastic job of representing the company.
The email that I sent them is below.
Here are some other comments and thoughts on this issue and what people are doing today:
- You can choose to ignore it. I sent my RackSpace flame to them about 10 minutes after finishing it and about 1/2 hour after being on the phone with them. Guess what? NOTHING! No response. My answer: I'm now a very happy customer of www.rackshack.com. And every single hosting client that I have will never go to www.rackspace.com. Why? They didn't choose to engage in a conversation. A simple "You know I need to talk to my boss about this ..." would go a long way towards making someone feel like there is some dialog (even if it is just placation).
- You can set your email addresses up to bounce outside email. I sent my Windows Restart Costs flame to email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and a few other folk I know there. They were just bounced back to me. Look guys, I know what the algorithm is for MS email addresses. So does, well, everybody who cares. I know that this only happens at the exec level because emails that I sent out of the damn blue to the MS Help System product manager when the search engine on the MS developer site revealed it's true nature as a piece of Gah got answered within 6 hours. And don't give me that silly hogwash about how you can't answer it personally. Maybe so but here's how to handle it.
- Walk across campus to http://research.microsoft.com/ and talk to any of the oh 10+ researchers into Natural Langauge that you already employ.
- Hire me to write you a damn smart email handling algorithm something like this (or perhaps you have someone on staff with the skills to do it for you):
Do I really advocate this kind of automated, impersonal handling? Sure it's nice to have real people in the loop but the volume is starting to prohibit it. This is just an approach.
- Log all incoming emails from someone you never talked to before to a database. MySQL will work just fine, thank you very much.
- Look for keywords and key phrases like "flame", "f*ck", etc. This indicates anger and who wants an angry customer. Forward those to your admin to answer. Any regular expression based tool will work -- php and perl work just fine.
- Check the email for urls. Grab the url content programmatically with PHP's snoopy class. Evaluate it for links to your web site, derogatory terms, etc. Assign it a score. If score passes a threshold i.e. multiple links to your site indicates perhaps a more serious problem then bump it to a human
- Look for danger keywords like "lawsuit", "child pornography", "attorney", etc.
- Do historical monitoring based on smtp address. When people are really pissed then they mail you more than once. Address it personally at a 2x or 3x threshold of receipt of basically the same email or multiple emails from that address.
- "Intelligently" generate responses like these based on a random algorithm:
- Hi there,
I'm traveling this week but I hope to respond when I return in the next 10 days.
(i.e. most people will cool off by then)
- Hi there,
That's an interesting point. I'm not sure how to respond. Can I think about it for a few days?
- Scott --
I'm going to pass this on to the right person to address it. They'll get back to you after an offsite they are on.
- ... (fill in random responses here)
- If you are really smart then you'll include different delays based on the response. The 1st one would go out immediately since it's a "mock out of office" auto reply. The others would go out at differing intervals to emulate that a human was doing it.
- Build a web based ui for monitoring, administration and more. Support user spoofing so that your secretary can be you for volume answers.
Verity Gets It. Even if only the SE's get it, they'll do just fine. Their people are on watch. Microsoft? Who knows, who cares? (I'm not as hard on Microsoft since I know of several people there who use Radio and that's a good sign). Rackspace? Cluefree and proud of it or as I look at it "Here Google, Here Google...".
That Verity Email
Here is the email that I sent both of them this morning:
Not a problem Mike.
Here's what I'll do. I'll edit the original post and add a link to my Spencer experience.
Just as a comment to both of you. I'm tremendously impressed with how Verity handled this. Reactions that you could have had include:
* He's an asshole. Let's ignore him.
* He's an asshole. Let's sue him.
* He's an asshole. Let's go after userland.
In my humble opinion both of you have handled "blog era" customer complaints the way they should have been done. And that is something I will write about. Thank you very much. You've given me much to think about.
From: Mike Matson (deleted so he doesn't get spammed)
Sent: Friday, May 03, 2002 1:08 AM
Subject: Radio UserLand: Mail from Mike Matson
Mike Matson  sent this email to you through the Radio UserLand  community server, re this page .
Hi Fuzzygroup, I (like Spence) am an SE for Verity and I'm quit concerned about your experience. It actually affects me since Vito does not cover NYC as I'm not hurt by losing an account in that territory... I do care. Spence and I both take great pride in our technical abilities and our customer service. Sales guys come and go... but SEs make a company. I would be more than happy to personally work with you on an account in NYC. I have covered the city for over 2.5 years with Verity... Many many more with other vendors. I have been in the KM space for over 15 much like yourself. I used to work for ICON consulting (now Steelpoint) out of Boston as the NYC regional manager. Please let me know if I can help,
Mike Matson, NYC SE