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Opportunity costs in social media

I recently read Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff and was happy to read their descriptions of customers taking charge and speaking out in their own voices about the service they receive. Last week, I was delighted to stumble upon news that a South African company used a pigeon to transmit data between two offices to highlight issues with its ADSL service. Telkom SA’s response? It breaks my heart. A mumbo-jumbo string of corpratese that parses out as: we’re not to blame. “Several recommendations have, in the past, been made to the customer but none of these have, to date, been accepted. It must also be noted that Telkom is not the customer’s core service provider.”

RAF homing pigeons

Image by Adelaide Archivist via Flickr


Would an apology have been so difficult? I’ve had waiters apologize for burnt offerings that they clearly had no hand in charring. If that waiter can summon up empathy after standing all day and handling other people’s dirty plates, I would think a large organization such as Telkom SA could as well. Even if they actually aren’t strictly to blame remember- if you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.
Looking a little deeper here saddens me further. Kevin Rolfe, head of information technology at Unlimited IT said: “Look, we don’t blame Telkom or Neotel, or any of the other Internet providers,” says Rolfe. “Those guys, the providers are doing the best job that they can. But we are saying, fine, let’s sit down and think out of the box and figure out how to improve South Africa’s telecommunications.”
It sounds like Telkom SA just missed a big opportunity to partner with Unlimited IT and address a systemic issue that plagues them both. It is time to step up your game. Let’s imagine for a moment an alternate universe, where Telkom SA’s response looks like this:
Media Centre

Telkom SA announces exploratory committee

Recently, Telkom SA has received numerous enquiries regarding our ability to provide avian-based data transfer services. We do not presently offer such services, but to be responsive to our customers we are forming an exploratory committee to evaluate the current national infrastructure and suitability of our data centres and access lines for such service. Applications are now being accepted for certified IPoAC technologists to assist with the effort.
This committee has the additional responsibilities of working with a variety of customers and national organisations to develop consensus recommendations for improvements to the network communications infrastructure in South Africa. Definitely, based on current customer demand, we will carefully evaluate pigeon-based networking along with other alternatives. We welcome further partnering and collaboration that will lead to substantive change and investment in this vital national effort.

That would be quite a difference from something that sets the cat among the pigeons. Your customers will be your strongest advocates and promoters if you let them. Don’t miss the opportunity presented when one approaches you with an issue.

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