advice from a fake consultant

out-of-the-box thinking about economics, politics, and more... 

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

On Electioneering, Or, Lessons Learned In Unlikely Places

Big Business is the source, if you read in the right places, of All Evil In The World, and as a result, should never be trusted.

The conversation today is designed to suggest that we might derive considerable wisdom from those we challenge, and particularly in the field of electioneering.

Specifically, I’d like to offer wisdom from the world of customer service, and show its application to political campaigns.

Why customer service?

Because politics is, at heart, a customer satisfaction exercise.

Voters are no different than any other customer-they seek association with a product (“Candidate-Brand”); that product, at its best, incorporates an emotional experience that bonds the customer.

Successful campaigns know (incumbents, too-see “constituent service”) each “customer contact” should be treated as a relationship nurturing experience.

In the old days (1990’s?), customer contact meant doorbelling, the rubber chicken circuit (how many Rotary breakfasts are there in America?), and checks-in-the-hand fundraising; supplemented by phone banks and direct mail.

Although the Internet has changed the technology of campaigning, I submit that it has not changed the customer expectation that voters place upon candidates.

With all that in mind, let’s discuss one aspect of the issue: the troll.

For those of you facing trolls n a daily basis in your campaigns, here’s some advice on handling angry customers:

First, from the Federal Government itself, this:

“Make it easy for your customers to complain and your customers will make it easy for you to improve.”

At first this seems counterintuitive, but it makes good sense. If politics is a listening exercise (and it is), then the easier it is to listen, and the more likely voters will feel bonded to the candidate.

To apply this advice to our topic: trollers echo the same themes over and over, but the aggregate of those messages creates a sort of informal list of possible needed responses.

There’s also this: there are those who will visit a site, not to troll, but with a point of view dissimilar to the community’s. These are the potential purple voters that all candidates will need so badly this cycle and beyond.

Embrace them-even if the desire is to “clean up” the community by ignoring them and hoping they’ll go away.

Maybe they won’t be converted, but consider the non-posters who also read these exchanges. They also judge based on how the site makes the candidate appear, and reasonable responses sell purple voters better than unreasonable ones

Gaebler Ventures, a business incubator company, offers this advice to entrepreneurs dealing with angry customers:

“Don't Take It Personally

Emotions run high in situations involving irate customers. Even though the problem may have been out of your control, the customer will likely focus his frustration toward an employee because at that moment the employee represents the company. Avoid the temptation to take the complaint personally. Instead, try to diffuse the emotion of the moment by remaining calm and responding in a reasonable manner”.

Any of this sound familiar?
Trollers are nothing if not irate.
(I told you there was a connection between politics and customer service.)

Here’s more from Vadim Kotelnikov:

“Sadly, mature companies often forget or forsake the thing that made them successful in the first place: a customer-centric business model. They lose focus on the customer and start focusing on the bottom line and quarterly results. They look for ways to cut costs or increase revenues, often at the expense of the customer. They forget that satisfying customer needs and continuous value innovation is the only path to sustainable growth. This creates opportunities for new, smaller companies to emulate and improve upon what made their bigger competitors successful in the first place and steal their customers.”

Substitute the words “Barack Obama” for “new, smaller companies” and the words “policies that fit the voter’s desires” for “continuous value innovation” and we’re on to something here. Candidates have to try to prevent trollers from the beginning by concentrating on identification with the angry, frustrated voter who eventually vents his frustration upon you and your community.

Finally, from Azriela Jaffe, a story of heating ducts, failure, and redemption:

“In late July, 1997 my husband, Stephen and I parted with $250.00 of hard-earned cash to get our home air ducts cleaned… my detail-oriented and frugal husband had inspected each duct with a flashlight to be sure he was getting good value for his money. Good thing he did! Stephen was furious to discover that the ducts hardly looked any cleaner than before… I called the company the next morning and spoke to Jeff, the man who had done the work. Jeff expressed great surprise and concern, and scheduled a return trip to our home the following day… My husband had carefully prepared a list of all of the ducts that were in question, but after glancing at the first one, Jeff replied: "We tried a new way of cleaning ducts at the beginning of this week. Obviously it didn't work. I should have caught that before I left and I didn't. I'm sorry. I will reclean every duct in your house."… He continued: "And to make up for the inconvenience, you can call me every year for the rest of the time you are living in this house. As long as I'm still in business, I'll clean your ducts again for free."

Did providing more than was expected make a customer for life? Probably.
That translates to a voter who will vote for you in this cycle and the next, without much persuasion (budget).

How can a candidate offer a troll more than they expected?

Assign a staff member to personally respond to each one.
Personalize that writer’s concerns.
Get them tickets to an event, or a bobblehead, or something.
Most importantly, try to uncloak the writer.
The less anonymous the writer can be, the less vitriolic the writer will be.

So let’s sum all this up:

There are parallels between customer service and electioneering.

Make it easy to receive complaints-and then listen.

Don’t confuse trollers with those of differing opinions.
Either way, welcome them in.

Remember-non-posters are watching, too. Be nice.

Don’t take it personally.

Remain close to the desires of the electorate-prevent trolling before it starts.

Give more to the troll than they expect.

So that’s it for today.
In closing, just remember: treat the trolls well, and they’ll go away less upset than when they came.

Or at least, you’ll be less upset at them.

And remember-with any luck, and a bit of personal attention, you might turn some votes, and even, possibly, gather a few donations along the way (!)

Best of luck-it’s a long run ahead.

No comments: