Category Archives: Reputation

Don’t blame the council – blame ITV

Updated 

Like many others I tuned in yesterday to watch ITV’s Don’t Blame the Council, billed as a ‘behind the scenes’ look at Wigan Council.

Back in October, when Wigan announced they were going to take part in a BBC documentary, Call The Council, I blogged about it and was hopeful that it would help shine a light on the real challenges faced by local authorities like Wigan. Maybe it would help ‘ordinary’ residents understand what the unprecedented cuts to budgets really mean for the services that many people take for granted.

At the time, Donna Hall, Chief Exec of Wigan Council, wrote a piece for the Guardian Public Leaders Network explaining why Wigan had decided to let the cameras in. She said:

“The last time there was industrial action, in Wigan we had to cancel our household waste collections. That went down like a contaminated bin at a recycling centre. Our social media accounts were inundated with questions from angry members of the public whose bins were not collected. Many asked: “When do I get a refund for the service you’ve not provided?”

This reaction told us one thing – an awful lot of council taxpayers appear to believe all we do is empty their bins.”

And she explained what she hoped the programme would achieve:

“I’d guess most of our residents wouldn’t be able to name more than 10 services we provide. In fact, Wigan council provides more than 700 services to 310,000 residents.

“Call the Council won’t be able to reflect all those services but it is going to show a rich mixture of our work. The film crews have only been with us for a few weeks but they have already followed our officers doing spot checks on taxi drivers, organising an Expo for small businesses, taking food samples from shops, dealing with illegal traveller sites and installing LED street lighting.”

I really admired Wigan Council for taking the brave step of letting the cameras in. Their aim was noble – highlighting the many and varied services that local government provides, and to demonstrate the tough decisions that councils all over the country are having to take.

Since then it seems that Wigan Council also permitted ITV to film with them for yesterday’s Don’t Blame The Council.

The BBC series is yet to be aired. But ITV’s effort was broadcast last night and left a bit of a sour taste.  Despite all the interesting and varied jobs that their Chief Exec described the BBC filming in the quote above, ITV’s hour long programme focused instead on… you guessed it… BINS.

Their portrayal of council staff was purposely negative – showing a sleeping bin lorry driver (legitimately on the break he is legally required to have maybe?); made the officer in charge of dog fouling and flytipping look over officious (despite the fact she was carrying out a very tough job that most members of the public, in my experience, support); poked fun at the stereotype of council workers always having meetings and generally being inept.

Not what I (or Wigan Council, I imagine) had hoped for.

And a missed opportunity I felt. Lazy, stereotyped fly on the wall nonsense that had no real intention of highlighting the very real issues and challenges facing local councils, but just wanted to follow a few ‘characters’ and have a bit of a laugh at their expense. 

The comments on Twitter were particularly depressing, with lots of ill-informed anti-council hate being posted. Early local media coverage hasn’t been much better. Not exactly what Donna Hall set out to achieve.

I feel for Wigan Council. They were brave enough to take this risk, and it hasn’t worked out as well as it could have. That is ITV’s fault for taking the easy, lazy approach.

A transmission date is yet to be confirmed for the BBC’s Call The Council series. Let’s hope for a more thorough, carefully considered programme from the Beeb. Perhaps they can put ITV to shame. But ITV’s treatment of this subject matter is bound to make other councils think twice about taking part in any future project as a result.

I would love to hear what other local government workers and communicators thought of the show – and I can’t wait to see how differently (hopefully) the BBC approach this issue. 

 

 

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Let’s use social media for good, not evil

thank-you-card

Social media gets such a bad press at times.

It’s no wonder when there are so many trolls relishing in the ability to make nasty, vindictive comments; a seemingly uncontrollable rumour-mill in which the unwitting victims are guilty until proven innocent and a tendency for people to unleash their angry side if something irritates or inconveniences them.

Managing social media accounts for an organisation you see on a day to day basis the willingness of people to take to Twitter or Facebook and have a right good whinge. And I am the first to admit that I have done the same on occasion (EE will certainly have felt my wrath a couple of times…)

Some of those moans are rightly justified (workmen carrying out noisy, non-urgent works outside your house at 5am), others a little more pedantic (person held up for one minute while bins are emptied) But either way, complaining via social media is quick, easy and popular.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m an advocate of using social media to contact organisations and let them know what’s going wrong. But also what’s going right too – and that’s where I think we could all help to spread a little more ‘love’ on social media.

For example, today we took our kids to get shoes in Clarks. We were served by a very pleasant and professional lady called Lindsey. She took the time to remember the kids’ names, and was very thorough in making sure we got what we came for and that the shoes were a really good fit for them. We left thinking less about how much we’d just spent on shoes (clue: a small fortune, Clarks ain’t cheap), but more about the good customer experience we’d had.

Customer service is a major ‘thing’ of mine, and its sadly a much rarer breed than it should be.

So I took to twitter to give a little praise where praise was due:

praise-for-clarks-on-twitter

It really didn’t take me any time at all, hopefully the message does get passed back and that Clarks employee – a great company ambassador – will get to feel that the effort she goes to to give great customer service is valued and has been appreciated. She’ll feel good and I feel good, because I had good service and because I’ve given a little something back.

As somebody who manages accounts for an organisation, it is always lovely to get some positive feedback, especially when it relates to a specific service or individual. And it’s nice to be able to pass that feedback back to that person (and their manager).

It’s easy to take to Twitter or Facebook when you’re angry and dissatisfied. And that’s fine. But let’s also remember to do the same when things go right, it might just make the world a slightly happier place, even if only for a little while.

 

Customer service – so much more than ‘just’ social media

An advert for EE popped into my Facebook feed the other day.

It annoyed me, because EE and I are in dispute.

And it got me thinking about the importance of customer service and consistency of brand, tone of voice and attitude each and every time it interacts with customers.

After upgrading to EE from Orange a few months back, my husband and I had weeks and weeks of problems, ranging from the wrong phones being delivered, broken phones, phone numbers not transferring across, then transferring across to the wrong phones… a long, boring and infuriating experience. I made many, many calls to their customer services, each time there was much tutting at their end (once even swearing) and blaming of the last person, new promises made that this new approach would fix the problem “within five working days” – inevitably that not being the case and the whole cycle repeating again… for weeks and weeks.

Even now, if my husband and I are in a room together, and somebody calls me, his phone will ring too, and vice versa. In fact my old phone, which the kids now use, will also ring if it’s not on aeroplane mode (which is usually is). But I’ve decided just to live with it, because I can’t face dealing with the company again and I’ve got no faith that they would be able to fix it, anyway.

After each of the calls I made to EE, they sent me an auto-text asking me to tell them how satisfied I was, from 1-10. After my final call, I decided to take their text survey. A lot of ‘0’s were involved. The final text asked me if I had anything else I wanted to add. I did. But they never tried to contact me to resolve the problem, and they never apologised.

I also went to the trouble of emailing EE, outlining the problems I’d had and how angry & frustrated I was. I never got a response.

The last time I spoke to a person at EE, it was because they billed me twice in error, and even though they said they had cancelled one of the bills, they took both amounts out of my account.  The man on the phone basically just laughed when  tried to explain how upset I was and said I could contact my bank and refuse the payment. I did that but I was concerned that this would register as an non payment, so asked the man in customer services to call me back when he had amended the records to show that the amount was no due. He promised to, but he never called me back.

During all this, I also tweeted my frustration with EE. A couple of days later I got a tweet back, offering to help. But the help amounted to nothing more than referring me back to customer services. Thanks.

So when the ad for EE popped up in my Facebook newsfeed the other day, I clicked on comments and saw a lot of other people sharing their own bad experiences with EE – so I gave into temptation and added my own. (Ooh, that felt good.)

A day or two later, I got a reply. “Sorry to hear that Gemma, if you’d like to PM us we can look into it for you”.

Sadly, this willingness to help is too little, too late. The damage is done and they will never get my custom again.

I believe that social media is a vital part of customer service for any organisation or brand. But if the experiences you have in every other dealing with a company are so negative, you could have the best social media team in the world and they couldn’t turn that around.

And far from creating brand advocates, if you’re not careful you’re creating the exact opposite – people who will go out of their way to warn friends and family not to use your company and who will delight in retelling negative stories. This is the ‘Trip Advisor generation’, after all.

So, good luck to EE’s social team. But no matter what they try to do to engage with customers online won’t be worth a carrot if the rest of the company isn’t trying to do the same.

 

A cautionary tale

This really interesting article from The Guardian was doing the rounds on social media this weekend: ‘Overnight, everything I loved was gone’: the internet shaming of Lindsey Stone.

It demonstrates how easily your internet life can be hijacked, sometimes after a single tweet posted by you or others, and how that can have potentially disastrous repercussions for your offline life.

If I were a teacher or parent of teenagers, I’d urge them to read this article. In fact I’m sure we all could benefit from taking a moment to consider what lessons we can learn from this. The fact is that the throwaway comments or ‘in jokes’ you might safely share with people you know offline can take a whole new meaning when typed out and shared with the world online. We’re all human, we all make mistakes. But the internet can be a very unforgiving place.

It also reiterates the importance of brand building, not just for companies, but for people too. And once you’ve built that brand, you need to look after and protect it. As the article sadly demonstrates, sometimes your reputation can be rubbished online in a very short space of time, and through no fault of your own. But there are also plenty of silly mistakes you can learn to avoid.

I was fascinated to read about how Lindsey Stone was being helped to repair her online reputation with the aid of content creation, designed to fool search engines into pushing the results about her earlier misdemeanour further down the rankings. And it worked – but it requires an ongoing concerted effort with content being churned out to keep repressing those stories from two years ago.

None of us wants to be in the position that Lindsey finds herself in, and I hope that she is able to genuinely move on and stop living in fear of one past mistake constantly resurfacing. For her sake and for all those other women who share her name!

But certainly I would urge you to read this article, and bear in mind what lessons we – both as individuals and as guardians of brands online –  need to learn.