Grounded Chips, VII

It’s been some time since the last update on my little Terra Chips interaction. I can’t say that there’s anything really new to report. I couldn’t seem to justify to myself the time and effort to record a phone call to their customer service team given the other important things to which I’ve had to attend. (Links to the previous posts, in case they’re needed: I, II, III, IVVVI – Fail.) And in case you’re still wondering, the Terra Chips folks have still not responded to me, nor do I expect they will.

That said, I wanted to post to say thank you to the folks who offered comments and posts on their blogs. As I said repeatedly, this isn’t some kind of watershed experiment. I had no pretensions about breaking through some profound barrier. I simply wanted to point out how pervasively diseased marketing has become. Terra Chips is a great brand. They make a great product. They are simply one of many—in fact, one of the overwhelming majority—of consumer-facing businesses that fail utterly at creating a genuine relationship with their customers. The reason for this state of affairs is simply that mass marketing as we’ve known it since Oyster Bay—indeed since Gutenberg—has reached the end of its utility. I’ve been wanting to post about exactly this, and I have in the past. I’ve got more to say about it, but that will have to wait for another post which I intend to give a snappy title something along the lines of, “Marketing Can Kiss My Ass.”

I also wanted to take a moment to respond to this comment by my friend and former colleague, Lori. She’s a shrewd one and the substance of her comment struck me as, “Quit being a blowhard and lay off this company. You don’t know what’s going on internally and you’re smearing them on your site. Furthermore, you have no right to expect them to communicate with you in any specific manner or really do anything you want them to do. It isn’t your company after all.” That is my interpretation, read her comment and draw your own conclusions. If it were a thoughtless comment or utterly lacking in insight, I might have ignored it. Rather, I think her comment cuts to the core of what is changing in the marketing industry in general. She has, in my opinion, succinctly delineated the position of the proponents of marketing as we know it.

Hell, the more I think about it, the more I think y’all should read her comment. In case someone may not have the gumption to click the link, here it is:

“Back away from the chip! One experience does not a brand make, either negative or positive. And who says the timeline you chose meshes with the one in their manual? Maybe they have launched an internal research program that is in fact testing how many pounds per inch of pressure it takes to open a bag. And their error is in not sharing this with you. So they have a few communications issues, that doesn’t erase the fact that they make a good product.

I don’t know when we moved into the “I expect to be listened to by all” era, but we’re in it. You have no idea what’s going on at that company or with the person responsible for handling these types of concerns, yet you assume that it’s a laissez-faire attitude toward consumers. I say not enough info is available to make a judgment. So it’s not best practice….are they a little company? Start-up? Two guys in a kitchen peeling potatoes & running a deep fryer?

I say pat yourself on the back for taking the time to share an idea that could improve something, and grab your scissors next time. Don’t slaughter them for not jumping on your suggestion. Little perspective people.”

First, I totally agree with the fact that they are doing a poor job building relationships doesn’t mean that their product doesn’t rock. It does. I still buy them. I just use scissors to open the bags now. But I have a somewhat philosophical perspective on the whole thing. I have a fairly passionately-held opinion about the dramatic changes taking place in the marketing universe. Most consumers don’t share my passion or philosophical outlook. Most consumers, when met with a company that simply refuses to respond to their concerns, will simply choose a competitor’s product next time. If anything, I was trying to help them because I was willing to forgive them where others will not. I also hoped that a little pressure from a fan might be better than a lot of pressure from someone who is genuinely pissed off.

Where I started to realize how much Lori found my experiment offputting was with the “I expect to be listened to by all” thing. I also talked to Lori on the phone for several hours about it. She isn’t the kind to concede a point easily. She’s told me before that she’s got a lot of brothers so she’s comfortable holding her own. What became clear the more we spoke was that she felt I was being rather impetuous. She felt that I was pretending to access I didn’t deserve. She seemed to think that I was trying to suggest that the inmates should be allowed to run the asylum (if I can be excused for comparing customers to inmates at an asylum—well I’m sure the oh-so-perspicacious Neil Boorman would find such a sentiment simply exquisite). Suffice to say, I don’t think I’m owed anything by Terra Chips or anyone else.

My assertion is simply that as the tools that empower mass communications continue to evolve, there is a greater pressure for those responsible for the mass communications act more like regular people and less like clergy or arrogant pricks or cooler-than-thou. One of the first ways this evolution has become relevant is with respect to customer service. Inasmuch as the internet empowers consumers to make their voice heard, don’t be surprised if they take you to task for treating their concerns lightly.
Twenty years ago, an organization could blithely assume that any steps they took to communicate with their constituents/customers were just fine. They were the ones footing the bill for all this mass communication and they weren’t going to waste that money dealing with individual cases—the technology available to do so was just not good enough and therefore too expensive. As the technology has evolved, so have people’s expectations. This isn’t consumers becoming uppity or something. This isn’t the “I expect to be listened to by all” era. It is simply consumers recognizing that there is no excuse for a bad experience when there are other options that provide a good experience.

I’d like to say more about this, and as I mentioned, I’ve got this “Marketing Can Go to Hell” post brewing that will hopefully elucidate further. I couldn’t get on writing that post until I had brought this Terra Chips thing to a close and tried to offer a thoughtful response to Lori. Reading back over this, I’m not sure I pulled it off. I’d say I’m amazed that I can write 1,100+ words without really being particularly thoughtful, but then I remember that I’ve been working in marketing for over 10 years.