There’s an old adage that an unhappy customer will tell ten people about the bad service they have received. If that was ever true, it is startling how quickly and comprehensively it is untrue now.

Here’s a little story unfolding in front of our eyes. The starting point is Helen Lippell being on the receiving end of a poor experience:

Note that that’s directly addressed to @WHsmithcouk so wouldn’t ordinarily be visible except to the intersection of their followers. It seems a safe bet that, to a rough approximation, that’s nobody.

Back comes the reply. Whoever is behind @WHSmithcouk is apparently unable to take note of feedback given on twitter and do anything useful with it. How foolish their customers are who do not know that such messages should be emailed instead.

Helen, perfectly reasonably takes exception to that. And this time a dot goes at the beginning of her tweet.

The effect of that is that the audience for the exchange leaps from approximately nobody to Helen’s 731 followers. One of whom happens to be me, whiling away a few minutes on the top of a bus.

That adds another thousand or so people to the watching crowd. And now it gets really interesting. That tweet has been retweeted nine times in less than an hour to a notional audience of 24,368 more people.

So the cack-handed response has had the result of changing some effectively private feedback into negative publicity shared with 25,000 people.1

There are some important lessons there. It’s always interesting to see how far the learning still has to go.

  1. And yes, there is almost certainly some double counting among the followers. And not all those people will see, still less register, these particular tweets. But the amplification effect is still dramatic.

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