Jeff Jarvis notes the absurdity of this:
On NPR this morning, I heard an old lady in a wheelchair forced to come to the airport to change her canceled American tickets -- she wasn’t allowed to do it online or on the phone, not even after she said she was disabled and her daughter had seven children and a newborn and couldn’t take her to the O’Hare’s hell.
Unless you sell a commodity whose value is solely determined on price grounds (like, say, gas at a self serve station), customer service is everything. The reason a lot of companies don't get this is simple: Excellent service seems to have little upside. No one comments on it, and praise is infrequent. However, bad service gets passed around via word of mouth. Restaurants figured this out a long time ago; unless you can count on a steady traffic of non-locals, you simply cannot afford bad word of mouth n the food business.
The thing that's changed is how viral word of mouth has gotten. A decade ago, stories like the one Jeff relates would have appeared (maybe) in a local newspaper. Unless a national news organization latched onto it though, it would have been very unlikely to see it spread beyond the people the woman in question knew.
Now? All it takes is someone who thinks the topic should be talked about, and there are so many bloggers around that the liklihood of that happening starts to approach 100 percent. That doesn't mean that it will be known by "everyone", but you can bet that frequent travelers - who follow this kind of news - will find out early, and react to it. It's a whole new ballgame, and it's one that companies and public figures are having a lot of trouble with. Take this item about Bill Clinton, for instance - and never mind the politics, it's the communications issue I'm interested in:
Watching Bill on the trail makes folks wonder whether he could have held up to scrutiny in 1992 had YouTube and instant fact-checking existed back then. No one has seemed less prepared for the intense scrutiny of this campaign than Bill. He seems to forget that even when he's in rural Indiana, he's on the national stage. In '96, the Clinton campaign thought their local market strategy was innovative (it was), since it allowed him to talk to key media markets outside of the interference of the national press. Now, the national press is everywhere since local can become national in an instant.
This is a key thing in modern PR that is just as true for companies: it's virtually impossible to segment a message to different audiences now. Want another example? How about this Absolut Vodka campaign, intended to be targeted solely at a Mexican audience? Again, the people who put that together assumed that the audience was limited; they learned all too quickly that the audience was global, regardless of the theories they held.
You simply can't segment the audience with any expectation that it will stay segmented. "Edgy" campaigns are now every bit as dicey as the idea that you can campaign one way in this area, and another way in a different one. You have to assume that a video camera, phone, and internet connection exist in every single context, and act accordingly.