A new policy announced by Verizon yesterday has the Internet in a frenzy. In an attempt to control costs incurred by customers making one-time payments over the Internet or by phone, the company is instituting a “convenience fee” of two dollars. Now, Verizon finds itself inundated with complaints on Twitter, online petitions, and bad publicity. Will this lead to a change in the policy?
A 2006 paper suggests that all this pressure, if not tempered by careful managerial guidance, could have the opposite effect. In an effort to understand how companies react to customer complaints, the two authors advanced the theory of “defensive organizational behavior”—the idea that companies, for essentially psychological reasons, often avoid “contact with dissatisfied customers, dissemination of complaint-related information within the organization, and responsiveness to complaints.” In other words, organizations get defensive in the face of criticism, just as individuals do. Evaluating a large sample of customer complaints, the authors found that defensive behavior plays a large role in the way companies respond to complaints. They recommend a thorough implementation of clear policies for receiving, handling, and addressing complaints. Presumably, that includes interpreting criticism on Twitter as a constructive way of relating to customers—not as an attack to be met with a defensive crouch.