Conflict in Community 2.0

photo courtesy de_jack_mamsall on flickr
(photo courtesy de_jack_mamsall)

Holy crap! I am not a “professional journalist” (ie, I don’t get paid by traditional media), but I know a story when I see one.

“Why don’t you fix what doesn’t work instead of talking about it?” Mikal Belicove passionately asked Diane Davidson, the director of customer marketing for WebEx.

At a WebEx sponsored breakfast at the Community 2.0 conference this morning, Belicove, of Doba, took his complaints about the company public. Davidson had just given a presentation on WebEx and what they were going to be doing to facilitate community dialogue and opened up for questions and comments.

Belicove’s main complaint came bubbling to the top during a passionate set of questions and comments he threw out at Davidson. His experience, he says, has been terrible. He’s phoned and emailed the representatives from the company multiple times. In fact, just a few weeks ago he had contacted another representative and was told he would be responded to “right away.”

“That was a few weeks ago and I haven’t heard from her since,” he said. “I finally told another representative not to contact me again unless [they] are serious about fixing the issues I brought up.”

When Davidson asked the crowd of community managers and facilitators if they felt they had a relationship with WebEx almost nobody responded. It didn’t seem to be much of a surprise to her, though. Talking with her after the conflict, Davidson mentioned she “wasn’t wild about the lunch session,” which was a similar event where Intuit essentially did a case study on themselves. The difference, and irony of her comment, was that Intuit probably did a better job of engaging the folks at the conference, engaging in a community dialogue, than Davidson did with the WebEx breakfast session.

Much of the breakfast session came off as an advertisement for WebEx. And, although it’s great to be passionate about your company, Chris Heuer of Social Media Club pointed out that there’s a difference between a pitch and an invitation – and invitations work where pitches don’t.

Heuer joined in the “afterparty” dialogue with Davidson, suggesting (1) WebEx start responding to their clients as humans, not as a sales team and (2) the context of Davidson’s appeal should be contextualized. As I looked around the room during the confrontation many people either were smiling or nodding their heads in affirmation and agreement with Belicove’s dissension. The body language of the group seemed to agree with Belicove and Heuer, effectively telling Davidson to stop pitching us on the company and start telling us or giving us something of value.

Admittedly, Davidson’s point was that they are an infant in the community arena. The conceptual separation of customer service and community dialogue gives the impression they still do have a lot to learn. I wish them luck in their learning. And in the meantime, I would have to agree with Belicove, if you don’t do customer service well, focus on that first.

I’d love to hear your take on both the event, if you were there, sponsorship of conferences, or the paradigm between customer service and community dialogue.

Related Posts:

Update:
Sorry for those of you on RSS that keep getting this post. Chris pointed out a correction and I found a second spelling mistake as well.

[tags]community2.0, community, webex, doba, mikal belicove, diane davidson, chris heuer, sponsorship, conferences, customer service, dialogue[/tags]

Nate Ritter is the leader of Perfect Space, a San Diego based web development firm where he is more opinionated about helping companies get ROI than this other stuff. He makes stuff work, and cares about process and quality. More here →

12 Comments on "Conflict in Community 2.0"

  1. Nate,

    I love it. I wish I would have been there to see this. I myself have had troubles with webex in the past….as most business professionals have.

    Like you infered, being bad at customer service always comes back to bite you in the ass.

    -Brian

  2. Isaac Hazard says:

    Nate,

    (Full disclaimer: I am a Shared Insights employee with some connection to the WebEx community initiative)

    Sitting next to you at the breakfast, I’m surprised that our take on this incident could have been so different.

    I felt that while Belicove’s complaints about WebEx customer service and product performance seemed to be legitimate, Diane’s offer to discuss them with him after the event was appropriate given that his specific issues were not the topic of the discussion.

    Also, Diane’s reaction to the lack of hands raised to her “relationship” question was not surprising given that she was describing an initiative designed, in part, to create deeper and more valuable customer relationships.

    Hope this is a helpful counterpoint,

    Isaac

  3. nate says:

    Thanks for your comments guys. I appreciate your insights, agree or disagree.

    Isaac, I definitely did make note of the fact that she was describing an initiative designed to create deeper relationships. The interesting thing, however, is her perception that there is a difference between customer service and community dialogue. I don’t necessarily find a big difference between the two. But, I guess it depends on what your motivation is by engaging the community.

    I also agree that Diane’s offer to take the discussion offline was appropriate. But, that doesn’t negate Belicove’s appropriate timing and forum for bringing up the point. Not to mention, even, the point he was making was very pertinent to the presentation topic.

    Again, I appreciate the counterpoint.

  4. To me, the criticisms that were raised *were* valid and very relevant to the point of the discussion. Belicove’s point was that the focus on building a community to get closer to customers is fine – if you’re already listening and actioning across the existing channels – and the criticism was that Webex aren’t…

  5. Chris Heuer says:

    It was clear that the room was not excited about it – the point was that this is an opportunity missed. Complaints typically make people receiving them unhappy and defensive. Instead, it was a real opportunity missed. From the way the scene was set, to the content in the presentation, to the way this complaint was happened. To her defense, it is a balancing act that is tough for people in traditional corporations to walk, but her response to Mikal afterwards was unfortunate.

    As we continue to say, there is no cure for marketing a bad product, but there is a cure for fixing bad systems that allow such products to continue to exist. Change the leadership, change the systems and listen to the customers.

  6. Jim S says:

    Hey Nate – Thanks for posting. Great discussion here…

    Full discalaimer: I’m on the Shared Insights team and work directly with Diane and WebEx on their community initiatives. I’m going to try to lay my Shared Insights hat to the side and respond as an observer at the session.

    My impression was that Belicove wasn’t really interested in finding a solution to his problem with his comments (attack?). When Davidson accepted his problem as a valid issue and agreed to personally help him to a solution, he continued to berate her. IMHO, this is just bad form. If Belicove chose this course in an established online forum, he’d be reprimanded by other members (again, imho). While some people may have been nodding their heads in agreement with Belicove, I’d like to think the majority in attendance were shocked with his overall approach.

    Whether the presentation was salesy or passionate, I chose to interpret it as the latter, but understand how others saw it as salesy. In any event, we’re all free to tune in/tune out or stay/walk out. If Chris (and others) didn’t like what was hearing he could have simply left. In fact I’ve seen people doing just that throughout the event when they felt the return on their time just wasn’t there.

    Finally, I wrote a blog post on the opportunity Davidson and WebEx were presented with when Belicove took control of the room this morning. I’m confident there interest in continuing the conversation with their customers is genuine. (ok… maybe I just put my hat back on for a second there.)

    I look forward to your thoughts.

  7. Anonymous says:

    My, my, at the risk of irritating folks, I must say, I have, a different response to this incident. WebEx is far from perfect. Lots of problems with much focus on fixing them. I spoke with many folks throughout the day, some who had had difficulties with WebEx, some who are no longer customers, some who are still customers. I think what is so interesting to me about this interchange is the perception or implication that until we have fixed our problems and have our customer support totally nailed down, it’s valid to ask why WebEx would embark on a community? Is there some bar that we have to cross before we are entitled to pursure this avenue? Is it not possible that creating an additional conversation capability with our customers might actually help improve our customer support or the features in our products, or help us gain a deeper understanding of our customers’ experiences? That is my belief.

    The other thing that comes to mind here is that communication is a difficult process. Since I did talk with lots people throughout the day, they were either lying to me about their perceptions, or there was more than one way to interpret the incident. After all, isn’t that life? We all listen and observe with our biases and beliefs. So my commitment to Mr. Belicove is to try to get some additional response, even fully recognizing that the response may not be satisfactory. My other observation is that this very human F2F conversation was difficult but real. As I said in another blog response, I better fasten my seatbelt.

  8. Diane Davidson says:

    Fogot to put my name on the prior post – so yes, it is from diane davidson.

  9. nate says:

    All very valid points, folks. Thanks for joining in the conversation.

    Obviously, this response is completely from my perspective:

    (1) I think there was probably one more thing Belicove could have done to get his point across without looking like it’s an attack, and that would be simply to talk to Diane personally first. However, on the same note, depending on the response he got from that and from the escalation of the issues, I wouldn’t fault him for bringing this problem to light, even inside the conference session. It’s a valid concern from a valid customer and if it hasn’t been fixed, then he has full rights to say so in a semi-public forum. In fact, to that point, WebEx should be happy he didn’t start a site and garner support from the haters out there (every company has them). My point is he could have done far more detrimental things than he did.

    (2) Diane, I don’t believe there is a threshold to cross before you can start a “community initiative”. However, I think it’s kind of jumping the gun to start something with any other motivation other than working towards fixing customer service problems at this point. It’s obviously a pretty contentious and big concern with current customers (even those other than Belicove who I talked with at the conference). My main problem is with the comment that customer service and community are different. I don’t believe they are (at least not at this point for WebEx). Now, if the motivation is to better customer service, then by all means, please do that!

    (3) I appreciate, Diane, that you are concerned enough to even post a comment here to respond. That does help, and I (and I think WebEx customers) do appreciate the conversation you’re jumping into. Now, conversation and communication, however difficult, is intended to lead to results. I would be very happy to report in the future that customer service has been improved. My community-focused heart would do a little dance if/when that occurs.

  10. Tom Maddox says:

    Diane,

    If you’re still following this thread, I’d like to ask if the deck from your presentation will be made public. I’d love to get a copy.

    Thanks.

  11. Richard says:

    Hi
    My company ‘engaged’ with the European Webex people about January 2010. The platforms themself are about the best on the market. But we find the billing process poor and the web portal they want everyone to use of little use. Customer support is ‘polite’. However, we have just been issued an invoice for ‘true up’ costs after being told previously by customer support that we did not have to pay them. When this was pointed out, customer service was not as polite.

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