Vodafone kills complaint form because too many complaints !!!

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Would a company in crisis management choose to disable it’s online customer contact because it is getting too many complaints? If the company is Vodafone then the answer is yes! I know that’s almost beyond belief but it is true.

Yesterday Vodafone Australia reinstated its online contact form which it had suspended while it “while it worked through a backlog of customer inquiries”.

Vodafone Australia is currently the target of a class action with over 15,000 participants. This action is due in total to Vodafone Australia’s appalling service delivery – customers basically claiming they were swindled and wanting out of their contracts and Vodafone refusing to release them. It’s also in the midst of a privacy scandal, first denying and then yesterday sacking staff after being “tipped off by a newspaper reporter“.

The class action and the lead up to it have undoubtedly reached the highest levels of Vodafone Corporate – this isn’t just a Vodafone Australia fiasco. You just wonder on what kind of magnets the Vodafone executives have been sleeping?

Australia is in the midst of a series of El Niño events, including flooding across most of Queensland – an area bigger than combined Germany and France under water (but 1/4 the population of Switzerland). These unusual events seem to include the Vodafone PR disaster plus a couple of other monsters as we start into 2011. One other was specifically in relation to the floods, where retailer Bing Lee decided to donate to the flood relief fund but only on the condition that people Liked their Facebook page!

This was slammed by the very social media to which Bing Lee had appealed. (But, surprisingly their Facebook page remained unapologetic and actually accelerated their Fans and Bing Lee then donated $10,000 to the relief fund.)

The whopper, before Vodafone, was a loud and high-profile campaign by Australia’s most renown troglodyte businessman Gerry Harvey condemning people who buy online as “unAustralian”!!!

Harvey runs a very successful retail chain, but he’s most known for his head-in-the-sand on all things Internet most famously declaring in 2000 that online retailing was a fad and would die. In fact he’s continued on that theme for a decade, being quoted as little as a year ago saying that “online retail sales were a dead end”.

Harvey was upset that overseas online purchases of less than $1000 do not attract any sales tax for Australia buyers. The Australian Tax Office says that collecting the money would cost more than they gain.

The result of Harvey’s ferocious campaign is that more Australians than ever are aware of the money they can save by purchasing online, and that Harvey now faces a monstrous backlash from store shoppers. Survey’s showed up to 97% of people disliked Harvey’s conduct of this PR exercise. Even Harvey himself expressed regrets, having been vilified across the nation, and remarkably said that “getting involved was ‘suicidal’.” PR agency FD Third Person were the geniuses behind the campaign, I wonder if they were paid on press clippings as they surely would have received a bonus!

So in summary El Niño has left a trail of rain and PR disasters in its track down under. Vodafone takes the prize for the most amazing customer relations exercise of the decade – suspending their complaints form – and Gerry Harvey’s unAustralian online shoppers runs a close second.

What is your biggest customer relationship disaster story, or success story, for 2011?

http://xeesm.com/walter @adamson

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