There’s been a lot of focus lately on improving customer-facing content. Managing the processes that govern such information is the purview of those who preach the customer-centric content management gospel. These professionals are busy. Very busy. Why? Because customer support needs fixed.

In most organizations today, support is an island to itself—an inefficient and expensive silo where useful information is often difficult to find, retrieve and use. Providing an easy and efficient way for support representatives to add content to the knowledge base is one challenge. Alerting technical writing and training departments to the need for missing content is another. So too is making immediate corrections to inaccurate content. Escalating business critical errors to managers who have the smarts and the authority to correct problems is yet another challenge, and an important customer satisfaction and retention function that can have significant impact on the bottom line.

But, correcting customer service problems may be getting easier thanks to the internet file sharing applications, peer-to-peer networks, social networking sites, and podcasts, all of which allow customers to share their service horror stories with hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of other consumers using services like video-distribution services like You Tube. The embarrassment factor of finding your customer service department featured on the home page of a popular video or audio download site (and featured on CNN) will not sit well with upper management and will do even less to impress shareholders. And, if the experience shared by one customer strikes a cord with others, your organization may find itself at the center of a user-generated content campaign aimed at pointing out how inept your organization is.

Consider the case of Verizon, whose customer support staff is incapable of understanding basic math … even after a very patient customer spends considerable time and effort trying to help the telephone giant correct a billing issue that raised the ire of many users. The customer was quoted a rate of .002 cents per kilobyte, but was billed .002 dollars per kilobyte—100 times more than he was quoted. Despite numerous attempts, he was unable to get Verizon’s telephone support staff to understand their billing error nor the fact that they continued to incorrectly quote their own rates. “It’s obviously a difference of opinion” said the Verizon representative. Trying to explain herself further she added, “I’m not a mathematician”.

Use the media player below to listen to the exchange yourself (provided by via You Tube). Don’t forget to laugh out loud (unless, of course, you work for Verizon). At press time, this file, titled “vcents”, had been listened to 368,620 times.

Customers can be really useful providers of free, unsolicited feedback. When you pay attention to what your customers are saying, you may be able to spot costly problems, correct inaccurate information, build customer loyalty, and prevent the defection of existing customers to the competition.

For Verizon, the story doesn’t end here. The per kilobyte billing exchange was too irresistable for many mere mortals to ignore. Soon after the story made headlines on the web, other Verizon customers began calling Verizon to complain about the same billing problem. Of course, they recorded their customer support experiences and uploaded them to You Tube where thousands of other customers listened to the calls. Many customers left written comments (“What a bunch of idiots! They’re running a multi-billion dollar company, and they don’t understand FIFTH GRADE MATH!”). Others took considerable time to create and post their own video complaints. A video mathematics lesson was created by one user to demonstrate the math error in a way that a customer support phone call cannot. A mathematics professor chimed in to add credibility to the discussion.

Let’s hope the days of “good enough” customer service are numbered.