The Internet can be a double-edged sword capable of bringing in a great deal of wealth or disaster as Wisconsin-based Discount-Mats.com discovered.
According to published accounts in USA Today and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, a company employee e-mailed the following response to a U.S. soldier who was interested in buying a mat to make his forward-operating base a bit more comfortable:
We do not ship toAPOaddresses, and even if we did, we would NEVER ship to Iraq. If you were sensible, you and your troops would pull out of Iraq.
APO stands for Army Post Office. The soldier/customer is stationed in Taji, Iraq.
Once the word got out on this e-mail exchange, the company's Web site was overwhelmed with hits and crashed. Its brick-and-mortar component, called Bargain Suppliers, has received hundreds of irate calls.
The company's owner said the employee is being held accountable for his actions, but the damage is already done.
What this case proves is the smallest slip by an employee in this day and age can prove disastrous to any company. The e-mail exchange between the soldier and Discount-Mats.com took place last week and by Monday the company's site was down from receiving to many hits. And all because the soldiers e-mailed the story to their family and friends. It eventually landed on Snopes.com, a clearing house for online rumors and urban legends. From there it was picked up by the mainstream media.
If this discussion had taken place in the store, nothing would have happened. The customer would have been angry and maybe complained to the manager, but it never would have taken on a life of its own as it did online because there would have been hard evidence. The employee's e-mail changed that equation by giving the soldier the evidence of the transgression, thus creating a migraine-level headache for the store's owners instead of a minor customer service problem.
And it all could have been avoided if the customer service rep had simply been polite and just answered the customer's question.