The Nation Media Group, Plagiarism, An Apology, and Customer Service – A Case Study

This follows the article that I wrote yesterday regarding plagiarism by the Nation Media Group (NMG): Shameless Plagiarism at The Nation Media Group. If you read that article, you will notice that I wrote it while I was pretty upset at the NMG.  I felt that they had been dishonest and, feeling that there was little I could do about it, I decided to tell the world (that part of the world that reads what I write) of my frustrations. After writing that post, sharing it with Bidii Africa members and putting it up at Let's Explore, I felt a little happier.  A got an email that essentially said, "Cool, let's slay this behemoth."  Word spread, and what I wrote was picked up by Irani Media where Stephanie added her thoughts and experiences with NMG and plagiarism.

Putting the issue of plagiarism aside (I'll get to it later), I think this demonstrates the profound challenge facing organisations everywhere.   All it needs is one person dissatisfied with your product/service with a blog and suddenly your reputation and respectability could be facing a  big ugly challenge.  What is a company to do when there's a good number of its customers armed with blogs and ready to trash them at the slightest provocation?  Surely, there probably aren't any silver bullets out there; the solution(s) to this problem are probably wide and varied.  Yesterday, the NMG did something right.

One of the first people to email me following the post calling NMG on the plagiarism was Charles, a write I respect deeply, who is from the NMG.  His email was pleasant, but curt: He wanted me to point out instances of the plagiarism so that he could look into the matter.  I did that last night and today I got a response that was satisfactory to me.  Let's analyse this using Joel Spolsky's Approach to Remarkable Customer Service.  What did the NMG do right?

1. Take the blame.  When you're dealing with an angry customer, you have to take the blame.  The customer is always right, as they say. Take the blame and move on to the more important matter of solving the problem.  The NMG did this well.

2. Don't fight the customer.  "When an irate customer is complaining, or venting, it’s easy to get defensive.  You can never win these arguments, and if you take them personally, it’s going to be a million times worse. This is when you start to hear business owners saying, “I don’t want an asshole like you for a customer!” They get excited about their Pyrrhic victory. Wow, isn’t it great? When you’re a small business owner you get to fire your customers. Charming." (Source: Joel Spolsky's Approach to Remarkable Customer Service).  As Patrick McKenzie writes, you never win an argument with a customer.  NMG didn't fight the customer.

3. Fix everything two ways.  Every customer service problem has two solutions (and you have to use both): You solve the immediate, superficial problem and also make sure that particular problem doesn't happen again.  Charles not only calmed me down by explaining why they published Bidii Africa articles, he proceeded to tell me what the NMG did to make sure the problem didn't recur. So the NMG have this covered too.

4. Make customers into fans.  The trick here is to treat your customers so well that they talk about it.  This is the whole rationale behind remarkable customer service.  Yesterday, I was extremely disappointed by the NMG.  To see a paper that I love turn suddenly (in my eyes) into a dishonest behemoth got me sad, and angry.  I'm just one out of its thousands of readers but today I didn't buy a copy of the Daily Nation.  It was my way of solo, frustrated protest.  I was going to make sure that anyone who values my opinion thinks twice about buying The Nation.  I know what you are thinking – my 35bob and that of six of my friends won't do anything to hurt the NMG in any way. However, remarkable customer service isn't about being nice to most of your customers, it's about being nice to all of your customers.  Charles, and the NMG, got this right, very right.  I didn't buy the Nation today, but I'll buy it tomorrow. Why? Because Charles was pleasant and helpful.  He seemed sincere and made me believe that there are good, honest, respectable people at the NMG.  Yesterday, I was pretty hard on them.  I made a list of possible reasons why the NMG would plagiarise.  The list didn't have anything nice to say about the NMG.  I wrote that post and overlooked another possible reason for the plagiarism.  Dear readers, and everyone at the NMG, I wish to apologise for this.  The plagiarism that I wrote about yesterday could have been the result of an honest mistake, and I fully believe that it was.

Be sure to read the rest of Joel Sposky's article as I have only dealt with items that I feel apply well in online customer service and reputation management.  Also, Seth Godin has an interesting take on starting over with customer service.

What other lesson can be learnt from this experience?  As I wrote elsewhere, it is important to keep track of what is being said by you online and to respond super fast whenever there's a problem.  Notice how Charles' fast, sincere and helpful actions won back a customer and made a new fan.  One wonders where the Wananchi Online people are when their new product Zuku is getting a bad reputation. Welcome to Online Reputation Management.

Now, regarding NMG's plagiarism, I am convinced that the instance of plagiarism that I wrote of yesterday was an honest mistake, and a misunderstanding.  However, the very fact that this is not the first complaint of plagiarism by the NMG is a little worrying.  Other complaints are here and here.  Some people say that where there's smoke, there's fire.  Perhaps the NMG could do something to clear up all of these issues.  I don't know, though – maybe they already did.

The NMG did, however, clear every doubt in my mind regarding the instance of plagiarism that I had written of.  I cannot put it in better words so I shall put the email from Charles here:

"We have now established how Bidii articles ended up in Daily Nation. First, let us acknowledge that, indeed, the articles were published in DN and The East African.

How did this happen? Beginning from when it was KaziAfrica, Bidii material come to the email addresses of very many editors and journalists at Nation, even in many instances when they have not subscribed. Anyhow, every
one took it in good stride. However, someone got the email for Letters from the paper and added it on the Bidii list. Thus all Bidii correspondence ends in Nation's "Mailbox".

Everything that comes into the "Mailbox", as the name indeed does indicate, is for publication. The Letters editors, therefore, have on occasion published some of the letters that caught their fancy. They did it in good faith, in the understanding that they were sent to the "Mailbox" be considered for publication (because that is what the notice says).

They weren't aware that by doing so they would cause offence to Bidii members. They also say it is unfair to accuse them of plagiarism or stealing, because they attributed the letters correctly to the authors (although perhaps, one could argue that they should added Bidii too. However, there were no such instructions).

Going forward, instructions have been given that no material from Bidii should shall be used in Nation because the members don't intend that to happen. However, to absolutely ensure that no slip up happens, we are instructing the IT Department to block all Bidii material from the Mailbox and other general addresses at the Nation.

I hope that you can explain this to your members, and that you find this satisfactory. Finally, to say we are sorry that this happened and for the misunderstanding."

What do you think? Does the Bidii Africa group deserve an apology in print?

Additional Resources


  1. Let's Explore! is a great blog Jayanoris. I especially like your editorials on NMG's plagiarism. Keep up the good work & don't forget to visit MY blog…

  2. Thanks Kipsang. I appreciate the kind words.

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