Last night I read one of the most shocking examples of customer service that I have ever heard about. What was even more shocking was that the person behind this knew exactly what he was doing, was using customer review sites to his advantage and even more shockingly – all to the benefit of his online business. More on that later, but what this made me think was how much customer service has changed as a result of social media and unfortunately, it’s not always good. The simple rules don’t always apply and right now we are in the middle of a change of understanding between customers and companies – as everything opens up. The simple fact is that companies can’t be perfect all the time, but do we really care?
The worst customer service ever
Most companies would do everything they can do bury bad customer reviews, doing what they can to turn it around or else try and remove from Google completely. Few companies really benefit from it, but this is exactly the case with Decor My Eyes (they don’t deserve a link). The owner of the online glasses and eyewear store – Vitaly Borker can really only be described as a thug. In the particular case detailed in the NY Times, he was completely dishonest with a customer, charged them for a product they didn’t want and even threatened and bullied with actions that included sending the customer photos of the front of their house, by way of warning them. Without doubt, Vitaly Borker’s behaviour was completely unacceptable and bordering on illegal. Yet this is hardly news to him. In fact, it is part of his game plan.
If you took the time to research Decor My Eyes online, it wouldn’t take long to find out that this is a bad and dishonest company that you shouldn’t trust with your money. Unfortunately that’s only the case when you stop do a bit of research on their brand term itself. If you’re looking for a particular style of frame however, as this customer was, then you would frequently land on Decor My Eyes. The simple reason is that Vitaly Borker is benefiting from the wealth of links to his site, from negative customer reviews. He has found a way to play social media and search at its own game and benefit from the fact that people can now air a company’s dirty laundry online for everyone to see. Google is coming off particularly badly, with many complaining that he has cheated Google – and that Google should do better.
This is not Google’s fault
Some critics are claiming that this is ultimately Google’s responsibility and that since they can determine whether a company is receiving good or bad reviews, it’s their responsibility to include customer reviews in search results. I don’t agree with this – it is not Google’s responsibility to decide whether something is good or bad and in effect radically overhaul their algorithm because of this. If Google were to come out and say that they were adjusting their search results to take into account positive or negative reviews, it completely opens it up and makes it vulnerable to being gamed. Google provides a gateway to content – theirs is not to say whether something is good or bad, nice or evil.
What this shows is that search behaviour needs to change. I don’t believe Google is to blame, but this does undoubtedly expose them and shows that we now need to go further than trusting the results we see on there. It is an outcome of the growth in social media, that search is becoming less important. If we are to avoid bad customer experiences, then our consumer journey must take into account Google, ratings and reviews sites, social profiles or organisations and our own online communities. In fact, Google might not factor in this at all and as the example above shows, it may well be dangerous if it does.
Does reputation matter anymore?
As disgusting as Vitaly Borker’s behaviour was, the rather uncomfortable truth that this scandal unveiled was that reputation online may not be as important as we thought. The fact is that when everything about a company is so visible online, whether through their own social platforms or sites like Get Satisfaction, you will inevitably unearth something pleasant. No company, no matter how shiny they are, will manage to please everyone. We know this, and now it seems that what we’re more concerned about is how a company handles these complaints, than the substance of the complaints themselves. If one person is complaining that the battery life on their new gadget isn’t satisfactory, if we see the company responding with a tip to extend it, or offer an exchange, we put ourselves in that situation and know that, if nothing else, we will be looked after as a customer.
Customer service now is about managing expectations online. If you tell customers in your Twitter bio that you are there to help with queries, it’s not really the right channel for you if it takes you more than a day to do so. In a recent study on customer service, 58% of customers who took their complaint to Facebook or Twitter expected a response, with 42% expecting their response in less than a day. It is a fact that now companies must position themselves on these channels to serve customers, or at least be able to listen to what they were saying.
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