Attack of the Consumer! The Many Ways Consumers Can Put You Out of Business Online
This is a guest post by David Rodnitzky.
Having the best prices and largest selection of products means nothing on the Internet if you don’t back it up with incredible customer service. Treat customers badly and you will be out of business – period! Bad customer service will get you banned from major advertising networks, skewered in organic results, and ridiculed on social networks. Here are the top ways consumers can crush your business online.
If consumers complain about your business, your money won’t be green enough to buy advertising online. Both eBay and Amazon uses customer reviews as a baseline metric of eligibility to participate in their marketplace.
On eBay, too many negative customer reviews will get a seller kicked off, or in eBay terms, the seller will be declared “Not a Registered User.”
I once worked for a company that had been kicked off eBay and Amazon for bad customer service (not my fault, honest!). It took eight monthsand hundreds of pages of documentation to get us back on both sites. Had I not had personal connections at both companies, it’s unlikely I would ever have gotten the company back into the listings.Comparison shopping engines (CSEs) also use customer ratings to reward good performers and push bad performers out of the results. Most CSEs have a “trusted” or “approved” rating system that is designed to give consumers guidance on which vendor to choose, especially when price is not an issue. Shopping.com, for example, will list the vendor with the combination of the lowest price and the best customer reviews first in its results. As seen in the screenshot below, the store is called out as a “Smart Buy!” and is listed first.
Google AdWords advertisers are increasingly being held accountable for the quality of their customer service. Google has integrated star ratings from consumer review sites like Epinions or Biz Rate – but only sites with four out of five stars or greater results get an extra line in AdWords with their star ratings. If you saw five ads on AdWords and four of them had star ratings next to them, would you click on the one that didn’t?
Google is also starting to integrate “+1’s” into AdWords results, just as Facebook has integrated “likes” into Facebook ads. These social extensions are another way to give consumers an indication of whether a potential advertiser is delivering value prior to a click.
Organic Search and the Voice of the Consumer
There used to be an adage that stated something like “a satisfied customer will tell three people about your business, a dissatisfied customer will tell ten.” These days, the voice of the angry customer has been dramatically amplified through review sites like Yelp and PowerReviews, as well as the built in reviews on commerce sites like Amazon.
Let’s start with Yelp. A recent Harvard Business School study found that increasing a restaurant’s Yelp rating by one star directly led to a 5 to 9% increase in annual revenue for the restaurant. That’s not surprising, considering how much Google’s organic results love Yelp. With almost 7.5 million pages indexed, there’s a high likelihood that whatever restaurant, plumber, or manicurist name you enter into Google, Yelp will be at the top of the results. And for users who have yet to decide on a specific vendor, Yelp’s listings – as with CSEs above – are sorted based on the quality and quantity of positive reviews. Bad customer service gets you pushed out of Yelp’s results.
Products are not immune to the power of customer reviews in organic search. Type in virtually any product and the odds are that you’ll find Amazon’s customer reviews prominently listed:
And even if you don’t type “review” as part of your query, Google’s Instant Search algorithm will frequently suggest a review-related query to you:
Social Media Mass Mobilization
Social media appears to have been a godsend for angry consumers. In the old days before the Internet, angry consumers had little recourse if they were mistreated by a company. These days, one bad customer experience is all it takes to destroy your company’s good reputation.
One broken guitar (and a lack of empathetic customer service) resulted in over 11 million views on YouTube of the catchy jingle United Breaks Guitars. A decision by GoDaddy to support the Stop Online Privacy Act led to an online petition on Reddit (and partially instigated by Tamar) that got thousands of domain owners to transfer their domains off GoDaddy, a revenue loss of around $370,000 a year. NetFlix’s sudden and dramatic increase in prices led to massive consumer backlash, including 67,000 negative comments on their Facebook page. Need I go on? How about Verizon’s decision (and quick retraction) to add a $2 convenience fee, or Bank of America charging $5 to consumers to use debit cards.
Social media makes it easy for like-minded consumers to band together and amplify their message, it spreads rapidly, and it always feels more genuine than the talking heads from a corporate PR team. As a result, we’re seeing large corporations closely monitoring any complaints on social media, and addressing them in hours, instead of weeks or months.
So What Does This Mean?
Let’s quickly recap: if you provide bad customer service, you could be kicked off all the major online advertising channels, the organic search results might be filled with horrendous reviews of your business, and you might be ridiculed or worse by millions on social media. To put it another way: as a business, you can no longer control the message that gets out about your products and services; provide bad service and you are almost certain to be paid back in kind with negativity online.
The solution to this ‘threat’ is really quite simple: provide great customer service! Love and listen to your customers! Read and adopt Zappos’ code of ethics. Conduct and act upon a Net Promoter Survey. If you aren’t actively working to “wow” your customers, you’re probably dying a slow, gradual death. You can hire the best agency, an awesome SEO genius, and an army of social media gurus – all of this talent cannot stop consumers from telling the world the truth about your business.