“The customer is always right,” or at least that’s what most business owners profess to their employees. We post it for all to see. “Customer satisfaction is job one.” “Our boss is the customer.” The most important person in our business is…you!”
But we all know it isn’t true. Sometimes a customer is unreasonable, dishonest, or simply just wrong. A small manufacturer we work with recently had one of his top five customers call with a request. “I’ve collected a bunch of your stuff over the last two years that we broke, or our customer broke and returned, or that we ordered but just didn’t sell. I’m going to pack it all up badly and send it back. You can make a claim to UPS for shipping damages, and give me replacement product for free.”
That customer was just plain dishonest. (The manufacturer declined the opportunity, although it took some agonizing before he made the decision.)
In another recent case, the customer was simply unreasonable. He called to express his dissatisfaction. The business owner first offered to remake his product, then to replace it with another, then to refund all the customer’s money. The customer refused any solution, but promised to take to the online rating sites to tell everyone how unhappy he was.
Common wisdom says that a satisfied customer will tell five people about his experience, while an unhappy customer will tell twenty. The numbers vary, but the point is people with a gripe are much more motivated to let others know about it. In the Internet, the number of people who may see that complaint is infinite.
What if the gripe isn’t valid? A recent court decision said that Yelp! should reveal the identities of anonymous detractors, since the owner of one business being slammed by 7 people (all using pseudonyms) couldn’t even tell if they were really his customers. Yelp! is appealing the decision, based upon a First Amendment protection of free and anonymous speech.
One survey showed that businesses could expect a 4-star Yelp! rating to result in 9% less new business compared to 5-star competitors. This and other studies showing the importance of online presence cause may retailers I know to live in fear. They check Yelp!, UrbanSpoon, AngiesList, TripAdvisor, or other rating sites constantly, terrified that one unhappy buyer (whom they might not know about and can’t identify), will torpedo their cherished score.
My book on selling small companies, 11 Things You Absolutely Need to Know About Selling Your Business, has generally good ratings on Amazon. Seventy-five percent of the reviewers give it five stars, the rest giving four with one exception. He gave it two stars almost three years ago, and said he was being charitable (yeah…thanks). What makes me nuts is that his review always seems to come up first, and some people check it as helpful. I have no defense or ability to respond.
Anecdotally, competitors are using consumer feedback sites to damage reputations, customers are threatening to go to the web if their demands aren’t met, and some businesses are posting raves about their own company to inflate ratings. Yet, “I know it’s true because I read it on the Internet” still seems to be the standard for many consumers’ verification.
Have you been subjected to a rating site bully? Please share your story.
My new book, Hunting in a Farmer’s World: Celebrating the Mind of an Entrepreneur, is now available on Amazon in paperback, hardcover and Kindle. It is an ownership book, not a management book. Illustrated with the stories of real entrepreneurs who faced challenges that apply to us all, it recognizes why small business owners are different from those who work for them.