By now, nearly everyone I know has purchased a Groupon discount coupon. I’ve started to receive daily discount offers from competitors like LivingSocial and Moolala and my family is taking advantage of discounts to places we might not otherwise consider. We try new restaurants, get our cars detailed, wedge in a massage or two; the merchants get a new customer and Groupon heads toward an enormous IPO. What could be better? Perhaps a lot.
The thought is that a deep discount coupled with a positive experience will deliver repeat customers. While this theory seems to be widely embraced, I believe that the assumptions are wrong. From my perspective, it is Groupon that owns the customer loyalty, not the merchant offering the services. The deal seekers and bargain shoppers come in with the expectation of getting an incredible deal with no less than top-notch service. And there is evidence to indicate that they are very willing to jump to online review sites and let people know how (bad) their experience was.
However, a dramatic influx of customers can slow customer service and irritate this new, Groupon-acquired customer. Service levels decrease due to volume and the next thing a business owner knows, their business has been reviewed poorly on Google.local, Yahoo.local, Citysearch or one of a dozen other consumer rating sites. Smiley faces turn to frowns and five-star reviews deteriorate into one-star ratings.
Groupon customers have very little loyalty to a merchant yet, as I mentioned before, expectations for service are high. Think about it: when a business is overwhelmed (having sold 1000 half priced dinners/haircuts/tans/car washes, etc.) the door opens for bad experiences all around. Disappointed customers are already online-savvy or they would not be participating in these discount programs. The ever-increasing numbers of review sites available provide many opportunities to express disappointment. In fact, based upon many conversations with Reputation Advocate clients, we believe that customers who have a positive experience seldom go online to offer complements. In many ways there is no way for a small business owner to win in this business model.
Adding insult to injury, statistics support a growing reality that repeat business is almost non-existent. Customer retention is low. In short, a merchant receives 25% of the retail value of the product or service. That amount is paid out over the timeline of the redemption period, not up front. The business is stressed, and may be forced to compromise service levels, disappointing new customers and triggering bad online reviews. I admit that I may be one of the few that see it this way. In fact, Groupon reported that as of Sept 2011 they had a backlog of 35,000 companies that hope to promote their products and services through this channel.
Be aware: online complaints can come from many sources. Former employees, competitors – or new (discount) customers coming with high expectations, little loyalty and a willingness to quickly let the world know of any disappointment experienced.
Steven Wyer is the Managing Director of Reputation Advocate, an online reputation management company based near Nashville, Tennessee. He is also the author of Violated Online, a book offering practical tips about protecting your online reputation. For more information about how Reputation Advocate can help repair your online reputation, visit the company website at http://www.reputationadvocate.com
Historically, when a consumer had a complaint about a product or services the dispute was presented to a creditable third party such as the Better Business Bureau or Consumer Affairs and a resolution was reached. These days, Reputation Advocate has seen Internet “complaint” web sites become the weapon of choice for frustrated customers, disgruntled employees, competitors, political activists and anyone with an ax to grind to air their complaints cheaply, globally and sometimes effectively. Hiding under the cloak of anonymity and empowered by a worldwide audience, complainers have carried old-fashioned written complaints and tirades into cyberspace, and Reputation Advocate takes calls from their victims everyday.
Commuters arriving in San Francisco using the Bay Bridge were confronted with placard signs reading: “Had any problems at Starbucks Coffee? You’re not alone. http://www.starbucked.com.” The customer had taken his anti-Starbucks campaign to the world and the web using a not so subtle domain name that bore a striking resemblance to the stores name.
According to Reputation Advocate, companies face a challenging battle when attempting to take down this type of content. When the “complaint” site is engaged in commercial activity, Federal trademark infringement, dilution and trade libel laws may protect a company against disparaging use of corporate names and trademarks and confusing domain names. However, when the purpose of the disparagement is solely customer complaints and parody, these laws provide far less protection, says Reputation Advocate.
Many companies are adopting other strategies as well. Complaint sites that appear on third party servers, such as Google, Bing and Yahoo are generally subject to a web hosting agreement that specifically prohibits trademark infringements and offensive materials. Upon receiving complaints of possible infringement and libel, Reputation Advocate has observed that Web hosting companies will generally remove such pages. Recognizing the low cost of registering anti-domain names, Reputation Advocate recommends that companies register as many variations as possible for their Internet domain names in order to reduce the opportunities for disgruntled customers and employees to establish complaint sites with similar or confusing domain names.
Web sites bashing a company, its products, or its employees most often simply talk about bad customer service or a faulty product. Reputation Advocate notes that there are so many that Yahoo! created a separate directory for “complaint” sites, posting everything from hard core consumer activism and anti-corporate back lashing to personal revenge and fictitious claims. As the Internet expands, companies need to publish and execute policies for effectively dealing with this type of slander.
Complaint Web Sites: As Reputation Advocate has pointed out, the vast majority of complaint sites fall into the category of consumer complaint sites. These sites typically collect stories of bad customer service or a faulty product. The list of these sites is growing and Reputation Advocate lists a few specific examples below:
- Chasebanksucks.com: “The Right Relationship Means Nothing”
- The Worst Bank in the Universe!” Reputation Advocate notes that this popular site features an animated picture of a man repeatedly relieving himself on the slogan “Chase Manhattan Bank Sucks.” It targets mortgages, credit cards and customer service. A bulletin board allows customers and ex-employees to gripe about every service Chase provides. The site also provides links to news stories about how “Chase’s ‘right relationship’ started with the Nazis during W.W.II” and how “corruption is alive and well at Chase.”
- Starbucked.com: The Starbucked web site tells the saga of a Starbucks customer and his fight against Starbucks’ corporate greed, all stemming from a defective espresso machine purchased. Reputation Advocate says that the site offers consumer resources, a discussion board and a “case study” of the specific details of the customer’s complaint.
- Untied.com: A mistype of united.com (for those looking for United Airlines) leads to untied.com, a self-defined whistleblower and complaint site created by anti-fans of United Airlines. While Reputation Advocate says that this site was last edited in March of 2008, it is still available to the world and attempts to be a clearinghouse for passenger complaints directed at the customer service department at United.
While large corporations frequently retain firms like Reputation Advocate to provide proactive Domain Name Management, Domain Name Recovery and Online Brand Protection; small companies can be dealt a blow from which it may be impossible to recover. The real challenge comes from the fact that, in addition to specific URL targeted complaints, there are hundreds of general complaint sites. A customer, former employee or competitor can log dozens of complaints from a Blackberry or iphone while eating lunch.
For more information about this and other topics related to your personal or business online reputation management, contact Reputation Advocate at 888-229-0746 or visit them online at http://www.reputationadvocate.com.
Everyone has to make a living. Some make it while practicing integrity and others in the shadows of questionable practices. The Book my family lives by says that the love of money is the root of all evil. But nowhere does it say that money itself is evil. Money pays the bills, educates the kids and allows for a little planning in life. It’s the “root” that creates the problem.
I decided to write this article after a few recent experiences in my chosen vocation; online reputation management. I spend all day, every day, listening to people who are being hurt by content that appears on the Internet about them. Some are being attacked professionally. Maybe they own a business and an ex-employee or disgruntled customer levels their scope and takes aim through the barrel of the World Wide Web. For others it is deeply personal – marriages, illness, mistakes long past but brought squarely to the forefront of their life again. If you don’t have empathy for people then this is a poor choice for vocation.
Which brings me to my point. Most people are attacked by someone that they know. A competitor, ex-lover, neighbor, jealous friend or a former employee, these are the underlying sources of most online slander. That fact seems to shock people when I first suggest it. Most complaints are not valid. Many times the complaint is so distorted that it’s laughable if you take the time to read it. But therein lies the big problem. No one reads the complaint, they just read the headline or metatag.
Since this year has begun our company, Reputation Advocate, has been attacked more than thirty times. At the office, we discuss the source and easily rule out our neighbors, former employees (we have none to date), friends (we have many) and romance gone bad (happily married now for 18 years). That brings us down to competitors. So let me circle back around to character and integrity and consider motive. In the big picture all boats rise together as the old saying goes. For the firms that provide quality service, stand behind their words and admit errors when they are made I believe that online reputation defense and management services will be needed for years to come; we can’t put this genie back in the bottle.
Attacking competitors is perhaps the lowest form of a business development strategy. With that said, I frequently deal with business owners who know that the online attack they need help with has come from a competitor; they see it in the language and detail of the false statements.
At Reputation Advocate, we have come to recognize the oily fingerprint delivered from across the ocean. To some, it’s highly ironic that we, an online reputation company, are attacked and have to defend and suppress content ourselves. But we knew this would be the case as we began. The anonymous nature of online slander lends itself to those who have no other strategy for business development. No one is immune. Many doctors get ill and die every year al the while attempting to heal others. This is true for both Reputation Advocate and our many clients.
What I attempt to convey to those who retain us is that there is no absolute online protection for anyone. On behalf of our clients we expend a great deal of thought and energy focused on the positive aspects of who they are and what value they bring to their customers. Presenting the truth professionally will always prevail in the end. Companies that provide service, products, integrity and honesty will always have clients, job opportunities and success.
For Reputation Advocate, as for most of our clients, our “product” makes a difference. We do not execute perfectly every time. We correct mistakes as we define and admit them. We treat our clients with respect. In exchange for that we derive income. For those firms that focus only on the last element of success – income – they miss the point. Making a difference in a client’s life, adding value and creating content that reflects well on the client is what will create true success. Complaining and sniping anonymously from the shadows will ultimately undermine any success that could be achieved.
So this is a message on behalf of all of our current and future clients. It is a message from Reputation Advocate to its detractors. It is a message to all of those defamed on the Internet that have not yet chosen to fight back. Provide service, treat people fairly, admit that you are not perfect, try hard and keep going. Make a difference in the world. Now that is success.
Across the nation movie theaters sold tickets so that the spectacle could be viewed as a larger than life experience. Yet as fans everywhere stopped to show their respect, Michael was assaulted.
Michael Jackson was called “monster” and “faggot” and his sexual orientation and conduct was bantered about as though he could somehow defend himself. Yes, this is the wonder of the Internet. MySpace, WordPress, YouTube and hundreds of thousands of blogs and forums allow anyone to attack anyone–even the dead. As we mark the halfway point of 2009, online slander and anonymous writers around the world attack at will without repudiation.
Anyone studying this issue for more than five minutes would draw the conclusion that online reputation management needs are reaching critical proportions. Without the traditional defense of the court systems, absent conventional conflict resolution by organizations like the Better Business Bureau and lacking the common sense of going face-to-face with your accuser, the options for online self defense are few.
While someone of Michael Jackson’s stature has no reason for anyone to come to his defense, almost everyone else needs help. Being deceased has its benefits. Words no longer hurt; his interviews seemed to always include statements of pain from allegations and hateful speech. Michael Jackson will no longer deal with vicious uncalled-for attacks on him. For the rest of us however, the war continues to rage. Hundreds of thousands of small businesses continue to be slandered without any validation of the anonymous claims made. Business damaged, income lost and names slandered, all without being able to rebut the accusations.
The only cost affective recourse may be Search Engine Reputation Management. While not perfect and not always 100% effective, it remains the most direct and cost effective method for quickly addressing negative postings. Is it far reaching to tie Michael Jackson’s memorial service to online slander? Consider that the day Michael Jackson died there was such bandwidth consumed by social media that sites like Twitter were actually knocked down for a time. Consider the fact that literally millions of complaints are posted and available to anyone at any time. Social media creates the conduit for opinions that might be questioned if voiced through traditional media sources. We have moved way past George Carlin’s “seven words that can’t be used on TV”. As you prepare to express yourself regarding today’s events remember to respect those who have passed on…and also those who remain. RIP.
Steven C. Wyer is the Managing Director of Reputation Advocate, LLC (reputationadvocate.com) The firm specializes in online reputation management services for both individuals and companies. Steven Wyer can be reached at 888-229-0746.
As far back as May of 2005, Oprah, the darling of day time television, has been ruthlessly attacked morning, noon and night. She is not even safe as she sleeps behind guarded gates and personal security. Despite her estimated billion dollar net worth, she is helpless to defend herself.
First there is oprahsucks.com. There are multiple posts, comments and even a mailing list for this series of attacks. Debbie Schlussel, a conservative political commentator, radio talk show host, columnist, and attorney owns this website and wastes no time in letting her opinion be known.
Then there are the multiple YouTube attacks on Oprah. There are forums, blogs, posts on many different content sites and a dedicated website just so people can voice their distain for her.
Adding insult to injury, this week the stalwart publication Newsweek has come out against the global media diva. She has been attacked through virtually every form of media, but none has given voice to the masses more than the internet. What is the source of my information you may ask? Google. Simple, straight forward search results. Had these types of results been found for a small business owner or business professional, their career would most likely have been ruined. Fortunately, the big “O” has enough money to simply ignore these complaints.
Ordinary, small businesses cannot afford to ignore online attacks. Doctors, lawyers and officers of public companies are severely impacted by online complaints. Even state and national government officials cannot combat this new form of slander. Conventional approaches to reputation management issues simply do not work and ignoring such online information simply supports perceptions that such claims are true.
Fortunately, there are now reputation management service providers that represent clients against negative search engine results. These reputation advocates operate under yet another acronym; SERM. Search Engine Reputation Management professionals bring a unique set of skills and address these complaint sites and negative postings with unconventional discretion. This service business is sure to experience significant growth over the next few years as these online search attacks grow in number and veracity
While the super stars and the super rich simply brush aside attacks on their character, most cannot. As real income and real opportunity are impacted, all professionals must monitor their online presence and manage the content found. Very few of us can simply say “O” well…