Greetings from inside the SEOigloo!
Peaceable would be the descriptive term my loved ones would be most likely to attach to me. I tend to be non-confrontational and hyper-concerned about imposing my views or problems upon others. Yet, over the past year, I have begun to notice the powerful, even aggressive, sentiments the ability to write user reviews stirs up in me. The chance to Yelp or to TripAdvise seems to bring out the devil in me, and while I would like to believe I am taking the time to warn others away from potential bad experiences simply for the good of mankind, I’ve begun to realize that part of what drives me to craft unflinching user reviews is a wish for revenge that lay dormant in my psyche for many years – until the advent of review sites.
I believe I’ve had it up to here with:
Dirty hotel rooms
Hoteliers who shouldn’t be allowed to work with the public
Waiters and other food service workers with poor hygiene habits
Waiters and other food service workers who are clearly sick on the job
Restaurants claiming to specialize in vegetarian food yet bringing you anchovies
Restaurants claiming to be 100% vegan and serving you buttermilk pancakes
Restaurant bathrooms that don’t have hot water (YUCK!)
Dirty public bathrooms
Crummy appliances that break after 3 months of use
“Tech” staff that break your computer worse than it was broken when you brought it in
Understaffed retail stores of every kind
The miserable experience of paying money to someone for disgusting or poor goods and services is one we don’t forget. These experiences can build up over time, and after years of having gotten a bad deal from businesses we put our trust in, finding that we have the opportunity to speak up can be a powerful thing.
2 Real-life Examples of Intolerable Consumer Experiences That Have Stuck With Me
1) The Geek Squad is EVIL
A couple of years ago, we bought an external hard drive from Best Buy for one of our computers. When we plugged it in, it fried our motherboard. Not only would the Geek Squad not look at our computer without charging us, they told us that they were in no way responsible for the quality of the products they sell. To add insult to injury, they refused to refund our money for the external hard drive. They would only give us a store credit for it. As if we wanted to make another purchase from a company that had just told us that they don’t take any responsibility for their products! Insane, right?
Going online, I found out that it was not only the clowns at my local Best Buy who claim zero accountability for their products, but that this is the national policy of this rotten company. I encountered hundreds and hundreds of outraged reviews of Best Buy’s products and services…one man claimed his experience with the company had prompted him to move back to Canada where he would never see a Geek Squad member again. We were out the price of our company’s main computer, plus an external hard drive, plus miles worth of gas used in going repeatedly back and forth to Best Buy (several hours away). I’m sure we also took several years off our lives dealing with the frustration of that completely unjust experience.
2) The Completely Revolting Cottage By The Sea
My husband and I had to quickly get out of our neighborhood due to a minor environmental disaster several months ago. I was sick. He was worried. We had to find a place to stay out of town for the night on very short notice. After spending 3 hours on the phone and Internet contacting booked-up inns, we found The Seven Grey Foxes in the town of Point Reyes Station, CA, billed as a lovely place to stay. We were weak with relief to find they had an open cottage. We made the weary drive, arriving around sunset. All I wanted was to curl up on a couch and get some rest. We unpacked our car and opened the front door.
The first thing that greeted us was a stench of mildew so strong we went running around the cottage trying to open windows – they were all painted shut. The floors and counter tops were spangled with the corpses of bugs who had died so long ago, they had turned white. The refrigerator was the last straw, with mold actually growing all over the inside of it in large, green clumps!
Wild-eyed, we ran around the cottage some more, looking for a telephone to contact the innkeeper who was not in residence on the property. The room had no phone.
We reloaded our car and drove down into the town to use a payphone. The inn wasn’t listed in the phone book. We found the library and managed to relocate the website on the Internet, get the phone number, get change for a dollar, go back to the payphone and call the innkeeper. When I apprised her of our situation she said, and I quote,
“Gee, I guess I ought to look at the place from time to time. I guess the guy who cleans it is really falling apart. He has personal problems.”
It was dusk now, in a booked up town, and we had no place to spend the night. In the end, we found a hotel room several towns away, about 5 minutes before I keeled over from exhaustion.
You’ve been there, too
You’ve had your share of experiences like these, at the mercy of the cook, the hotelier or service person who has left you stranded with the inedible meal, the uninhabitable dwelling, the broken computer. You had to survive these bad experiences and try to let them go, for the sake of your blood pressure. But now things are different.
Now, with the click of a few buttons, you can let service providers know that they cannot get away with sub-par consumer treatment. You can let everyone know what happened to you when you dealt with company X. They can’t hide their shoddy practices anymore. The result of user review sites ought to be an improvement in the quality of both products and services. This is a good thing.
Curbing Your Own Outrage
As I’ve said, the ability to speak up when I’ve been treated poorly by a business claiming to offer a professional commodity seems to spark a drive in me to let ’em have it rather than turning the other cheek. Yet, because I’ve become aware of this, I am trying to pay extra attention to fair play in this new world of user reviews. I believe the following steps will help:
1) If it’s a company you’ve had a good experience with in the past, and they have only failed to live up to your standards once, be willing to admit that they may just be having a bad day. Everybody does.
2) If you have a bad experience, tell the company so first, in person. Give them a chance to respond to your disappointment or complaint, human to human.
3) If they apologize sincerely, and make a genuine effort to respond to your complaint in a way that makes you feel better about their business (a refund, a discount, a free meal, etc.), consider letting the matter drop there.
4) If, after voicing your complaint and giving them the chance to respond, you are met with rudeness or lack of concern, let ’em have it.
Why exercise restraint at all?
User reviews are bringing back the forgotten world in which customer satisfaction and company reputation determined the success of a business. Dense population in America has let businesses fall into a slipshod practice that goes something like this:
Who cares if our products break and we treat today’s customer badly? There’s a new customer born every minute. The new one will never know what happened to the old one.
Those carefree days for unethical businesses are grinding to a slow halt all around us right now as the Internet provides the soapbox every disgruntled customer is simply itching for. Try to do business with 9 of Google’s Top 10 saying you are a crook.
And, it is this very fact that makes it important for us to exercise some restraint and judgment prior to blowing our foes out of the water with one click of the mouse. Consumers are just beginning to re-educate business owners about the necessity of putting the customer first, thanks to user reviews. We want the outcome to be better products and services, even if, initially, the impetus for the business owner is fear of verbal retaliation rather than a love of providing quality. After years of being hoodwinked, scammed and poorly treated, all the while feeling helpless, I don’t really care if business owners have to be scared into not taking advantage of public trust. That being said, I would not want to be responsible for unjustly harming someone’s business reputation out of anger rather than because I was justified in my grievance.
So, I will stick to my 4 steps above, assessing as accurately as I can if a bad practice is company policy or a one-time fluke before I make use of the power of the user review. I run a business, too, and want to be fair. I hope others will do the same by me.