When a Pest Control Company tries to Exterminate Negative Customer Reviews

Truly Nolen couldn’t kill the bugs in my house – and they can’t kill my negative review of their service either.

Quite a while ago – I created a post where I shared my experience with my pest control company – Truly Nolen.  I was HORRIFIED by the service I received and shared the experience here in, “When the Pest Control Company is your most Annoying Pest.”  It generated a LOT of response at the time.  Even years later, new comment show up on that post quite frequently – and some appear to be clumsy, pathetic attempts at online reputation management by Truly Nolen.

Last week, I got what at first glance, appeared to be a comment from a satisfied customer of Truly Nolen.  They’re rare -so I quickly approved the comment.  After all – I wanted to be fair to the company and by nature – satisfied customers don’t usually go “trolling” to find blog posts of negative reviews and leave comments.  While Truly Nolen’s treated me with contempt and disrespect while I was a customer – they did make things right with me quite promptly after the blog post appeared so in the spirit of fair play – if a satisfied customer had really found the blog post and wanted to add their voice to the conversation – I was more than willing to share it with the world.

Later in the day, I started really reading the comment – instead of “scanning” it.   When I got to this part of the long comment …. “Maybe you should have read it before you agreed to it. Truly N. does have a corporate number that you can call and make a compalint to. Maybe they can do something about the tech issue. Sounds like you might have gotten one that really doesn’t like his job.” I started to wonder… is this comment legit?

Truly N.?  Maybe I should have read the fine print?  I should have called corporate?

Those “clues” set off alarms inside my head.  They kind of fall into the category of:

Maybe I should have worked harder to be a “good” customer…

Hint for business owners reading this post – your customers aren’t going to work harder to make your life easier.

The comment just didn’t ring true… so I unapproved it (easily done) and sent an email to [email protected] to confirm the comment.  (After all – if Stacy really was a satisfied Truly Nolen customer – I wanted to allow her comments to appear on the post.)  The email sent to the email address provided promptly bounced which caused me to take a look at the IP address which was registered as part of the comment.

A search for other comments from that same IP address – found comments made by Truly Nolen staff early on in defense of their company’s practices.

So it appears that one of the RARE comments claiming to be from a  truly satisfied customer of Truly Nolen was simply a shill.

There have been many shill comments made on that blog post since it was posted.  Most I’ve “caught” quite easily.  I will give them this – they are getting smarter. This latest began earnestly – but it didn’t take long to determine that it was a shill.

There’s something about “authentic” comments that is – well – authentic.  Even though the comment above had a typo – a typo still didn’t make it feel “authentic”.

I remember a while back when a blog post from this blog was scraped and posted on another blog.  By the time I got to the post, it already had a few comments.  I was surprised to see those comments.  They were along the lines of “this is a real change in direction for you… good job.”  and “I like the way you’ve changed your writing – keep up the good work.”

I’ve got to admit – I was surprised that readers of that character’s blog could pick up so quickly the “change” in voice.

You’ve got a voice – even when your vocal chords are not engaged.  It comes through in your blog posts – your tweets – even your updates on Face Book.  Recently one of my friends’ FB account got hacked.  She sent out emails warning her FB friends not to respond to her most recent “updates”… because they weren’t coming from her.  The thing is – almost everyone responded with “I knew that didn’t come from you.”  The spam program wasn’t speaking in her “voice” – and because she had spoken frequently on FB – it was easy to see it wasn’t her.

As for the pest control company Truly Nolen trying to exterminate a negative customer review – on the one hand – I give them a big hand.  They’re concerned about their online reputation and are trying to protect it.  However, the MANNER in which they are doing it is sad and clumsy.  Is it really so difficult to find a satisfied customer willing to speak up?

The old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is more true today than ever.  Treat customers with respect – and you don’t HAVE to worry about trying to put out the fire of a blog post after the fact.

Creating Authority with Your Business Blog

I’ve talked a lot about how your business blog can be used to build trust with prospective clients – especially if you’re in the business of “selling your knowledge.”  However, there’s another term which is emerging which may be an even more compelling reason to begin blogging for your business.

That term is AUTHORITY and it’s becoming a buzz word in the world of business blogging because business blogging is a powerful and effective tool you can use to establish your authority.

Authority is powerful stuff.  According to Dictionary.com, one of the definitions of authority reads:

“right to respect or acceptance of one’s word, command, thought, etc.; commanding influence: the authority of a parent; the authority of a great writer.”

Think of authority as the natural next step in the whole “trust building” process.

Authority =  trust + power… the power to motivate people to take action.

There have been lots of behavioral studies surrounding the power of authority.  One of the most cited works on obedience to authority is the Yale study conducted by Stanley Milgram.  In the study, inspired by the trial of the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, Milgram sought to answer the deeply troubling question of whether authority could cause a person to contradict their deeply held beliefs.

In the study – volunteers were recruited and told they were part of an experiment which tested memory and learning in different situations.  The “administrator” was dressed in a lab coat and armed only with a clip board. and  the “student” was actually an actor.  The true subject of the study was the volunteer – who was assigned the role of “teacher” in the experiment.   The volunteer was instructed  to administer increasing electric shocks to the “student”.  The results of the experiment were sobering to say the least… 26 of the 40 volunteers went on to administer the maximum (fatal) voltage three times, despite the student’s pleas for mercy and apparent impending death.   Only one participant refused to administer shocks to the student.

That’s the power of authority.

In the study – the stage for the administrator’s authority was planned carefully.  The administrator was dressed in a lab coat and given a clipboard.    In later subsequent studies, it appears the “uniform” is an important control in creating the appearance of authority.  While the uniform in the original experiment was a lab coat and clipboard, subsequent experiments and a few well known scams have used police uniforms to create the authority required to quickly gain the trust needed to influence people to act in ways they would not without the misuse of the  power of authority.

Blogs are the “uniform” of authority on the web

So if you’ve been wondering what all the “fuss” is over business blogging – it’s this:  Business blogs are great tools for building authority.  Bloggers in every niche are constantly being cited regularly as “reliable sources” by various media outlets.  Search is a tool used by journalists worldwide – and blogs are very search engine friendly.

Which is why – blogs are quickly becoming the “uniform” of authority on the web.

However, it’s important to remember that trust – and the resulting authority – are not earned quickly nor easily.  The newly minted police officer who abuses the privileges his uniform imparts is quickly dismissed from the police force.  The same is true of your business blog.

Blogging authority does not come from a single blog post.  It doesn’t even come from a dozen or so blog posts.  In many cases, it comes from literally HUNDREDS of blog posts on a specific subject.

The path to authority begins with building a foundation of trust.  You gain the trust of your blog readers by providing lots and lots of quality content.  You answer the questions your readers are struggling to answer with your blog posts.  You give behind the scenes “glimpses” of how you solve problems.  You demonstrate your expertise time and time again through your blog posts.

Lather – rinse – repeat.

That’s how you “earn”the uniform of authority via blogging on the web.  It doesn’t happen overnight – but it does happen – one authority building business blog post at a time

Business Building Strategy: The most important question of all…

business-building-strategyWhen you’re building a business – there’s a lot of questions that need to be answered.  Dr. Jean Murray says there are 10,000 questions you’ll have to answer as you start your business.  While I never stopped to count them all – I think she’s definitely in the ball park with that estimate.

Some of those start up questions are easy – and when a question is easily answered it’s usually answered quickly.  Some questions are hard – and it takes time to discover the answer.

There is one word which can drive your business towards success more quickly than any other word.  While this word can stand alone as a question – when it’s part of larger question – it’s presence signals that the question at hand is one of the most important you’ll ask over the course of your business.

This powerful word is easy to say – and easy to spell.

This mystical magical word is the word – WHY.

Why ask why?

Why is a powerful question to answer as you build your business.  In Business Building Strategy: What will you do to get their money?, I talk about a common business problem – those idiot customers and their stupid requests.  (If you don’t know me or haven’t spoken with me – you might not know that my tongue is FIRMLY in my cheek when I wrote the previous sentence.)  Often – when you’re tempted to “label” a customer as “stupid” or an “idiot” – it’s often because you don’t understand thy “why” which is driving the customer’s behavior.

For example,  “Those idiot customers keep calling to get directions to our store, even though we have a map on our web site!”

Ask “why” and suddenly the view of the situation changes.  Asking why helps to move the view of  from a customer problem – to a web site problem.

When you apply the “why word” to the questions raised – the questions suddenly take on an elevated level of importance.  You can even add this mystical magical word to a simple statement to turn it into a thought provoking important business building question.

Take this “complaint” – “My [insert advertising media here] is driving visitors to my web site – but it isn’t generating any new business.”  Adding the word “why”takes a complaint and turns it into an essential business building question.

Sometimes  answering this question is easy.  Sometimes it’s hard – but the reason it’s hard is not that it’s like solving a complex math problem hard – but rather it’s a “we’re going to have to do something that’s outside of our comfort zone.”

“Because I said so” is a LOUSY answer when someone -anyone – asks you why.   If you’re tempted to give that answer – take a moment to think.  Often, that answer is often a sign that you just aren’t willing to dig in and answer the real question – “why?”

Asking why often leads to discovering business problems which lie outside of your comfort zone.  For that reason alone – knowing the answer to “why” is essential.  The “why” can help you take that first scary step through the Looking Glass – which is known in MBA speak as “thinking outside of the box”.

Dropping the f-bomb – spreading the word

Social media has significantly changed the fabric of our society and a recent “slip of the lip” in which the f-bomb was dropped on air by New York news anchor Ernie Anastos provides a great illustration of the power of social media.

In case you hadn’t heard, Ernie coined the phrase, “Keep f#&*ing that chicken” (KFTC) during a live broadcast of local news.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PdnXYWSa56w[/youtube]

The video was uploaded to YouTube multiple times and this version has garnered over 2 million views in less than a week.  The new catch phrase “hit” the Urban Dictionary five days later.  You can get it on a T-shirt or a mug -just in time for holiday gift giving. 😉

Within a week of airing, the phrase has officially become part of the American vernacular. My favorite definition:

Expression, 21th century American English

1) An expression to encourage one to continue with an undesirable or menial task.

Steve: I have ton of paperwork to do.

Ernie: Keep f#%&ing that chicken.

Live television has always been fun to watch – because you never know when a slip of the lip may occur. However, Ernie Anastos is not the FIRST television news anchor to drop an f-bomb during a live broadcast.  What makes this “news worthy” is the speed and ease with which this “news” has traveled illustrates the depth and breadth of the impact of social media on our society.

Think about it – if Ernie had uttered that phrase on air even five short years ago – it couldn’t have traveled this fast and this far this easily. Sure, a few Fox news viewers in the local market would have been amused – but the story probably would have ended there.

Think about the difficulty in distributing the video of this “faux paus” even five years ago.  Theoretically, it would have taken a few weeks to reach the likes of Eric Bauman -creator of Ebaum’s World – – one of the first “funny video” sites on the web.   Then, Eric would have uploaded the video to his server and his audience would have viewed it – and it probably would have ended there.  A few thousand views – a few thousand belly laughs- and the phrase would have become an obscure inside joke for a select group.

Fast forward to the “new” world of social media.  A news anchor drops the f-bomb on air and an alert viewer records the slip and uploads the video to YouTube.  Almost immediately, Gawker picks it up.   A day later, the Huffington Post blog “reports” on the slip. The Gothamist calls it an “irresistible catch phrase” and reports that Anastos has not be disciplined for dropping the barnyard based f-bomb.  Two million views on YouTube is just the beginning.  The story is multiplying exponentially online and offline and a catch phrase is being born.

This is the “power” of social media.  Fifteen years ago – television was an all powerful information “gate keeper” as were radio stations and newspapers.  Fifteen years ago – if you weren’t in the NYC area – you would have missed this story.   Fifteen years ago – if you wanted to communicate on a national level – you either had to have a more than a few producers and editors agreeing your message needed to be heard.  If you didn’t have that – you needed to have a LOT of cash to buy air time to distribute your message.

Today – the keys to the information lock have been freely distributed to everyone with internet access.   Got something to say?  Create a video with the web cam built into your laptop.  Then upload it quickly and easily to YouTube – and a couple of hundred of other online video sharing sites while you’re at it.  Tag it and then blog about it and wait to see if it “connects” with people.

The real “magic” is that ANYONE can do this now.  Information distribution is not just the job of geeks and it’s not limited to professional journalists.  Technology has provided the tools so ANYONE can now share information – freely and easily.

There’s something about the KFTC that “connected” with people.  It is naughty (there’s no doubt an FTC fine was levied on the station)- and it’s catchy.   While it’s not telling a customer service story or creating a social media shit storm like Dave Carroll did – it’s still connecting in a powerful way.  The difference between now and then – the traditional information gatekeepers aren’t dictating the path this story is taking – the “everyman” is.

Social Media: It’s a Moral Imperative

socialmediamarketing2For more than a millennium, the underlying relationship between consumers and business has overwhelmingly been defined by the term  caveat emptor (buyer beware).  However, over the past few years the easy to use mass communication tools we’ve dubbed “social media” has been subtly shifting  the balance of power in the relationship between buyers and sellers.

Social Media is shifting the balance of power in the relationship between consumers and the businesses that serve them from caveat emptor (buyer beware) to caveat venditor (seller beware)  and the easy to use mass communication tool known as social media is the sole reason for this shift.

The Power of Social Media Connection

The real driving force which is powering the social media explosion are the gossamer threads of human connection.  The unseen, unmeasured force which seems to drive us to connect with other human beings.

This was illustrated clearly a few nights ago when my family watched an absolutely HORRID movie at home.  It was one of cases where the movie’s marketing had caught our attention,  but we never found the time to see it in theaters.  I  popped a bag of popcorn and we settled in to watch a movie which had been heavily marketed as a “comedy”.

We suffered through almost 2 hours of  graphic sexual content and  intense violence (such as gun shots to the head and a death by ax bludgeoning) delivered by a cast of recognizable actors playing one dimensional characters under the guise of “comedy” .

When the final credits rolled – my oldest son jumped up and ran to his computer.

“What are you doing?”  I asked.  After all, it was shortly after midnight and I was heading upstairs to bed.

“I’m a member on IMDB.  This is what we IMDB members DO!”

Ah, the gossamer threads of social media literally pulled him to his computer to share his experience.

This is what social media looks like from ground zero.

Seth Godin refers to this kind of behavior as “tribal” and I think it’s a good description.  My son actually felt a MORAL OBLIGATION to spare others in his “tribe” the “agony” of watching this painfully un-funny comedic romp through hell.

It’s important to note that part of our extreme disappointment with this movie was the fact that the marketing for this movie had painted it to be a “comedy”.  I personally don’t find death by ax bludgeoning or gunshot wounds to the head to be even mildly amusing.    Obviously from someone’s marketing perspective – these gruesome scenes are real side splitters.

The expectations set by the marketing played a huge role in my disappointment with the flick.  We had all been duped.   Had my son not jumped from his seat as if he were called to a 3 alarm fire – this blog post would have been all about how important it is to create realistic expectations in your marketing messages.

However, my son’s actions illuminated a deeper truth to social media.

People are smart.  They’re smart enough  to realize when they’ve been promised something that wasn’t delivered.  When that happens, they get angry.  They want to TAKE ACTION!!! That combination of emotion and easy access to mass communication tools is like spraying a gasoline mist into a cylinder.

The resulting social media explosion can be positive – or negative.

When it’s positive – it’s called viral marketing.

When it’s negative – well, it can cause a social media shit storm.

Social media makes communication easy, fun but most importantly PERMANENT!

There was a time – when your advertising and other marketing messages didn’t live forever, easily accessed by the search engines.

That was then – this is now.

Disappoint customers today and they’ll take to the tools of social media to share their experience with others.   Those disparaging remarks will live on – and if you’re not on top of your online reputation’s SERPS – those customer complaints may end up being featured front and center.

The consequences of disappointing your customers can be more severe than just a negative rating on a single website.  Disappointed customers who feel  strongly can now easily, post a Tweet,  create a video – create a Facebook Fan Pages – or worse yet – blog about your current customer service.

It’s becoming obvious that this type of sharing is one of the moral obligations of social media.   Caveat venditor!!!