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.

Who’s afraid of the FTC’s new guidelines?

social media's magic ingredientAnswer – ” Not you if you’re operating under an authentic business model.”

Social media is all about information flowing freely and easily.    When a company engages in questionable business activities – social media is there, allowing customers to share what it’s like to do business with someone.  However, there have always been business owners who don’t want to play by the rules.  Instead of gathering authentic testimonials – they resort to crafting lies to promote their product or service.   They create “faux blogs” to promote their products – complete with fake testimonials.  They hire celebrities whom you trust, banking on that trust being transitive.   Well, the US government (via the FTC ) has been receiving complaints and is about to join the game.  They are in the process of crafting some new “rules” for the game of doing business – both off line and online!

The FTC stands for the Federal Trade Commission- a US government agency which is charged with the protection of American Consumers. The FTC was founded in 1914 – in the era of “trust building and trust busting.”  Since then, the agency’s powers have been enhanced to include all “unfair and deceptive business acts or practice.”  The most recent (1980)  guidelines are receiving a “face lift” for the new millennium – and may be a cause for concern for those who have been operating outside the bounds of “authentic” marketing and business building.

It’s not just brick and mortar businesses that have to worry about the new guidelines. Bloggers and internet marketers are definitely affected by the latest FTC guidelines that ban deceptive or unfair business practices.  If you’ve embraced my 3 step  authentic business success secrets formula – then you’ll probably welcome the relief offered by these new guidelines -written with social media marketing in mind.

New guidelines are being drafted which in their current state would allow the FTC to go after bloggers for any false claims or failure to disclose conflicts of interest.   The current draft of the guidelines also allows the FTC to go after the companies who partner with bloggers as well.

By the way, this same language also applies to celebrities who endorse products.  It looks like those D list celebrities who endorse such products as Cash 4 Gold had better take a good hard look at the reputation of the company who wants to hire them.

So, if you’ve written a glowing testimonial for a product you’ve never used – you might find yourself in as much hot water as the person for whom you wrote the testimonial.

If you’ve written a glowing review of a product you received  for free and you failed to disclose that you received the product for free –  again, you might find yourself in the same hot water.

Mary Engle of the FTC tells why in this video:

It  appears that the FTC is joining in the effort to keep the communication going on via social media “clean” and free from manipulation.

If you’re running an authentic business model – you have little to fear with the new guidelines.

If the testimonials you feature on your blog or web site are real – both the ones from your customers and the ones you have written for other bloggers and internet marketers – then your compliance with the guidelines will be easy peasy lemon squeazy.

For most ethical business people and bloggers, you may need to disclose the fact that the links in your blog post are affiliate links – but other than that – the new rules shouldn’t cause most authentic and ethical business owners and bloggers much concern.

If however, you’ve been less than authentic in your marketing communications – then you may have a serious problem on your hands when the guidelines are finalized – expected some time in 2010.

What to do when Social Media creates a Shit Storm

Only July 6, 2009 – United Airlines executives awoke to discover a social media shit storm had erupted thanks to this viral video from Dave Carroll.

Thanks to Carol Solomon of Stress Eating for the heads up about this video.

The video above was a long time in the making.  The  now infamous guitar tossing incident happened way back in March of 2008.   Dave writes on United Breaks Guitars about what it took to bring him to the point of creating the song (the first of a trilogy) and the video (again, probably the first of a trilogy).  After months of fighting with various levels of management at United… where they actively engaged in the age old customer complaint strategy of deny, obfuscate, and stall –  he writes:

At that moment it occurred to me that I had been fighting a losing battle all this time and that fighting over this at all was a waste of time. The system is designed to frustrate affected customers into giving up their claims and United is very good at it. However I realized then that as a songwriter and traveling musician I wasn’t without options. In my final reply to Ms. Irlweg I told her that I would be writing three songs about United Airlines and my experience in the whole matter. I would then make videos for these songs and offer them for free download online, inviting viewers to vote on their favourite United song. My goal: to get one million hits in one year.

United Airlines can’t say they weren’t warned.

Dave Carroll promised Social Media Armageddon and he delivered.

With over 2.5 MILLION views for the video,  multiple television interviews and the resulting blog buzz, this story is not exactly what most businesses envision when they ask for a viral marketing campaign.  It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for Dave Carroll… but it looks like a shit storm from the other side.

There are several  pundits who are saying that United can make lemonade out of this shit storm.  The phrase,  “there is no such thing as bad PR” has been tossed around.   One recommends that United should try to leverage this disaster in their future marketing.

All I can say is I’ll take a kilo or more of whatever it is these people are smoking.

If United were my client – I’d share with them the wise words my mentor shared with me over 20 years ago.  When one of my advertising clients awoke up one Sunday morning to a PR shit storm in the Sunday paper of admittedly a much smaller scale – my mentor shared these valuable words of wisdom:

The more you stir shit- the more it smells.

Talk about pithy words of wisdom – those were it.  So when I sat down with the client on Monday morning, my advice was simple: LET’S NOT STIR THE SHIT!.

My advice to United would be the same.

Don’t try to make lemonade out of shit stew – no amount of sweetener is going to make this palatable.

I would also advise United to FIX WHAT IS OBVIOUSLY BROKEN.

The thing is – twenty years ago – the customer service practice of dealing with customer complaints by  denying, obfuscating, and stalling was actually sound business advice.  Why pay restitution if you didn’t have to?   (I have to wonder why flight vouchers weren’t offered to try to placate him.)  After a few frustrating and fruitless conversations, most customers would become frustrated or bored and give up.

If this situation had happened two decades ago, there wouldn’t be much backlash.   United might have lost a customer – maybe one or two more thanks to word of mouth.  However, adding up the lost revenue and comparing it to the restitution involved in this situation would have made this an easy call a generation ago.  This guy and his band don’t spend enough to make it worth it to make this right.

Twenty years ago – Dave Carroll couldn’t have caused more than a scratch to United’s Teflon coated brand.  Without access to the mainstream media – his message wasn’t going to get very far no matter how catchy, clever or well produced it was.

That was then – this is now.

Now – Dave Carroll is planning a second video – riding the wave and stoked with all kinds of creative energy on how to make the next video even BETTER than the first.

Rather than play armchair quarterback to all the opportunities inherent in the situation for United’s competitors in the marketplace – I’ll offer this admonition…

A new age has dawned and it’s name is social media.

Social media makes it easy for average people access to a world wide audience.  Those average, everyday consumers can use technology to create what is know as user generated content.  Sometimes, that user generated content is catchy and clever enough to do more damage in a week than several decades of carefully orchestrated media buys and brand strategy.

In my book –Beyond the Niche: Essential Tools You Need to Create Marketing Messages that Deliver Results I warn business owners to be aware that “power customers”  -those who can do serious damage to their marketing efforts – were not easily identified and as a result, EVERY customer needs to be treated as if he/she has the ability to influence dozens of other consumers.

Social media takes the power of a single consumer and expands it exponentially.

You never know when a consumer may have a popular blog – or even access to one – so treat them all like they do.

This is a full blown shit storm for United – but every day, similar smaller stories are happening all over the web. They aren’t as well documented as this one is but, then again, six weeks ago Dave Carroll was just another musician with a beef against United.

Another crippling blow in retaliation to piss poor customer service has been delivered.

Social Media Warning: I am Rubber – You are Glue …

Remember that chant – back when you were a child. Someone would say something mean or hateful, and your response would be the sing-song, “I am rubber – you are glue! Whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to YOU!”

Web 2.0 gives us a real opportunity to share our thoughts spontaneously. Whether it’s posting to your own blog, making comments on other blogs or sending bulletins via MySpace – sometimes we might share things we wish we hadn’t. If we’re lucky, the rest of the world will be so self absorbed that most people won’t notice when we expose more than we planned.

I recently got a notification about an article which is getting a lot of attention on one of the various social networking sites to which I belong.  The article was written by a member who is telling business owners to get control over their personal spending lest it ruin their business. I think I’ve gotten more insight to her spending habits than she may have been planning on providing.  I thought it was just common sense, but if you want to promote your services as a financial manager, don’t tell me how many checks you’ve bounced in the past few weeks!

Meanwhile, the article makes me laugh because I am currently working with a client who has EXACTLY the opposite problem. This client is processing her own credit card orders manually because she doesn’t want to PAY an assistant to do this menial task for her. As a result, it’s taking WEEKS for some orders to get processed – money that could be safely in her bank account – less a small fee for hiring an assistant to handle the order processing.

We’re in the process of automating this process for her, by the way so she doesn’t have to hire the assistant – however, she’s reluctant to make the investment needed to make this happen.  Her business is relatively new and she’s having trouble making the transition from “requisition forms” to “you’ve got to spend money to make money.”

I can TOTALLY relate to my client because I too have battled trying to achieve balance between the art of bootstrapping and being silly.

For example, I remember that I worried for MONTHS over the prospect of spending $35 per year to register my domain name (way back in 1998) and the subsequent hosting fee!  It took me a long time to get used to the idea that I had to SPEND money to MAKE money. I’ve learned that it’s just a part of the transition from “employee” to “business owner” and for some of us, it’s a tough hurdle to overcome.

Meanwhile, the world is full of therapists involved in horrible relationships who spend their days “fixing” other people’s relationships – doctors who smoke, drink and abuse drugs but reach out selflessly to heal their patients – accountants who can’t keep their own finances in order. The list goes on and on but a key player in this kind of behavior are the MMO bloggers who aren’t making any money.

While it’s true that “The cobblers’ own children rarely wear shoes,” if you want to convince others that you know your stuff – you’d better have some impressive samples.

As always, this is going to come BACK to blogging.  One of the reasons I ADORE blogs is that it’s hard to “fake” expertise over the course of 100 or more posts.  When these MMO pretenders post their monthly earnings and think $89 a month is a sign of their success – well, it’s yet another reasons I ADORE blogs!

If you’re not authentic – or if your SOLE purpose is trying to fleece the masses – then don’t launch a blog and DO NOT participate in social media marketing.    If you’re a pretender, your blog will expose you as one!

If on the other hand, your business is in the business of helping people solve their problems, achieve their goals or placate their desires – the step right up to blogging and Web 2.0.  While you won’t find OVERNIGHT success, you’ll find it’s a fun and fulfilling path to travel.

Your blog won’t be a 30 minute solution to your marketing dilemmas – it may not even earn $89 per month in direct income for you, but it will be great way to begin spreading the word about the solutions you offer!

Web Marketing 101: School of Hard Knocks

Yet another school year has begun and my children (ages 14-21) are back to hitting the books. The oldest is in college, so she has the option of choosing her courses and even choosing which professor presents the information.

WHO presents the information is a biggie when you’re in college as well as in the real world.

In college, some professors are a true resource while others seem to be devoted to collecting a paycheck with as little effort as possible. That’s why there are multiple sites where students can go and “rate” their professors online. Even though the curriculum may be the same, the person who is teaching the class makes all the difference.

Ah, those were the days- when a professor would present the information and then, a few days or weeks later, you’d be “tested” on that information. If you performed well on the test, you’d get an “A” – if you didn’t, you might get a “C” or lower.  I wish I’d known how little those A’s would mean two decades later.

Fortunately (or unfortunately – depending how you look at it), my college days are but a memory.  Even the loans I took out to pay for that 4 year party -ehm, educational experience- are paid in full.   Now I’m living in the “real” world where the only school I attend is the school of hard knocks!!! There is no grading on a “curve” or cramming for finals. Instead, the only “test” is the balance of my business checking account.

WHO presents the information you need for real life success is a biggie in “the real world” as well.

As for me, personally, I’m a graduate of SHIT FLINGER U! No, not SHIT as in the South Harmon Institute of Technology, but shit as Cath Lawson defines it in her post Shit: The Best Tool For Success. Cath writes:

The more shit you have thrown at you, the more you learn. And although being in business is stressful, the more shit that hits you at once, the easier it will become later on.

Cath is the one who introduced me to the term “knowledge gatherers”. I squealed with delight when I read that descriptive term.  See,  I’ve run into this type before and have gone as far as to hire a few of these.

A knowledge gatherer is someone who reads every blog, buys every eBook and joins every membership site on a certain subject. Then, the knowledge gatherer presents himself/herself as an “expert” because he/she has accumulated all this knowledge.  Oh, he or she hasn’t applied any of this knowledge, but he or she is more than willing to tell YOU how to implement it.

Unfortunately, it takes about 3 weeks of working with just such a person (sometimes less) before you discover that you’re dealing with this type of individual.  One thing I’ve noticed is that this type usually has a lot of trouble with the whole “blogging” thing.  They blog for a bit and then “run out” of inspiration.

See, it’s one thing to know something so you can repeat it: it’s quite another thing to learn to apply it.  That is what happens at the school of Hard Knocks a.k.a. SHIT FLINGER U.

They say that wisdom is learning from someone ELSE’S mistakes.

Oh how I wish I were wise.

I wish I had learned my lessons from others who have been battered and bruised.   That’s why, when I find a blog like Cath Lawson’s, I subscribe to the RSS feed IMMEDIATELY!

Unfortunately, I’ve learned most of my “lessons” by jumping off the ledge and discovering AFTER I landed that the pile of straw which was supposed to cushion my fall was not only “used” instead of “fresh” but also filled with hypodermic needles and sometime machetes!

As I look back over my experience as a small business owner, I recognize that the struggles are indeed what have made me a valuable resource for my clients. There’s no lesson more valuable than the one you can learn from the man or woman who stands before you, covered in bruises and smelling of feces.

The problem is, when presented with the choice between the perfectly manicured, well dressed guide who is driving a Porsche and the Sherpa who’s dirty and smells funny – most of us will choose Ken and his sweet ride.  That’s fine if you’re touring Miami – it’s not the best choice if you’re scaling Mt. Everest.

I guess that is yet another reason you need to know where you’re going before you pick your guide!