Customer Noise and Social Media

social media communicationI write a lot here about connecting with customers.  It’s what social media does best really.  While the old web  was all about a one way conversation in which businesses “spoke” and consumers “listened”…  the “new” web with it’s social media capabilities – allows the conversation to go two ways.

Social media is new – brand spanking new.  Never before in human history has communication on a grand scale been accessible to the masses.

Businesses are learning – often the hard way – what this new level of communication means for their business.  In a nutshell – if you’re not treating your customers with the respect they deserve – you’re in for a nasty introduction to the power of social media.

Some companies don’t respect their customers.  They view them as idiots with credit cards and the latest “aggressive sales tactic” known as post transaction marketing is a prime example of this type of thinking.

What is post transaction marketing?  Well, it’s really quite simple.  When you complete a transaction with one of over 450 online retailers, when the purchase is complete, a “certificate” will pop up with an offer which appears to be from the merchant with whom you just trusted enough to share your credit card information.

Click here to claim [insert irresistible offer here].
Continue
Click for details now!

When you “click”… you’re taken to an innocuous site which asks you to enter your email address.  Remember, you have to enter your email address to get the irresistible offer.  Since  this page doesn’t ask you to hand over your credit card information – many consumers didn’t think twice about entering their email address to obtain an additional discount or cash back.

After all, what harm can comes from turning over your email address?

What these customers discovered was that they had inadvertently signed up for a monthly charge to their credit card.  See,  buried in the fine print was the agreement to allow a third party to charge their credit card each month … using the same credit card information they had given previously to complete their purchase at a trusted online retailer.

The term used to describe this is “data pass”.  The data pass – the data being your credit card information –  happens behind the scenes and the whole process to gain your consent to this is intentionally deceptive. Using a brilliantly crafted combination of stealth and trickery – by entering your email address, you’re authorizing the merchant with whom you just did business to share your personal data with another company.

See, once you’ve completed your transaction, well… I’ll let the government report tell the tale:

For customers to reach the confirmation page, they must either accept the offer to join a membership club offered by the third party sellers (by clicking a large, colorful ?”Yes” button) or click a much less conspicuous “No Thank You” hyperlink. In general, the name of the familiar website with which the consumer has just completed a transaction is displayed on this page, making it more difficult for the consumer to discern that this “interstitial” page is actually owned and operated by the third party company, not the website on which the consumer has been shopping.

Consumers who have been duped by this process have found themselves unknowingly joining a membership site – with a 30 day free “trial”… then the charges of between $10-$20 per began.  Some consumers paid for months before noticing the charge on their bill.

According to C-net:

The government says the investigation shows that Webloyalty, Affinion, and Vertrue “trick” consumers into entering their e-mail address just before they complete purchases at sites such as Orbitz, Priceline.com, Buy.com, 1-800 Flowers, Continental Airlines, Fandango, and Classmates.com. A Web ad, which many consumers say appears to be from the retailer, offers them cash back or coupon if they key in their e-mail address.

Many of those who complained say they don’t fear the ad because they aren’t being asked to turn over credit-card information, according to the Senate report.

According to the Cnet article – one of the biggest profiteers from this scam is Classmates.com.  They’ve partnered with all three companies pulling this scam and pocketed over $70 million as a result.   And you thought Classmates.com’s  biggest sin was sending you emails that lie to you about someone looking specifically for you on their site.

Are victims of this scam complaining?   You bet they are.   According to the government report,

Thousands of customers have contacted the companies using words like “fraud”, “tricked”,”deceptive”, “misleading”,”scam”, “deceitful”, “dishonest”, “betrayed”, and “robbed” to describe their experiences.

In the government report – the customer complaints have been tagged as “customer noise”.

CUSTOMER NOISE

I guess “customer noise” is kind of like the sound you heard Ned Beatty make in the movie Deliverance.

Denny Hatch actually lists a few of the companies involved and he discloses their estimated “take” from their part in this scam.  (Be sure to click through to see a list of the popular retailers who have profited from this scammy practice.)

When confronted with this practice, the blame is promptly shifted onto consumers.  Obviously, if the customers of these online businesses are “stupid” enough to trust them with their credit card information – then they deserve what ever abuse they receive as a result.

This practice has it’s roots in the days BEFORE social media – before communication via the web was easy and accessible to all.  I’ve written often about how in the “old” days, mass communication was reserved for national media.

In the old days –  when consumers complained – retailers could count on the effect being contained.  The old adage that an unhappy customer told 10-16 others would affect a small mom and pop or  local retailer much harder than it would affect a larger company.  Unhappy or upset?  You’d tell your friends and relatives and your experience might dissuade them from buying.  Previously – the only backlash a large abuser of customers feared was the FTC.

However, it’s not just the internet – it’s social media which is changing all of that.

Now, when consumers have been led down the river and screwed hard instead of screaming like a pig – they can make their voices heard via social media.  These “squeals” continue to echo LONG after they were first made.   My blog post about my complaints about a pest control company will continue to live on as long as this blog is online.

When consumers squeal online via social media – the squeal gains legs.  In the case of United Airlines – a customer complaint ignited a social media shit storm.

Social media is changing the landscape by making the internet a two way communication tool.   Gone are the days when you had to have access to a journalist to get your story told. Gone are the days when you had to be able to code in HTML to communicate via the web.

Now – when a customer feels like making some customer noise and screaming like a pig – they can do so with social media.   They don’t have to be “smart” enough to code – or rich enough to pay a programmer.  All they need is an internet connection and a passion to begin.

Call it customer noise at your own peril.

Comments

  1. says

    I think it’s great that you have highlighted this issue here. Scammers have been around for ever, they may have got more technologically advanced in recent years, but I don’t think they will ever go away.

    The best thing about social media is that consumers can tell others about their experiences with certain companies. The only concern I have is that over time it will become more difficult to determine which are genuine and which are not. I think I could probably tell now but in the future? Not so sure….
    .-= Amelia Vargo´s last blog ..Could Adding A Media Section Benefit Your SEO? =-.

  2. Kathy says

    Amelia,

    One thing about this scam is it started in the days BEFORE social networking – so it’s been going on for years, it’s just now getting air time socially.

    I recently had a comment on an old blog post that accused me of being “inauthentic”. Yes, I was accused of being a “scammer”… in this case, I was accused of being a secretary at a pest control company who is trying to destroy the reputation of the subject of my blog post. fortunately, it’s quite easy to read the hundreds of other blog posts on this blog to see that this is not a one shot “scam” type of post.

    One thing the scammers don’t have the stomach for is hanging around for the long term. Which is why maintaining a long term blog is a KEY in distinguishing yourself from the “scammers” out there. Several years of blog posts is a great show of authenticity.