Preserving and enhancing the reputation of a business has entered a new twilight zone with social media. The websites that focus in this arena are a moving target, as are the search engines that track social media.
There are four basic types of reputation management entities. There are those like Angie’s List and Yelp that see themselves as pro-consumer. Then there are other entities such as Customer Lobby that are pro-business. The search engines are actually the best at staying neutral. The last type of reputation management firms are those that scrape the internet looking for negative comments, identifying them to the corporate client and suggesting methods to combat or alleviate the negative publicity.
Angie’s List is a closed subscription network and it is for that reason that I do not foresee the reviews there being picked up by the search engines in their aggregate review section, that is, unless the Angie’s List business model changed radically. I am sure that the search engines are well aware that Customer Lobby is pro-business. Therefore I don’t foresee the search engines including these reviews into their aggregate review section.
One of my first experiences with reputation management involved Angie’s list. Hearts Pest Management, being a small to mid-size pest control company, simply didn’t get as much public exposure and feedback as some of the competition. I think we were also a bit late in recognizing what Angie’s List could do. In order to leapfrog the competition, we paid for a premium spot at the head of the list. During the contract signing, the salesperson stated that the policy of Angie’s List might change in the future, allowing them to accept reviews for work that was several years old. I put in a stipulation that I agreed only to the current terms of having reviews that were no more than one and one-half years prior. We began to log a few calls from Angie’s List customers. I noticed that there was some business to be made, but at a sacrifice. I noticed that Angie’s List customers had a sense of the upper hand. They could resort to the line of: “Give me what I want or you’re going to get a bad review.” Although not always true, I found the customers were somewhat self-selecting. They were people who felt they had been so misled by contractors that they’d pay a price to get the inside word on contractors and an advantageous position in dealings. There came a point when I felt I was walking on glass with these customers. Nevertheless, we maintained an A+ rating for 3 years, gold stars and all.
But then there came a point when I felt I had to draw a line in the sand. A review came in, a straight F rating. It was from a woman I had personally serviced 8 years prior during my first year in business, a time when I was, honest to God, working 100 hours per week. The customer stated that the company was unfair for insisting that she pay up for $500 worth of rodent work when she was unemployed. (The money eventually came in after 6 months of follow-up).
When I spoke to customer service at Angie’s List I discovered how terrible their customer service was! They discounted that any harm had been done to my A rating. They did not care at all that the review was 8 years old. “What do you care? It won’t make a difference?” But actually it made a great deal of difference to me, as a hard working and honest businessman who needed to justify this 8 year old F rating. The review and the grade would never go away. Having felt that this just crossed the line, I terminated my premium paid membership. While Hearts Pest Management still carries an A rating at Angie’s List, I am pleased that I am not supporting this service that is very skewed toward the customer. While I am 100% for the customer, in this blog you know me as someone who believes in win-win relationships. Angie’s List business could not be counted on as a win-win situation. Angie’s List failed to understand that although much, but not all of their revenue is from the customer side of the equation, they still need businesses who believe that doing business sourced from Angie’s List is a good idea.
I must say that although the line staff in customer service were very non-caring, I was very surprised when several months later a check arrived at my business with a refund for one full year of premium advertising with Angie’s List. Of course, I had told them that I too knew how to use the internet to create negative publicity.
Yelp is another entity that now is taking up the customer mantel. While Yelp is a solid company, the rules of the game they play can change overnight, not unlike the search engines. I have discovered that many legitimate reviews disappear. Also, it is likely the most critical customers who are the most frequent reviewers. Yes, there are those that compliment strongly, but as human nature would have it, those most passionate are often negative. As Yelp works now, reviews are often filtered out unless the user has placed several reviews.
Customer Lobby is an example of a company that pulls from the business community for customers. This company will contact customers of your choosing and filter out the ones that are less positive for your review and intervention, leaving only the best reviews on-line. That’s great for the business, but less than honest. One negative is that the reviews are on Customer Lobby’s website and any link to your website goes away when the payments stop. Additionally, while those great reviews may temporarily get a great ranking on the search engines, that ranking is not for your company but for your review on the Customer Lobby website. This means that the entry competes with any high ranking your own website has. While some argue that the more visible mentions of your company on the search engines the better, I do not think it is a good thing to be sending viewers to a website that contains both your reviews and the reviews of other companies if you are able to attract attention directly to your own website. Where I believe they are most valuable is in discovering problems in your customer base before a complaint is elevated. In that regard it is a very proactive investment.
Especially when the search engines and review sites are talking about your company, there is every reason to promote your pest control company on your own site with testimonials. At Hearts Pest Management we have generated numerous wriitten reviews over the years for our website, as we move forward with video testimonials like this small segment from a Hearts Pest Management customer.
The field of web-based reputation management is an emerging field. I don’t have all of the answers. I can only share my working knowledge and hope some of you may provide your input as well. As with all the major digital marketing media, the field is constantly in flux.
(What’s a blog without comments? I encourage you to leave your comments and to use those social media buttons).