A Gentle Touch for Customer Feedback

Of course you want to know what you customers think of you! As a business, the number one priority is to give the customer what they want, and no one can give you that information except your customers. It’s not enough to simply study your audience’s behavior to decide your next marketing venture; sometimes the best way forward is to stick with the age-old method of asking directly. Just keep in mind that this invaluable data can only be collected with a gentle touch, so it’s important to ask and not demand. And that means letting the customer send their feedback without trying to nudge them toward the positive. It’s not as subtle as you think, and it comes across as extremely dishonest or even thuggish.

Ultimately any email you send to your customers regarding feedback comes down to this: you’re asking them to perform an action, and it’s important that they understand that it’s their choice. Once your initial transaction is completed, a customer owes nothing to the business with whom they dealt. While this next example from the New York Democratic Committee isn’t a business per se, the letter they sent recently urging members of the Democratic Party to vote was written in the worst possible way: “Who you vote for is your secret. But whether or not you vote is public record,” which was later followed by “We will be reviewing voting records . . . to determine whether you joined your neighbors who voted in 2014.” This is most definitely not the way to convince any form of action, especially an action that is completely voluntary. Even worse, the letter ends with this gem: “If you do not vote this year, we will be interested to hear why not.”

So what can businesses learn from this? First and foremost, your customers cannot be bullied into liking your company, and likewise they cannot be bullied into writing stellar reviews. If you want wonderful reviews, then you have to be a wonderful company that inspires its customers to speak up on your behalf. Tell them that their feedback and reviews will be greatly appreciated, but don’t attach a prize or incentive for them to do so. Any such action will come across as a bribe, which makes any positive review or comment they make look like a bribe…and you can be sure someone will mention your incentive in a public space. If customer reviews and comments cannot be trusted, then the company cannot be trusted. At this point you might be tempted to have comments regarding these incentives deleted, and that’s never where you want to end up.

A lesson to take home: Your actions and reputation as a company is at the mercy of your customers, especially in the online sphere. Do not attempt to manipulate your image by manipulating customer feedback. Honesty from them means honesty from you.

The Streisand Effect – Natural Anti-Censorship

The Streisand Effect is a peculiar phenomenon born from a reaction to the suppression of information, usually with help from the Internet. The term had a rather innocuous origin: it was coined after actress and singer Barbara Streisand filed a lawsuit in an attempt to have a photograph of her Malibu home removed from a website that documented coastal erosion in the state of California. Prior to this lawsuit, the image was only downloaded 6 times, and 2 of those were by her attorneys. However, as details of the case became public, over 420,000 people visited the site over the course of the next month.Streisand_Estate

The Internet is a living, breathing creature that is apathetic to individual preferences. It documents everything (almost) that is submitted to it, and it doesn’t respond well when someone tries to delete something. Once it’s out there, it’s no longer yours to control; your only defense is obscurity. Once the Streisand Effect takes hold, the more you struggle against it, the more it drags you under. Many have championed the Streisand Effect as a way of spreading and preserving truth, especially in the case of  poor business practices. Here are two examples of this phenomenon at work:

Union Street Guest House – In 2014, a story broke out about a popular wedding venue charging clients $500 for each negative review the establishment received. Ridiculous as this policy sounds, it was even plainly stated in their agreement, which they tried to delete from their website the moment the story went viral. Much to their chagrin, the Wayback Machine keeps snapshots of websites, creating a sort of timeline of how these sites looked through time; the $500 charge policy can still be seen there. Furthermore, when the owner of the Union Street Guest House claimed it was only a joke that was not reinforced, the negative reviews came pouring in, dropping the venue’s star rating on Yelp to a measly 1 star.

Samsung and ghostlyrich – In late 2013, user ghostlyrich on YouTube posted a video of the Samsung Galaxy 4 catching fire when charged. Samsung later sends ghostlyrich a contract agreeing to remove the video. The contract then goes on to say that ghostlyrich must sign and agree to drop any negative claims against Samsung and their products, that he takes responsibility for the defect and damages, and that he’s not allowed to talk about the contract or make any future claims or lawsuits against the company. ghostlyrich did not sign the contract and posted a video about the contract. Both videos have over 1.5 million views each. See the second video here:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRtoa8ZwGrsh4LgWM4rXLOA

Condemning as these events may be, the Internet tends to have a short-term memory. People tend to forget and move on, so long as the company or product amends its mistakes and prevents them from happening again in the future. Sometimes the best option is to take your licks and apologize in a sincere and concise manner. Learn to recognize a situation where the Streisand Effect might come into play. Don’t fight it. The old adage “no publicity is bad publicity” does not apply when virality and  mass online outrage comes into play.