The consumer has been given the freedom to provide feedback on any product or service they acquire though new types of review sites and new web and mobile techniques. For every action, there is a reaction and I recently came across a few examples describing how various organizations are attempting to block the consumer’s right to share information. I expect a consumer backlash.
Furniture Store Example
In an post in the Daily On Line Examiner entitled Online Furniture Store Tries To Squelch Negative Reviews, the author Wendy Davis talks about Web furniture retailer Full House Appliances that has tried to block negative reviews by requiring consumers to agree to to limit any online negative reviews, in advance, as part of their terms and conditions. One of the statements in the terms and conditions purportedly ban consumers from writing “subjective” reviews that express matters like their “personal opinions, perceptions, emotions, interpretations, feelings.” For good measure, Full House Appliances additionally threatens users with “criminal libel” should they defame the company.`
As Wendy Davis suggests, perhaps the right approach would be for the retailer to try to deal with customer complaints and resolve them rather than suing customers for posting bad reviews. Another alternative that companies can use is to post their own story or rebuttal on the complaint website or on their own websites. In my opinion, the negative publicity of requiring this set of terms and conditions, once it becomes public, will be enough to send consumers elsewhere.
Medical Doctor Example
In the same article, another example is brought forward where Doctors are requiring patients to sign a document that they will not post negative reviews, or if they do, the doctor can have them removed. Using the copy write law, the doctor is given copy write ownership of any review written by a patient. So if it is a negative review, the doctor can ask the host to remove it. The company who has put together this agreement is called Medical Justice and the agreement is implied to protect the privacy of the patient. A rebuttal for this claim can be found on a website called Doctored Reviews.
Transparency: Openness, Communication, and Accountability
Seth Godin brought up this whole subject in a blog post titled: Why you might choose to be in favor of transparency. He suggests that when transparency goes up, (ie the public shares good and bad stories, and the organizations they talk about have to improve), everyone wins. To quote Seth Godin: ” Once information about good doctors becomes widespread, patients will be more willing to seek out those doctors, rewarding the ones who consistently take better care of their patients. The entire profession doesn’t suffer (we’ll still go to a doctor) merely the careless doctors will.”
Godin also suggests that “sunlight is an antiseptic and the marketplace rewards those that behave–and the entire market grows when the standards increase.”
Organizations are trying to defend themselves again a more open, public and viral communication network opened up with PCs, the Internet and Mobile phones. Some will make poor judgments and some will adapt. Hopefully the accountability and publicity will weed out the ‘bad apples’ and leave the rest of the customer satisfying organizations to prosper.