Seth Godin writes today about customers and their responsibility, whether companies can (or should) blacklist customers, and consumers gaining power. I wish he’d written more, actually, but since he didn’t, I will.
Anyone who spends any time with the public knows that some people are going to take advantage of, or behave irresponsibly in, any situation. I think it’s the responsibility of the company to their other customers to control this behavior however they can. For example, if someone is talking on a cellphone in a theater (I can’t believe this happens, but it does), I think it’s the theater’s responsibility (not just their option, but their responsibility) to throw the offender out. Their responsibility is to the other people who have also paid for their seats (upwards of $110 on Broadway).
But then the company has to deal with some irate consumer with the power to post anything he wants on the internet. The person thrown out of the theater can post that the theater was rude, or that the play stunk. Or even that they got food poisoning from the drinks at intermission. And they probably won’t hurt the theater at all.
But abusive users do have the power to hurt smaller companies. A smaller company can easily be harmed by 1 or 2 negative reviews or comments, even if there are many more positive reviews elsewhere. Most people are far too busy – and there’s way too much content available – to keep looking for information once they find at least one answer.
We provide excellent service because we believe in it, not because we’re afraid of bad comments. But we’ll occasionally give someone a refund on a very old purchase, or a “replacement” of a product we know they didn’t pay for, just because we don’t want to deal with the possibility of a bad review online. Some people might call this protection for the consumer, but I think it’s much more like the kind of protection people get from organized crime (at least in the movies; I’ll admit I have no experience with it at all). It’s just paying someone to go away. Unfortunately, it’s reinforcing the bad behavior, which just means encouraging it.