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If, like us, you’re constantly trying to stay on top of customer reviews and reputation management trends, perhaps you have heard about the recent Mediabridge snafu.
Here’s a case of something that could have been resolved with proactive and customer-focused care spiraling down into a huge mess that is costing Mediacare huge amounts of revenue and immeasurable damage to its brand reputation. For those of you that have not yet read about it in the news, let us give you a little synopsis.
What went down
Until 2008, Mediabridge operated as a large B2B manufacturer of cabling and connectivity products that reached consumers via large telecom firms that provided hardware in their bundled services packages. In 2008, Mediabridge jumped into the retail bandwagon, offering its products directly to consumers. The bulk of its distribution took place via Amazon. On its own website, Mediabridge raves about its goods as highly ranked and heavily reviewed. In its own words: “When it comes to product reviews, specifically pertaining to Electronics Accessories, 15 of the top 20 highest rated products on Amazon are Mediabridge-branded products.”
When the bulk of your business originates from Amazon, online reviews matter greatly: just half a point down and the conversion of a product could decrease by as much as 35 percent.
So anyway this is how the story began. Not long ago, a Redditor who goes by the handle trevely posted on the site to ask community members to give him advice about a letter he had received from the Mediabridge in-house counsel. The letter was demanding him – a customer who had posted a negative online review – to agree to never purchase any Mediabridge products, never publicly comment online about Mediabridge products, and to take down the Amazon review immediately.
The company’s attorney indicated in the letter his intention to sue the reviewer on behalf of Mediabridge for what the attorney characterized as “untrue, damaging, and disparaging statements.” Furthermore, the letter described the review as an “illegal campaign to damage, discredit, defame and libel Mediabridge and/or to engage in other tortious, wrongful, and/or illegal conduct directed against Mediabridge.”
Last week, after having its selling license revoked by Amazon, Mediabridge posted a statement on its Facebook page (which has since been removed): “We insisted that untrue, damaging, and disparaging statements…be taken down. It’s our sincere belief that reasonable people understand that not only is it within our rights to take steps to protect our integrity, but that it should be expected that we would do so when it is recklessly attacked. The reviewer has since changed his review completely to remove the libelous statements, but unfortunately not before having an army attack us on the Internet.”
The actions of in-house counsel for Mediabridge, Neil Jacobs, are not by any means unprecedented. In 2012, construction company owner Christopher Dietz filed (and won) a lawsuit against Jane Perez in association with a negative review she posted on Yelp. The Virginia Supreme Court later overturned the preliminary injunction in this lawsuit. This action marked an important ruling aimed at preserving free speech in digital media: judges shouldn’t be able to edit or halt speech before a legal case has run its course. The injunction would have required editing of the review in question.
At this time of writing, the Reddit post has been removed, Mediabridge is still out of the Amazon game, and all the Twitter and Facebook accounts associated with Mediabridge have been deleted. Even after these efforts in digital sanitization, the footprints are there and the damage is done, at least until such time that Mediabridge figures out a mechanism for B2C distribution that is not Amazon-dependent, or unless they are reinstated as an Amazon seller.
Whether you sell products or services, there are plenty of lessons to be gleaned from this peculiar and self-inflicted corporate crisis, so grab your pen and take notes as we explore the risks associated with attempting to take legal action against online reviewers.
Count the costs
A happy and satisfied customer is priceless, and smart business organizations know that. Before creating barriers to customer satisfaction with the goal of reducing losses, it is essential to see the big picture.
The moment a customer calls with a complaint or concern, costs associated with relationship management begin to accrue. Many call centers that specialize in customer care and resolution report an average cost per hour to operate of about $100. So each minute a company fails to provide a satisfying resolution to the customer costs money.
This money comes directly from profit and it should always be perceived that way. Customer care culture should be permeated with a consciousness of cost associated with customer care and resolution. By the time Mediabridge decided to involve its in-house counsel, it had probably already spent significant time and money in payroll to put barriers that hindered the customer from receiving a full refund for their product.
Furthermore, the engagement associated with the escalation to Mediabridge corporate management and the involvement of its attorney can be estimated in the thousands. After all, even if in-house counsel are a fixed payroll expense, their time is not free and should be used for matters that protect the organization from legal entanglements, instead of causing additional friction and engaging in a way that presents significant risk to the company’s public relations status and brand image. Loss mitigation is about dealing with a situation in way that protects the brand with expedience and customer focus.
Don’t be a bully
As access to wider audiences via the Internet has become democratized, the risks associated with corporate bullying of the little guy have increased exponentially. Looking back at the Mediabridge crisis, the most important lesson to be gleaned is to assume that every customer has the potential of sharing any and all written communications with a brand via a social outlet.
When you write to a customer, whether it is a response to a review or, in this case, a letter, assume you are writing to a wider audience full of individuals that stand a high probability of taking the side of the little guy. There are no good examples of the bully strategy ever helping to build up a brand. Let your online words be gentle. Your company deserves it, the customer raising a concern deserves it, and all future customers will make choices based on it.
Customer care is about caring
When it comes to responding to online reviews, the main goal of smart businesses is to prioritize customer satisfaction over the perception of the “fairness” of the review.
In a negative review, the customer’s narrative is their version of the story and, in their eyes and mind, that version is both true and fair. Before drafting a response or deciding how to deal with the issue, make it your goal to see the complaint from their perspective and provide a response that shows you care for the individual as well as the issue.
A long-term customer care strategy, especially as it relates to online review responses and online engagement, is best executed when the company or business chooses to care for each customer in a way that is individualized and sensitive to the reach of their words and actions.