Customer Experience

Battling Brand Sabotage: The Angry Critic

Reader Resource

Position yourself for growth in 2017—join us live at the Entrepreneur 360.
Flash Sale—save up to $200 on registration. Ends Thursday. Secure Your Seat »

Customers have a huge audience to whom they can vent their frustrations about a negative experience with a brand. It's called the Internet.

It’s becoming more common for consumers to take to the Web to do so, with 58 percent more likely to tell others about their customer service experience, good or bad, than five years ago. Online reputations have become incredibly influential to its audience. In fact, 88 percent of consumers admitted to being influenced by online reviews. The power customers have over the success of a brand is staggering. Only one unhappy customer can cause some real damage.

Related: 3 Steps to Repair a Damaged Reputation

The attack

Deloitte’s Jonathan Copulsky says in his book, Brand Resilience: Managing Risk and Recovery in a High-Speed World, that a customer turns into a saboteur over three stages: disappointment, anger and rage. First, the customer experiences the bad service or product. After the company fails to act -- failing to apologize, replace the product, repeat the service or reimburse the customer -- the customer moves to the anger stage. Further inaction on the part of the company will turn that anger into rage.

The customer then becomes a saboteur. Take, for example, the case of “Dell Hell.” Journalist Jeff Jarvis wrote on his blog in 2005 about his experience with Dell, and the blog post spurred hundreds of similar stories. The negativity eventually abated, but it was a trying time for Dell, which lost once-loyal customers and sales from one post. However, saboteurs will often seek out multiple avenues through which to tarnish the offending brand’s name:

  • Post to the brand’s social media accounts
  • Create a video detailing the negative experience
  • Launch an anti-company website or social media group
  • Flood review sites with negative comments
  • Post in forums, including the company’s own

The battle plan

It may be tempting for a company to defend itself when dealing with a saboteur, especially if the sabotage is unwarranted (the customer misused the product or misunderstood instructions, for example). If a company responds negatively to a consumer, however, it’s always the company that gets the backlash -- even if they’re not at fault.

Related: How Subway Can Recover From the Jared Controversy (VIDEO)

Here are five ways to prevent or subdue a potential sabotage.

1. Improve customer service. The best defense against customer sabotage is prevention. In order to receive good online ratings, customer service must be:

  • Fast: Don’t make customers wait days for a resolution to an issue that could be solved within the hour.
  • Friendly: Customer service reps are among the few who have direct contact with customers, so they must be polite.
  • Simple: Don’t force customers to call different numbers or transfer them to multiple departments.
  • Fulfilling: It’s sometimes more important to please a potential saboteur than save a few dollars in the short term.

2. Give them a space to speak. Customers conduct conversations about brands on almost any outlet. Companies should give customers a branded space to talk about the products or service on its own forum. Even hosting in-person meetings with unhappy customers can eliminate the anger and convince them to post positive follow ups.

3. Excel at social media. Only 59 percent of brands monitor social media for their name. Man your accounts with someone who knows how to respond to complaints, as customers often use these as service desks.

4. Offer information. Customers often ask, “Why?” when something goes wrong, so explain what happened. Demonstrating knowledge about the product or service will increase the trust level the consumer has in the brand. After all, it’s a common complaint that customer service reps “don’t know what they’re doing.”

5. Ask for advice. Reach out to the saboteurs to ask them what they would like the company to do in the future to improve their service or product as consumers enjoy feeling that they have an impact.  

The aftermath

Even if you win the battle, you might not have won the war. Customer sabotage can have some lasting effects, one of which is Google search results. Once a negative article has been posted, it can show up in the search results for a company name for a long time, sometimes outranking the company’s official site and social media accounts.

To check on a current online reputation, businesses can use the many tools available. Fruition’s Online Reputation Manager allows a user to rearrange search results to push down the bad and raise the good. Google Alerts can be used to notify a brand of potentially damaging articles or mentions.

If these tools indicate that a company’s reputation is damaged due to customer sabotage, a reputation management firm can help bring it back to life. A qualified reputation manager uses a combination of search engine optimization and public relations to push down the negative results and improve a damaged online reputation. With a combination of prevention and action, any company can eliminate customer saboteurs.

Related: Prepare to Protect Your Online Reputation Before It's Under Attack