Concerned about what your customers say about you online? Well, you should be.
You probably think you have your bases covered by allowing product reviews and client testimonials through your Web site, but the truth is that the blogosphere can make (or break) you as a company if Google includes a customer's blog post in the SERPs (search engine results pages).
Prominently positioned customer blog posts in the SERPs that either love you or hate you can be more powerful than product reviews for several reasons, the most obvious one being that many blogs act as word-of-mouth advertising when things go right--and when they go wrong.
While some bloggers may have a reputation for always pointing out things that are wrong with the world, make no mistake about it: "acts of kindness" do get talked about, in a big way! You may have already overheard some of the positive buzz about Zappos, a fashion retailer of shoes and handbags, probably due in part to its free overnight shipping, very liberal return policy, and enthusiastic customer reviews. Here's a blog post you may not have heard about, "I Heart Zappos."
We all understand that sometimes bad things happen to good people, and Zaz LaMarr (the writer of the post) could be any one of us. In her post, she described how she purchased several pairs of shoes for her ill mother. Some didn't fit, but she didn't get around to returning them. Shortly afterward, her mom passed away and LaMarr still hadn't gotten around to mailing them.
When Zappos followed up on the shoes, LaMarr wrote back and explained the situation, ending with: "I'd send the shoes as soon as I could." Not only did Zappos arrange for UPS to pick up the shoes, but the company also sent a floral arrangement with condolences.
The result of Zappos' kindness? The customer that it treated like gold also happened to be a blogger with readership. Word of this good deed is spreading around the Web faster than the speed of a T-1 line, and her post is currently in position No. 12 in Google for "Zappos," and in position No. 9 in Yahoo.
Still not a believer that blogs are powerful? One commenter to her post declared, "I am going to go buy something from them and refer them to this post as the reason for my purchase. If only more companies acted this human."
What better way to build your reputation than to get back to basics and be nice to people?
On the flip side, some companies are earning their reputation as unfeeling, corporate giants. I can't think of another industry that has more problems with that image than the airlines. Search Google for "Spirit Airlines" and the No. 3 ranked result is a blog post headline that reads, "Do Not Fly Spirit Airlines."
What started out as a complaint over a $5 fee attracted a blogstorm; not only were several other horror stories relayed in the blog post's comments, but other posts like this one about the "Spirit Airlines Story" have attracted attention outside of the blogosphere in places like The Chicago Tribune, consumer complaint groups and more.
What was so bad?
Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza reacted to a well-written customer complaint letter by saying "Please respond, Pasquale, but we owe him nothing as far as I'm concerned. Let him tell the world how bad we are. He's never flown us before anyway and will be back when we save him a penny." The customer got ahold of the comment because Baldanza hit the "Reply to All" button.
Instead of apologizing or trying to deal with the situation in a better manner, Spirit Airlines blew off its customers and people reacted. While airline execs could have done something to resolve the issue, blogs don't seem to be important to them. Company spokeswoman Alison Russell was quoted as saying, "We wouldn't respond to a blog post. She goes on to say: "This goes back to the larger question of the veracity of everything you read on Internet blogs. Our customer service is great."
I'm sure you've heard the saying, "De Nile is a river in Egypt." How many travelers do you think are going to steer clear of Spirit Airlines after they read that damning post (in a No. 3 Google position)?
The lesson here, folks, is that the cliches you've heard about being kind to one another holds true--even (or especially) on the Internet.