Is WOM* advertising destroying reputable movers?By Eric Anders • Aug 28th, 2012 • Category: Advertising, COMMENTARY, Social Media Marketing
Have you noticed the recent increase in the number of reputable full-service movers having their industry credibility and professional reputations unknowingly prosecuted in popular online community forums and social media platforms?
Typically the company owners, van line execs, or agency salespeople being targeted never even get the legal courtesy of a subpoena.
Unfortunately in today's wired world many unsuspecting moving industry professionals, small businesses, and national relocation brands are being digitally accused, tried, and convicted in the unregulated Court of Public Opinion without any jury – or even notice of a trial!
This negative WOM (word-of-mouse) advertising is being spread online by inexperienced (and often uninformed) young, web-savvy customers at well optimized “consumer-oriented” virtual courtrooms. Usually these folks are angry or upset because their unrealistic pricing or service expectations were not met by the company they hired to handle their local or long distance move.
“Price … was ridiculous”
Recently, for instance, a first-time RELORT visitor asked for a recommendation for an “honest mover”. The request came after they read a comment at City-Data.com in which a senior forum member criticized a mid-sized Michigan based household goods carrier because they would only quote rates based on “weight and miles”.
City-Data is a private Illinois-based social networking and information website known for its comprehensive profiling system of cities throughout the U.S..
“The price I got from them was ridiculous!”
'Perhaps", I responded, "but it's a requirement under the law in the state you live in."
Apparently my cred score took a hit when I pointed out that the contents of the family's two bedroom home and 8'x10' self-storage rental unit probably wouldn't fit into a couple of 330 cubic foot portable moving containers or even a 16' rental truck with an attic even though “both cost significantly less to use”.
Since the guy was fishing for a low-price guarantee, it probably didn't help that I also mentioned that neither of the do-it-yourself moving services he was considering were licensed household goods carriers. Neither company, therefore, was required to offer or ensure any consumer pricing or service protections under existing intra- or interstate transportation regulations.
My opinion makes me right!
Several day later, a certified moving consultant employed at a 70 year-old Long Island moving and storage affiliate of one of the largest van national van lines in North America was called out at the popular consumer complaint web portal, MovingScam.com.
The well-respected salesperson, a regular MovingScam contributor, found his professional reputation being publicly dragged across the “Report a Scam” forum with his company's name plastered across the top of the thread.
His sin? Apparently the terms of the in-home estimate he provided to the outspoken and somewhat argumentative first-time forum poster were apparently legally superseded by the more restrictive contract carriage agreement his company had with the customer's employer.
Fortunately several equally experienced colleagues who also volunteer at the “consumer-oriented” site came to the rescue of both the 'outed' salesperson and his company.
Unfortunately, however, the negative review is still permanently embedded among all the other disappointed customer criticisms in the MovingScam pubic forum.
The military made me do it!
In another separate but related “Buyer Beware” review in MovingScam's popular Open Community forum, a very successful independent west coast mover was unwittingly dragged into the site's 'always open' Court of Public Opinion. The company's unusual name reflects their long-standing and excellent reputation for employing crews of beefed up local athletes.
Why? Because an “experienced” military service member who elected to use the Department of Defense's (DOD) relatively new low cost Personally Procured Move (PPM) option was unhappy with the outcome of his do-it-yourself (DITY) budget move.
PPM is a self-managed relocation program was introduced by the Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC) in 2010 as part of the DOD's latest iteration of their 'best value' Defense Personal Property System (DPS). PPM was designed to be a low cost “World Class” alternative for moving the hundreds of thousands of household goods shipments of military and government service personnel and their families undertaking a permanent change of station (PCS) duty assignment each year.
It's one of the relocation services offered to military personnel part of the newly automated DPS online portal at www.move.mil.
Instead of using one of SDDC's approved transportation service providers (TSP) enrolled in the $2.2 billion Defense Personal Property Program, DP3, PPM participants can use all or a portion of their government allocated weight allowance to arrange their own PCS transfer using a wide variety of non-approved (and often unregulated) commercial moving and storage resources of their own choosing.
Using this DITY option, young, energetic, or budget conscious military members can collect an “incentive” payment from Uncle Sam for managing their own PCS moves.
This extremely aggressive DOD service member, however, decided to aggressively flex his military muscle by publicly threatening each of the company's he hired to handle his PMM move with bad WOM reviews about the services he arranged himself.
That is, of course, unless they satisfied his demand for damages which, incidentally, he had appraised “by an impartial third party” at $2,878.69.
Apparently in his rush to publicly extort concessions from his mover online, this MovingScam forum poster learned all about the power of the phrase “caveat emptor”, but somehow forgot to explore his responsibilities under the legal doctrine of “respondeat superior” which is based upon the concept known as vicarious liability.
So, even though the company being openly criticized in the Open Forum has absolutely NO consumer complaints record by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration during the eleven years they've been qualified to operate both intrastate and interstate, this small independent mover with excellent industry credentials will never-the-less have to sport this perpetual black eye at a popular for-profit “trash-your-mover” portal.
According to colleagues active in the immensely popular Facebook phenomenon, the stock price isn't the only thing plummeting at Mark Zuckerberg's overvalued social media networking platform.
Apparently so are the online reputations of some local, long distance, and international household goods carriers, freight forwarders, and third party move managers.
At least that's what several of the industry's more astute and involved online community managers and social media gurus are finding when their Facebook friends, Twitter followers, and Reddit readers use their WOM influence to report on yet another disappointing peak moving season.
Just like last year, many companies have been plagued by service problems created by a lack of driver and equipment capacity and a shrinking workforce of knowledgeable sales and operations professionals.
What's different now is that many of their customers are using their online influence within their own personal and professional social media networks to share their stories of disappointment.
With the phenomenal growth of the medium by moving industry product and service suppliers, it's no surprise to occasionally find some experienced social media aficionados and angry customer using the platform to publicly bully the offending company into adjudicating their damage or service claim more favorably than what their contract terms require.
As a result, more and more companies are quietly editing visitor content – or else simply closing their Facebook accounts – as an easy surefire way to deal with the bad publicity.
Unfortunately, closing the door on Facebook is also closing the door on the inbound marketing possibilities – and wealth of opportunities – of these immensely popular and constantly evolving social media platforms.
Instead of sticking their heads in the sand, moving industry product and service suppliers need to develop effective strategies to publicly engage dissatisfied customers and cope with effects of their online tirades.
Last year a small mover struggling to start a new company in Chicago reported that he got MovingScam to remove a onerous thread started by an older customer he had provided a cost estimate to. The widow had innocently started a new topic under his company name asking for input on his reputation in the industry. Some of his colleagues – and potential competitors – weren't very kind with their feedback.
The owner's brother reportedly indicated he'd been thinking about removing the thread for quite some time himself, but hadn't done so because the company that was the object of the online criticism must request the post be removed.
Recently one of the volunteer moderators at City-Data.com's General Moving Issues forum removed a post of a disgruntled van line customer after I mentioned that I had deleted the very same incendiary comments about the most recognized name in the movin' business from a thread at RELO Roundtable.
The virtual extortionist had posted his angry rant all over the internet in a just the matter of a few days. The popular forum topic is now locked, but the previous comments about the company remain posted for readers interested in using the company.
Some individuals and companies who want to avoid the embarrassment of having their personal reputations or credibility being tried in the Court of Public Opinion are now using special software and pre-paid legal services to manage their defense.
While probably effective in the short term, this is like little Hans Dinker sticking his small finger in the huge online WOM dike called social media.
How to play nice in the [BIG] Facebook sandbox – RELO Roundtable
Mover Ratings: The importance of WOM – RELO Roundtable
How the moving and storage industry is using social media – RELO Roundtable
Do “rating & review” sites influence moving industry customers? – RELO Roundtable
Have questions or need professional assistance with an upcoming moving and storage issue, or help choosing a domestic or international relocation product or service supplier?
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