A funny thing happened about a year ago to the consumer advocacy wiki that I edit. It disappeared.
I continued to publish the site, which lists the names, addresses and phone numbers of the executives for most major American companies. It was still visible if you knew where to look for it, on its slightly unwieldy address, Onyoursi.de.
But for most folks, the site just disappeared. It was invisible to the major search engines, and especially Google, which it depended on for its traffic. Was it an algorithm change — or something else?
If you guessed “something else,” give yourself a pat on the back.
Turns out someone — it’s not clear who — set out to lower the site’s visibility through a series of search engine optimization (SEO) tricks. No need to go into details, but suffice it to say, they didn’t want the site to be seen. Maybe there was information on it they didn’t want their customers to see.
That’s understandable. Here are the most common requests I get from companies, and what you can learn from them.
“If you don’t remove the names of our executives, we’ll sue you.”
Some companies don’t like having the name and contact information of their executives online for the world to see, and they believe a letter from an attorney will scare me into submission.
It’s been tried, and it doesn’t really work. I did, however, remove the cell phone number of a CEO that had been posted in the comments — but only after he’d answered the reader’s question.
What it says about the company: Any business that doesn’t want its customer service managers to be contacted must not care very much about customer service.
Stay far away!
“Your information is incorrect, but we aren’t going to tell you who the right contacts are.”
This is only slightly more helpful than being slapped with a lawsuit.
It plays on my insecurities, that somehow I’m misleading consumers, while at the same time saying: That information is no one’s business but ours. It’s a disservice to everyone, including the company’s own public image.
I recently had a whole hotel chain tell me, “All the information is wrong” without offering a fix.
What is says about the company: We would rather have emails to our executives bounce than go through. That’s right, we really don’t want to hear from you little consumers.
Again, that’s probably a company you don’t want to do business with.
“Please delete our executive’s names and replace them with a generic link to our ‘contact us’ page.”
That’s an understandable reaction.
No one wants the name of a company’s VP of customer service splattered across the Internet, even if you go to great lengths to ask customers to only contact that person as a last resort.
But at the same time, pointing a customer right back to the same place they came from is problematic. Often, it just sends them round and round in a circle, without getting a resolution.
What it says about a company: Any company that says the “contact” page and 800-number is the only way to contact it is probably more interested in containing a consumer problem than solving it.
Avoid any business that wants to avoid talking to you.
The bottom line.
The best companies actually like being on the wiki, because they are eager to speak with their customers.
If something can’t be resolved, they’d rather a manager see the problem before it goes to court, so having the executive’s phone number and email address published online is no problem for them.
Interestingly, I’ve had several companies ask to be put on the wiki. Those are the ones that really get it.
The more barriers a company puts between you and the person in charge of customer service, the worse the customer service usually is.
And companies that don’t hide from you — well, they normally have nothing to hide from. They offer a terrific product at a reasonable price, and they deserve your business.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, the SEO gods smiled upon the wiki a few months ago. Now, everyone can see it again.
Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions by email.