Hell hath no fury like a customer scorned

Betrayed bardWhatever your definition of “brand” is, from your customers’ perspective a brand is whatever they experience with a product that is sold under the brand’s name. The only reason any company ever invested into graphics, messaging, advertising and your salary is to create a perception of consistency of its products’ value in the minds of consumers. Yet today, according to Jeff Bezos – “A brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

Over the years many enterprises have invested billions of dollars to grow and measure equity value of their brands. However, the rise of the social customer threatens the return on these investments as social media technology amplifies the power of many little voices that share their experience of your brand. When a brand fails to deliver the promised value, it’s high recognition can accelerate its downfall as former loyal customers feel betrayed and often start to look for revenge online.

Many marketers wrestle with technology issues today, chasing one tool “du jour” after another, but in this process they sometimes forget the fundamentals – delivery of a consistent customer experience is  paramount to your brand’s return on investment. Presumably, your past products’ reputation and  brand building investments created a strong perception of quality in the minds of your customers. You cannot hide behind the past achievements anymore. There are many steps on your customers’ journey, but if your product sucks it doesn’t matter how creative is your advertizing, how big is your big data,  or how slick is your customer engagement process. It all goes to waste when the scorn customers share their authentic tales of betrayal. These tales are sought by a multitude of consumers, who consider a purchase of that product, but now will put your brand on their “no fly list”. Here is an example.

Many years ago my wife discovered a bath and shower gelee that she became particularly fond of notwithstanding it’s premium pricing. The product had an intense green forest perfume that was very distinctive. For some reason it was not easily available in retail stores in our area, and my wife went out of her way to order it on Amazon in a quantity which was rather substantial. After years of faithfully replenishing her inventory of the gelee she was really upset with her last order – the forest perfume was replaced by some unpleasant chemical smell. That change was not communicated by brand in a form of label color, name or description – and we felt betrayed. Needless to say the product was returned to Amazon for a full refund.

Examination of the product’s reputation trend shows exclusively 4 and 5 star reviews published for the period of 9 years prior to the fragrance change. The average social NPS® estimate from 2005 to 2012  was approaching 88. After the switch that took place in 2013, the social NPS® collapsed to -63. Vitabath social NPS Such a violent swing in consumers perceptions in such a short period of time are not very common. In the past, it took at least a quarter to detect such shifts by company’s management. It took years of slow bleeding before consumers at large would realize they cannot trust the brand any longer. Today, a month’s data could indicate a fundamental shift in a market landscape. Remarkably, the consumers learn first about the sinking reputation of a formerly beloved brand, while company’s management wait for channels’ sales reporting. Meanwhile, the shareholders wait for the quarterly results which are often sugar coated to obscure looming problems of a sinking brand.


* Social NPS® is an algorithmic estimate of customers response to the question – “On the scale of 0-10, how likely would you recommend this product to a friend or a colleague?”. It is produced by applying Opinion Mining technology to online CGC (customer generated content).
* NPS, Net Promoter, and Net Promoter Score are registered trademarks of Satmetrix Systems, Inc., Bain & Company and Fred Reichheld.
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1 Response to Hell hath no fury like a customer scorned

  1. Paul Bostwick says:

    “no fly zone” is pretty apt. It does not take many disgruntled and articulate customers to warn off new buyers.

    I was very unhappy with a premium (that does seem to be a common theme – the premium brand) stroller. I picked it for a feature that few have yet to employ (a high handle for tall parents – as dads get more involved this will be more and more important.) That would have been a big win in reviews had they not built it out of square so that no matter what it did it burned through tires. So irritating and sloppy. I offered them the chance to fix it (stuff happens – I’m not a troll.) When they did not offer a suitable plan to fix it (or to believe my description of the trouble)

    I explained (to the beleaguered customer facing person on the phone) that I talk to at least 3 strangers everyday about that good looking stroller (we presented a distinct figure the three of us) and I my story basically boiled down to “this brand is run by jerks – stay away unless you like changing tires and cussing… .my kid calls it the “Damnitstroller”

    “Sorry sir, we are not allowed to do that.”


    the next “clicks” were on my keyboard. Google up every site that has the product and enter a measured pluses-and-minuses kind of review that shows I’m sympathetic and real and really disappointed about quality and value (which is what the reader is wondering about.) Then I found that other colors of the product had different reviews. Screw that! Copy and paste. Mark calendar for returning to the task in 6 months. Find all of the new colors (nice way to scrubb bad reviews – make a new SKW) and review them and discover another customer is on the same task.

    Turns out we were canaries in the coal mine. Maclaren is all but gone. If you type their name into google it volunteers “Maclaren Stroller Recall” and “Maclaren stroller recall amputations…” YIKES.

    this guy is so out of it:

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