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Lessons from Prison: Satisfy Customers, Follow the Law

In “Can Lawsuits Remedy Bad Online Reviews? ,” my post last month, I concentrated on whether suits can cure bad online reviews of companies. In the instances that I addressed, there weren’t clear behaviours on each side that were really outrageous.

This month, I will concentrate on the narrative of Décor My Eyes, a site which went too far to get search engine positions and shows how much influence one person can have on internet marketing.

Previously, companies tried to control their search engine results with tools which would now be considered suspicious at best and ruin search positions at worse. Vitaly Borker, owner of DecorMyEyes.com, found how to produce negative marketing very rewarding.

Benefitting from Negative Reviews

The narrative of DecorMyEyes.com became national news after a post about the business was printed in The New York Times in November 2010. DecorMyEyes.com is a web site that focuses on the earnings of designer eyewear. Borker found that his company’s search ranking in Google might be increased not only through great reviews, but also through negative reviews if the reviews linked back to the website.

Borker found that his company’s search ranking in Google might be increased not only through great reviews, but also through negative reviews if the reviews linked back to the website.

As a result of this, he would intentionally provide bad customer service to people he thought deserved it with the hopes of getting negative reviews consequently. (Google now says that soon after the first The New York Times article was printed in 2010, Google changed its algorithm so that negative reviews no more help positions.)

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The New York Times article highlighted Clarabelle Rodriquez, who discovered DecorMyEyes.com via an internet search. After problems receiving her buy, her interactions with Borker, the proprietor went from unprofessional to end up as a witness in the court in a case against him.

Rodriquez received what she thought were the wrong products. She filed a charge card dispute for the sum which she was charged. After multiple threats to stop the credit card dispute, she received an email from Borker that showed an image of this place she lived with a violent threat. She was one of several customers that complained about his aggressive strategies both to authorities and online — testimonials of his website and his tactics may nevertheless be found online.

Encouraged Negative Reviews

As part of his promotion, when customers complained about his activities, Borker would answer that they may complain online about his activities if they did not like them. Unknowingly, the exact customers that loathed his actions helped get his site ranked even above the designers he sold in some instances.

But because his activities went beyond just terrible customer service and moved to the world of illegal — a few of the fees involved sending threatening emails stating that he’d rape clients and sell counterfeit items — he ended up facing criminal charges.

In May of 2011, Borker plead guilty to two counts of sending threatening communications, 1 count of mail fraud, and one count of wire fraud. He had been sentenced to 4 years in prison; penalties and restitution of approximately $100,000; and 3 years of supervised release. According to a Wikipedia entry, he was released on March 12, 2015. DecorMyEyes.com remains active.

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Lessons for Ecommerce Merchants

Although most website owners wouldn’t go so far as Borker to participate in illegal activity, his story does have some real lessons for internet marketers. First, never send an email to a client that’s written in the heat of the moment. Most business owners have received an email from an irate customer. As an owner, your business is the blood and sweat. Attacks against it could be taken very soon.

When emotions are high, the words used in an email are usually not a true reflection of how a company owner would like to get the company represented. Emails to disgruntled clients should always be sent after a cooling off period to be certain that things aren’t stated that are regretted, or even worse, can seem illegal. Even an experienced small business owner could say something in an email that when seen by a third party could be considered threatening.

Secondly, check out what you’re doing through the eyes of not only your clients, but also the law. Your clients will judge you on if you look honest and authentic. The legislation may judge you on higher standards. Do you have testimonials that are honest, but that someone was paid to write? This could lead to customers accepting the review because it’s honest, but the Federal Trade Commission questioning it because it had been paid for.

Are you mad with a customer and need to deny a refund? If your terms of usage let you deny refund requests, you might be on good legal ground but the public focus could backfire.

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Running an online business is a balancing act of promotion, understanding the law, and providing excellent customer service. While there are cases like DecorMyEyes.com that show some companies can earn money by being poor, it’s always better to be a company that’s well known for its good deeds. So when working with clients, be sure that you use common sense — and stick to the letter of the law.


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