Friday, January 20, 2012

e-Destroying your firm’s reputation

I am a bit late to the party addressing this topic, but the story of Paul Christoforo’s destruction of Ocean Marketing and near destruction of his client N-Control is a cautionary one worthy of repetition.

Ocean Marketing was a one-man operation providing services to, among others, the N-Control company.  N-Control had created the Avenger controller, an add-on to the X-box video game controller.  Ocean Marketing was handling order fulfillment until an unfortunate incident unfolded in December, 2011.

A customer inquiry regarding the delivery of the product, led to an increasingly hostile exchange of emails between Paul Christoforo and the customer.  As the customer dialog deteriorated, Paul resorted to an escalating series of name dropping and used several unprofessional comments such as “you just got told *****,” and the unfortunate typo “I wwebsite as on the internet” which has gone on to become an Internet meme.

The customer forwarded the email exchange to Mike Krahulik, otherwise known as “Gabe” from the web comic Penny Arcade.  Since the Penny Arcade trade show Pax East was included in the places Paul Christoforo indicated he had access, Mike (as the tradeshow director) decided to intervene on behalf of the customer.

Paul (writing as Ocean Marketing) continued to escalate his name dropping up until the point he discovered that Mike (as Gabe) would be including the exchange as part of the Penny-Arcade blog and comic strip.  Once that occurred, the Internet took over with websites like the Consumerist, Reddit and Fark quickly spreading the message.  Before the cycle concluded, Ocean Marketing made it to the major news media, landing a not so conciliatory interview on MSNBC.

As the hubbub grew, N-Control dumped Ocean Marketing as a client and N-Control was themselves forced to issue a press release distancing themselvesfrom Paul Christoforo, Ocean Marketing and the incident itself.

The damage is, as they say, done.  Ocean Marketing has lost a major client and Paul Christoforo has quite a bit of unfortunate baggage attached to his name (go ahead and do the Google search).  N-Control also apparently lost a number of orders due to the actions of an independent business partner.

There are three obvious lessons to be learned here. 

  1. Most importantly, always treat your customers with dignity.  You may not always have the answer they want – you may sometimes have to say “no” to a customer.  But you should always be professional and courteous.
  2. Perhaps the next most important lesson, particularly for the small business, your reputation is affected by everyone who does business in or near your company name.  N-Control didn’t do anything wrong here, but N-Control suffered all the same.  Take time to scrutinize your business partners, particularly those that interface with the public.
  3. Finally, any conversation taking place over the Internet is inherently public.  Even a “private” email exchange can quickly cross the web.  Never hit “send” in the heat of the moment.  Always consider how others might read your words.  Always remember the Paul Christoforo story!

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