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« A Fishy Tale | Main | Pride and Prejudice in User Feedback »

February 21, 2006

The Business of Strangers

Recently, a user asked me if we notify business owners when they've been rated on Zipingo.

For now, the answer is "no."

In my mind, it's almost a litmus test of sorts, another way to separate good and bad businesses. A conscientious businessperson goes online and searches for his or her business name regularly, in order to monitor reputation, address concerns and improve. I mean, if you care about what your customers are saying, you're going to actively change for the better, rather than stick your head in the sand. Right now, I think monitoring consumer opinion is every business owner's responsibility.

After thinking about it, I started wondering about the pros and cons of letting business owners know they've been reviewed. So here are my random thoughts, in no particular order.

I once got an unsolicited email from a site claiming I had been reviewed as an individual. Out of curiosity, I went to the site, only to discover the email was a come-on. Funny thing...I had to buy a membership in order to see what someone had written about me, that is, if I could even believe a real comment existed.

I decided to forget about it, 'cause it just didn't sound legit. Fortunately, my instincts were right. After receiving several messages from the same site, all sent to different addresses of mine, including an anonymous one known only by one site where I rarely participated, I caught on. The "ratings" site had simply purchased a few e-mailing lists and I was being sold.

It could have been worse. It could have been a Nigerian money scam and I could have been gullible enough to give out my bank account number. (Phew! Dodged that bullet!)

These days, I delete a heap of similar email without even reading at least one. If I receive too many from the same site, spam filters come into play. But that's just me.

Which is one reason, we don't want to notify business owners unless they start telling us that this is the type of communication they want and plan to opt into. And they've got to opt into it, or we'll just be another stupid site sending unsolicited junk to someone who doesn't know or care who we are. I don't want that. I'm building a community. The last thing I want to do is tick people off. That's my take on unsolicited email, no matter how "helpful" it seems from the sender's viewpoint.

Now, imagine you -- as a rater -- want to submit a scathing, no-holds-barred review of a local restaurant. And further imagine that you live in a small town where everyone knows your name. And you and your honey ate at this place for your anniversary. You had a crummy time. You want to Zipingo it. Guess who would catch on the second Zipingo let him know? Yep, the business owner.

Forget about social . Go ahead and trash the dude on a national Web site and life in Smallville would stink big time. Or maybe it wouldn't. Depends on how you wrote the review (were you fair?) and how much the restauranteer wants to win back your business.

I think the rater could make plenty of cases for not sending the business owner a notice (as in, "You, tattletale, you!"), while the business owner could make just as many cases for notification. And if the rater knew the owner would be alerted, how honest would that rater actually be?

There's lots to think about, and I'm speculating a lot, too.

Okay, I'm rambling. Time to publish this post and move on.

So what do you think?

~ ZipingoKim


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You know...I think you've got a good argument but, it is only half the story.

I agree with the idea that people don't want to put bad news up if they are going to be confronted by it. And you seem to have a local bent towards your product concept...thus re-inforcing your idea that local people might not want to get confronted. But, I don't think that is the way it will work. If the community is that small...bad news will already get around without your sight. However, the VAST majority of customers, even in tight places like where I live (Arlington Va), are anonymous and will remain so. If I want to know what the local florist is like, I want to use your site, same with restaurants, but, if I slam a restaurant, I'm not worried about the owner tracking me down, and I darn sure am not going to eat there again. So, on a practical level, I think your concerns are unfounded.

On the other will businesses get better if they don't know what their problems are? If the info you are paosting is worthwhile, businesses will react to it. I know my brother in Phila reacts to his customer complaints...just like you react to our blog comments. You can even let the businesses post a rebuttal if you want(place a link for next to negative comments that reads "See what this company said about this comment" I mean...think how powerful that makes your service after awhile. And..think about the credibility it will give your service. Both sides get to tell their story and it will keep things fair. Not to mention the fact that by giving companies a "separate" comment secton, it might tend to help keep the original comments "clean" from hype and fales ratings...or at least readers might feel that way. Not to mention the fact that companies might place links to your site if they are postively rated...

I've been involved in labor contract negotiations, marriage and civil war (in Iraq) and I've learned that all three have something in common: nothing gets done right unless both sides of the story are heard are known.

E. Craig Crawford

I think you make a compelling argument for not notifying businesses that they have been rated. I believe the ability for a business to discover how it's been rated via a "Google" type search is questionable; it may or may not happen.

However, a business could maintain a website that includes a survey who's results could be made known only to the businesss owner. It would be easy for a business to print its web address on a bill of sale or guest check, and invite it's customers to go to its site and answer a brief survey. I frequently get cash register receipts from businesses, mostly the big box stores, inviting me to go online and answer a survey.

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