The NYTimes recently (Nov 11, 2010) published “A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web” which describes someone who’s figured out that really bad customer service can be its own reward. In a nutshell, a discount designer sunglasses online store lures people to their website with great prices, but seldom delivers. How can they survive? By the numbers game: a legion of unhappy customers post complaints online, which create backlinks to the online store, driving up the store’s online ranking (wash – rinse – repeat).
The store owner has figured out how to “game the system” by doing the exact opposite of great marketing techniques. The search engine software hasn’t yet been tweaked to “fix” this loophole. In the meantime, the owner continues to take orders and aggressively fight customers’ returns. We watch from the sidelines and are frustrated – someone’s got a business edge by not “playing by the rules”.
The sad reality is that scammers stay in business because they’re used to working one step ahead of the law. If the credit card merchant shuts them down, they can use a friend’s merchant account. If their webhost closes their website, they can go to another host. If they get sued enough, they can declare bankruptcy, and spring up another business elsewhere.
Why not follow this lead and take business shortcuts? Because ethically we couldn’t live with ourselves, nor would we strive to be in community with people who do. There are always people who do well by living on the edge of morality. But if you want to sleep well at night, not worry about your next phone call (or knock at the door) – run your business the way you want to be treated.