“I’m going to tear them apart,” she told me over the phone. “You’re going to help me. Right?”
Mom was in her new home in Bellevue, where she’d spent a long, draining day handling a cross-country move from hell. “I wonder what is not broken,” she posted under a photo of one of the several crushed boxes movers had stacked — five days late — in her new place.
I hadn’t told Mom I’d help her tear anyone apart. I’d told her I’d help her write her very first negative online review.
There are a lot of worthless rants out there, and I suspect, as a rule, anything published out of anger. But Mom’s experience made me consider the negative review — tamed and careful, of course — as the great truth teller. The last weapon of the powerless consumer. A cold blunt instrument of justice.
Mom was beside herself as she heard, in the week leading up to the move, that despite her having agreed to pay an extra $1,000 to guarantee a July 29 delivery, her things wouldn’t arrive until the next day, then the next day, then the next. When they did arrive, things were missing, and her dismissive, short-tempered driver disappeared for hours during the move, refused to build any of the furniture movers had disassembled at her old place, forced her to rent on her own dime a U-Haul truck to get her things off the enormous trailer and onto her street and demanded she pay $150 in cash for “extra labor” or he would take her things to Tacoma.
The only thing that’s made her feel better is the knowledge that she can, by publicly sharing her story, strike back.
Days later I was riding on the back of an old fire truck in Estes Park, Colorado, disappointed. My husband and I had paid $15 each for this fire truck tour of the beautiful mountain town and had heard next to no actual information. Tour guides typically sit with tourists on the bed of the truck, but ours spent the ride chatting up the driver in the passenger seat, leaving us paying customers to guess at what we were passing as we squinted into the wind. “Hope you had fun,” the guide said as we stepped off. Would I speak my mind in front of three little kids in plastic firefighter hats? I cursed under my breath and left.
Mom thinks me an expert in all things digital, but the truth is, I’m as new to writing negative online reviews as she is. For the first time in a long time, riding home from that waste of a tour, I thought I might pull up Yelp and actually, finally, do it.
But something was stopping me. It’s powerful, this weapon, and I don’t want to misuse it. Sitting at my laptop a couple days later, I asked on Facebook if anyone had ever written negative online reviews at least in part to get back at a business.
Some people had and were glad they did. Others hadn’t and were glad they didn’t.
Technologist Jody Fisher’s answer hit home.
Always regretted it, mostly because the review likely lives on beyond the bad service, which was probably corrected because: 1. It was an off night; 2. The offending employee quit or was fired; 3. The business rectified the issue. Result: I stopped writing negative reviews.
“The review lives on beyond the bad service.” So if your issue is addressed, the damage your review does could far outweigh the crime. I hadn’t thought that hard about that.
As if on cue, my husband forwarded me an email from the company that runs the fire truck tours. It was a link to an online comment card. “Your chance…” he wrote.
Calmly, reasonably, I let it out. I used words like “terrible” and “useless,” erased them, and stuck to the facts. The tour guide didn’t ride with us. I learned much less than I expected to. I was left disappointed. The form asked for my tour guide’s name. Reading over my comments to make sure I was only telling the truth, I gave it.
The next day, we got an email from the company’s guest services manager.
Thank you so much for your comments on your recent Fire Engine Tour. The tour guides are suppose to be sitting in the back of the trucks with everyone talking to them and pointing out things. …
I apologize that this did not happen and I have refunded both your tickets for the total of $30. Again, thank you for bringing this to our attention and I encourage you to come back for more tours in the future as this is not the type of experience we give.
And there it was: resolution.
The company that handled my Mom’s move has given her little in the way of apology, humility, or even the easiest and most important thing — a sense that they care. It’s not like they haven’t had the opportunity. She’s talked to them several times.
I have little doubt that Mom’s negative review is coming. I’ll help her stick to the facts, but I’m not going to get in the way of her resolving, however she can, that withering sense of injustice.
It’s too bad the moving company gave her no better way.
Mónica Guzmán is a freelance journalist, speaker and award-winning digital life columnist for GeekWire. You can find her tweeting away @moniguzman, subscribe to her public Facebook posts at facebook.com/moniguzman or reach her via email. See this archive of her weekly GeekWire columns.