According to an article in Friday’s New York Times, Vitaly Borker is back in prison.
Infamous for a previous business venture, DecorMyEyes.com, Borker believes strongly in the tenet that “any press is good press,” which he followed to its logical conclusion, running the business as erratically and counterintuitively as possible to remain in the spotlight.
Rather than simply not providing customer service, Borker’s businesses, most recently OpticsFast.com, were known for harassing customers who were foolish enough to complain, delivering products that were cheap knockoffs of, and sometimes totally different from what the customer bought, and relying on an overabundance of bad reviews (and blog posts like this one) mentioning the company by name to give it enough of a viral buzz to rise to the top of the Google listings.
While it is inexplicable at best how these terrible reviews and exposés could possibly lead to increased sales, something similar did work for Amy’s Baking Company, a café in Arizona savaged by Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares in an original 2013 episode, and a follow-up the following year, in which the chef tested some of the claims from the mountain of bad reviews the restaurant had gotten, finding some true, but overall far from the worst restaurant in the nation as Yelp had claimed. Not that the episodes were exactly flattering, showing the owner Amy, her husband, and her staff arguing and fighting dysfunctionally on camera.
The immediate aftermath of this episode, however, was the exact reverse of what one might expect — Amy’s was overwhelmed with business, and grew rapidly for the next year, becoming a tourist attraction of sorts, before eventually being forced to shut down anyway. Not because of lack of business, however, but because of an ongoing dispute with their landlord… not the happiest ending, but still a dramatic case study of recovering from, and maybe even profiting from, bad publicity.
Borker’s story doesn’t have even that as a positive – as the charges and complaints continue to mount, customers who complained about the inadequate product and obtuse pricing on the site have been coming forward with reports of hundreds to thousands of calls, texts and emails harassing them, with few redeeming characteristics shown to mollify the latest wave of bad press.
Bad service has been a hallmark before, of just the right kinds of greasy spoons and fine-art galleries. The phrases “cheeborger cheeborger” and “no soup for you!” remain embedded in our cultural consciousness to this day for a reason – a distinguishing characteristic of the restaurants (both fictional, but based on real places in Chicago) that would be an integral part of the experience, to the point that someone eating there and treated perfectly normally might be disappointed with the lack of terse, brusque counter service.
As a small business owner, this begs the question: after a bad enough review, is it ever time to own it and feature it as part of your management?
The answer, of course, is rarely. Normally, the best route to take is to make the customer happy, unless the review has already gone so viral that there is no way to make it go away. If, and only if, your establishment has become nationally famous by way of its review, should any attempt be made to accentuate it and ride it to success.
Otherwise, remember that the customer should always come first… even if those 15 minutes of fame make a few bigger paychecks, it’s usually if not always best to focus on sustainability and complete growth!