Want to Publicly Complain About a Product or Service? Be Careful How You Do It

An item over at CNBC.com explains just how bad things can get for dissatisfied customers of a business should they carry their criticisms of a product or service to extremes

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When Neely and Andrew Moldovan of Dallas, Texas were making wedding plans, they contracted with photographer Andrea Polito to capture the memories of their special day. However, the Moldovans and Polito eventually found themselves embroiled in a dispute over a $125 fee the photographer said was required in order to put a cover on the couple’s wedding album. The newlyweds claimed that service was supposed to be included in the package they originally purchased from Polito, while the photographer said the additional charge was clearly outlined in the contract the Moldovans signed.

The couples’ response was to aggressively criticize Polito on social media, as well as through more traditional channels. Now, a Dallas jury has decided the couple went too far and defamed the photographer, and ordered them to pay Polito $1.08 million in damages.

$1.08 million…for a dispute over $125.

According to CNBC, when the couple embarked on their public tirade, they referred to Polito as a “scammer,” and posted a wealth of negative reviews about her business. They told their story to any news organ that would listen, including NBC; a Daily Mail article on the couple opened with the sensationalistic headline “Wedding photographer holds couple’s pictures hostage after they refuse to pay extra fee that ‘wasn’t in their contract.’” Polito’s business ultimately folded under the weight of all the negative publicity.

In the end, the jury decided that whatever legitimate grievance the Moldovans might have had with their photographer paled in comparison to the highly destructive manner in which they went about addressing it.

Responding to the jury’s verdict, the Moldovans issued a statement, saying, in part, “We were unhappy with a situation, so we complained like anyone would.”

Except, by any reasonable account, that’s not true, and it provides the ‘lesson of the day’ when it comes to the matter of complaining publicly about a business, something made far easier now in this age of social media.

The newlyweds may have complained AS anyone else would, but they didn’t complain in the MANNER anyone else would. Instead, the Moldovans deliberately embarked on a campaign to humiliate and ruin the business owner, and were eager to achieve their ends by availing themselves of whatever media outlets were happy to be complicit in their effort. Not only is there no sign this couple ever once thought about being more restrained in their approach, they appear to have floored the gas pedal every chance they could.

On a separate, but related, note, referring to something as a ‘scam’ has apparently become the intellectually-lazy person’s way of expressing dissatisfaction with a product or service, and the public has become far too comfortable with throwing the word around. Scam means fraud, and when you publicly claim that you’ve been scammed by a business, you’ve defamed that business unless it turns out that you actually were defrauded. Look up the legal definition of fraud, and you’ll see that there’s a lot more to it than the fact you may have been served a bad meal because the chef was off his game that night. It’s a serious charge, and when you publicly lodge it against a business, you’re making a significant accusation, one for which you should absolutely expect to be held accountable if it’s not true.

It’s an expensive lesson learned by the Moldovans, and one from which the rest of us, by observing what happened to them, can benefit for free.

The information contained here is for general information purposes only. The Financial Writer blog and Bob Yetman disclaim responsibility for any liability or loss incurred as a consequence of the use or application, either directly or indirectly, of any information presented herein. Nothing contained in this article, or any other article featured at this blog, should be construed as a solicitation or recommendation to engage in any financial transaction. You should seek the advice of a qualified professional before making any changes to your personal financial profile.

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