I have watched, with interest, as Tesla has defended itself against a negative product review in The New York Times.
Until recently, this could have been disastrous, but Musk took to Twitter. Of course, he had an advantage. The car’s data-monitoring system indicated the reviewer undercharged the battery, didn’t set the cruise control to 54 m.p.h. to save energy as he had claimed, and cranked up the heat as the charge faded.
Only time will tell whether consumers believe Musk’s tweets (and the tweets of other Tesla fans) more than they believe the photo of the Tesla being loaded into a flatbed.
The episode reminded me of experiences I’ve had with product reviews over the years. These reviews happened before sites like Amazon became powerhouse review resources, and before online social networking gave companies a real chance to fight back.
They happened when we had few options to fight a poor review. Sure, we could (and did) complain to the reviewer, refuse to participate in future reviews, explain our side of the story to our customers and business partners, and pitch other reviews to other publications. But in those days, we couldn’t take our case directly to the public as Musk has done with the Tesla review.
Here are some stories.
In one case, my client fired the technical contact we had given the publication, but let him stay on the job for two weeks. (An interesting concept, indeed.) In that timeframe, the reviewer called and the tech contact trashed the product. The reviewer believed him. The resulting review said that my client’s technology product was good as a door stop, little else. And our subsequent contacts with the editor got us nowhere.
Then there was the competitive review when the AT&T business phone got an “A” and all the competing phones (including my client’s) got “C’s.” The phones were very similar; we thought they were all “B’s.” Then we learned that the reviewer (a freelancer the magazine had hired for the review) was an award-winning reseller for AT&T. We notified the magazine, saying that we did not feel the review was fair because the reviewer had a vested interest. (The magazine ignored us.) We – and all the other companies in the first review – refused to participate in other reviews in that publication. But a new company did and the result was the same: an “A” for AT&T and a “C” for the other product. (Note: this is not to disparage AT&T which, in all likelihood, did not know about the subterfuge.)
Another time a competitor contacted a reporter, pretending to be “just an interested end-user.” The competitor said he had tested several products, and gave his “test” results to the reporter. The gullible reporter printed the information only to learn that the “interested end-user” had a vested interest indeed, and that the highest ranking product came from his company. The editor was duly embarrassed, and I doubt that the offending company ever got coverage in that magazine again. (My client’s product was not included in the “test,” so experienced neither a positive or negative impact from the episode.)
And a final example. We were promoting a home-networking product that was designed for the latest computer hardware and software. For some inexplicable reason, the reviewer decided to cobble together a network from used computer parts and outdated products for his test bed. Not surprisingly, my client’s product–and all the products in the review–got poor marks because they were all geared for up-to-date technology, not left-overs from previous years. The products made these perfectly clear in their user manuals. Again, we contacted the magazine to explain the discrepancy and ask for a new review, to no avail.
Today, I often check reviews before making a purchase, especially a technology product. I know how flawed the system can be, and yet it still helps to see what people think about a product. And some sites, such as CNET, PCMag.com and Consumers’ Reports, have good reputations for objectivity.
I am glad they have. And I am happy I now can respond if the review is totally off base.