MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A customer service nightmare that started with a simple request from a customer of a small Miami company featured on CBS4 and CBSMiami.com has made N-Control, developer of a video-game controller, a virtual digital pariah at the speed of the web, an example of how social media can take a private dispute and turn it into a business disaster.
N-Control was founded by a South Florida teacher who developed a video game controller that was particularly useful to gamers with disabilities. CBS4 and CBSMiami featured the company and founder David Kotkin, an art teacher in the Miami-Dade School system, on-air and online. The Avenger controller generated a lot of attention and the company contracted to have it built in China.
N-Control accepted pre-orders and, being a small company, engaged a marketing company to be its public face and deal with customers.
That proved to be a costly mistake.
A customer, identified only as Dave, e-mailed the company asking about the status of the controllers, and when he could expect his to arrive. What happened is a textbook case of how not to deal with customers, as can be seen in this exchange of e-mails posted by the gamer site Pennyarcade.com.
The representative from Ocean Marketing, later identified as Paul Cristoforo, took an increasingly nasty tone with Dave, an exchange Dave found so frustrating and which made him so angry that he shared the entire thing with friends on the web, where the amazing example of bad customer service went viral.
So many people were looking at the company that the original CBSMiami story on the controller, which had nothing to do with the dispute, generated more than a half million views. Millions more visited other sites, including Reddit.com, and thinking the Miami teacher’s company was to blame for the actions of their marketing company, started blasting the company and the controller. They accused Cristoforo of being a bully, and then, through the power of social media, bullied him back.
Hundreds of people posted negative reviews on Amazon.com, in many cases, even if they apparently had never purchased the product. Typical was this review posted by RufusPFunkerdale.
“Worst purchase of my entire life, December 27, 2011,” the review said. “product arrived severely late, after terrible customer service beforehand. product is made out of cheap parts and broke in the first day, probably the worst purchase i have ever made in my entire life, from the worst company to ever exist.”
Hundreds of people said they found that review helpful, and there were hundreds of similar negative reviews.
While Cristoforo issued a formal apology after the story went viral, N-Control parted ways with him and accepted the help of a so-called public relations disaster specialist, Moisés Chiullan. He helped the company issue a press release distancing themselves from a person the gaming community felt bullied customers, explaining what the company was about, and offering a $10 discount for those awaiting for their pre-ordered product to arrive.
The release also contained a company apology:
“N-Control would like to publicly apologize to existing and potential customers, as well as the gaming community at large, for allowing Mr. Christoforo to abuse his power so unforgivably. The Avenger was invented to provide greater accessibility to disabled gamers, and bullying tactics are the last thing that should be associated with this product.”
It was an eye-opening experience for Kotkin, who was quoted in “The Daily Dot” as saying, “We’re a startup; we’re a virtually brand-new company. There are only so many options,” referring to the marketing opportunities.
Chiullan is using traditional media avenues as well as twitter in an effort to help Kotkin’s company try to recover.
“It’s been a very surreal 24 hours,” he told The Daily Dot.