Customer service is rated and ranked, between industry professionals and the person who's sharing their experiences with their friends. Many businesses even have a complaints line if you meet with one of their representatives and find them unhelpful and abrasive. But who is ranking and rating the customers? I recently found a site, which documented negative experiences customer service representatives had with people who walked into their stores, and wondered, how common are these occurrences?

Several dozen websites, names witheld, aim to take it a step further, business owners able to list their bad customers by name, street address, and phone number, with a description of their behaviour. Entries such as:

"Worst Customer To Do Business With Ever!!! Avoid At All Costs!!! Makes Plans To Pay With NO Intention Of Ever Paying.  Still Owes Me $575.00 and I Will Probably Never See Her Again.  DEAD BEAT CUSTOMER.  Do NOT Do Business With!!!"

"She likes to call multiple tow truck companies at the same time and give whoever gets there first the business.
Don't waste your time.  Leave this customer sitting on the side of the road.  Otherwise, get there in 5 minutes or she won't pay you for wasting your time."

"This customer visited our store and requested information from our company regarding ordering bridesmaid dresses and how to determine the correct sizes. She then proceeded to mis-communicate it to her bridal party, who all ordered the incorrect sizes. She then posted a review on a website stating that we provided her with false information and would not accept responsibility for the error. We confirmed with her bridesmaid how the sizes were determined and were able to verify that this person did not follow the instructions that were provided. "

"During a cardiac arrest a young woman waiting to be seen by the doctor complained that she was waiting a long time. We explained that a patient came in ‘dead’ and we were trying to revive him. She said, “Well if he’s already dead, then to hell with him, I’m still alive!” (at a hospital)

The comments are reminiscent of Ebay comments, but could this be the future of customer relations, or does this only work for online stores such as those on Ebay? Would other businesses take notice of sites like this and check up names?

In 2011, a "mystery resident" in Dubai launched a Twitter account that named and shamed companies that gave poor customer service. However, his content was soon removed, after he was reminded that putting information such as this was illegal under libel law. He removed the content with the following quote,

"Sadly due to an unforeseen UAE law it has come to my attention that publishing pictures of bad, inconsiderate drivers on the internet through Twitter or any other site is illegal, with this in mind and in order to ensure I follow and respect the laws of the UAE this site will now be closed while it is redesigned to promote news and events in Dubai and the UAE."

In 2013, a Facebook account set up to shame bad customer service representatives gained 6,000 followers in 6 days, and was threatened with legal action. One of the shamed companies approached an Australian lawyer, who stated while the comments might have been true, any dramatisation or embellisment would make it defamatory.

While the previous two examples are about shaming companies, the same laws would apply to shaming individuals that might have reacted badly to a business.

The law is written to protect people from being defamed, but what about freedom of speech?

The Sunday Morning Herald reported on a story during June, 2014, where a West Australian man was being sued by an eBay seller for his negative comments about their service. The NSW District Court Judge, Judith Gibson dismissed the case, however lawyers predict these cases will increase as people become more aware of the importance of "online reputation."

Judge Gibson stated, "Claims for defamation are easy to commence, and difficult to defend."

Andrew Stewart, a partner at law, commented, "As lawyers become more familiar with the online world, they might become more willing to push these kinds of cases through."

On the other hand, he commented that there were obstacles to suing for comments online, especially if the plaintiff or complainant were using a pseudonym online.

"It may only be a few people who can recognise the user who is being attacked, if anyone," Mr Stewart said.

"That doesn't mean it's not defamatory but what it means is that because the reputation of the person may only be affected in respect of a small number of people, the damages may be too small to justify suing."

The EFF, Electronic Frontier Foundation, is a US organisation who aim to protect free speech, fighting the front lines with lawyers, technologists, volunteers and visionaries.

They state, "Preserving the Internet's open architecture is critical to sustaining free speech. But this technological capacity means little without sufficient legal protections. If laws can censor us to limit our access to certain information, or restrict use of communication tools, then the Internet's incredible potential will go unrealized."

"EFF defends the Internet as a platform for free speech, and believes that when you go online, your rights should come with you."

An example is "whistleblowing", the act of reporting unsafe, illegal, or corrupt practices in the effort of public safety. Their comments might be internally (through the organisation accused) or externally, to law inforcers, the media, or regulatory boards. Protection laws to defend the right of whistleblowing were placed in the USA in 1778. In some professions, not sharing information to protect others is considered a legally-negligent act, such as teachers not reporting unexplained bruises on a young student.

However, if someone was to do the same "whistleblowing" on the Internet, they are not protected by the 1778 mandate. Writing the same information in a blog causes legal ramifications.

EFF state,
"You need to report the problems to the appropriate regulatory or law enforcement bodies first. You can also complain to a manager at your company. But notify somebody in authority about the sludge your company is dumping in the wetlands first, then blog about it."

The question becomes, be it customer or firm, or individual, should the rights offline be the same as online, or does the Online world vary too much to real life that the same laws would not serve? If retailers or customers are wanting to write about their experiences, how do they legally do so without being targeted as "troublemakers" or their comments being labelled defamatory?

Another thought is, do these websites and comments need to be made online? Do we need to shame that bad customer or incompetent worker outside of safety issues which are covered by whistleblowing laws when reported in the right channels? A friend of mine who works in fast food stated that he had banned customers from his burger outlet, however management had overturned it after a few months, to give the customer another chance. A fresh start. Some of the customers returned to the establishment and had reformed their behaviour.