Digital Age Drama

by Tim Watson, KB1HNZ

Originally published in the Winter / Spring 2017 issue of The Radiogram

During the month of December, reports began to emerge that upper management of the popular software, Ham Radio Deluxe (HRD), had been blacklisting subscribers in retaliation for writing negative reviews. The story sent shockwaves throughout the amateur radio community, but also the business world. Many questions were raised, but the unavoidable theme was that the practice of retaliating against customers who write negative reviews – no matter how harsh the review might be – is unethical, and what HRD did was completely wrong. 

Reviews are essential to companies in order to gage customer satisfaction. They are also an important training tool to help businesses improve in areas that may otherwise go unnoticed. Chris Boeckelman writes in the article Why Unhappy Customers Are a Valuable Resource, that “Sometimes unhappy customers force companies to confront and solve problems that are negatively impacting their business. And those solutions can lead to major success.”

Companies like Apple, Ritz Carlton, and Zappos are well known for placing a high importance on culture and customer experience. This focus on culture has set them apart in their fields, and they serve as shining examples not only to their respected industries, but to the entire business world. Providing a truly exceptional customer experience has become trendy and profitable, so how is it that a company like HRD can survive if it doesn’t place its customers in such high regard? The answer, I’m afraid, lies in the simple fact that software companies that focus on ham radio are very few in number. It’s a niche industry that is unaffected by the traditional pressures of competition, which historically is what forces businesses – and individuals, for that matter – to either evolve for the better, or ultimately fail. 

HRD’s behavior emerges from an unrestrained arrogance, that they are in control of the marketplace. They forgot the basic principal that no matter how much control a company has, it is the customer who determines its success. With access to multiple review sites, social media, blogs, and forums, the customer is now more empowered than ever before, and they are not afraid to speak out when something is wrong. 

Another example of a marketplace that is anemic in competition, is that when the story began to break, QRZ.com (on which HRD is a major advertiser), attempted to protect them by removing negative posts. It’s not clear whether this was done at the request of HRD, but when evidence of this began to emerge, subsequent posts were allowed to remain. Similar advertising conflicts may also be why the story has not been picked up by the mainstream ham radio publications. But the important thing to remember is that when enough people are mistreated, whether by an individual, a company, or even a government, the truth will eventually find an outlet. 

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