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This week's Secret Shopper programme seems to have resulted in some much-needed improvement to CSL's customer service, but the sofa retailer also needs to look at its web presence. 

It seems that there are plenty of negative comments about CSL online, including an entire website devoted to complaints about the company. So what can CSL do about this? 

Google results

If you search for 'CSL sofas' on Google, the first page contains three negative results (there were four yesterday, but the listing for the Secret Shopper show has pushed one onto page two), and there are more on the next page. 

The positioning of the CSL Complaints site means that, after the results for CSL's website, the first thing searchers see is a site with 1,000+ complaints about the retailer. 

If you look at these sites, you'll find plenty of stories from unhappy customers about poor service, faulty sofas, warranty issues and more. Not the best advert for the firm. 

CSL1

It isn't just CSL though, several other retailers in this sector have plenty of negative comments about them online. 

The results for 'DFS sofas' contain a couple of negative listings on page one of Google, with more on the next page: 

CSL2

The same is true for SCS: 

CSL3

What can CSL do about this? 

Improve customer service

Even with the best customer service, a company selling the volumes of products that CSL does will never be able to satisfy everyone, but it seems there was plenty of room for improvement in its sales process and after-sales customer service. The culture of low wages and high commission will incentivise sales staff, but it can create problems later. 

The most important step is to improve customer service and after-sales support to reduce the number of customer complaints, and perhaps Mary Portas will have helped with this issue. 

This is a long-term measure, and will not make the negative comments go away, but it may produce some positive comments to balance the complaints. 

Respond to complaints online

In the programme, CSL MD Jason Tyldesley said it wasn't worth the effort responding to the comments on the CSL Complaints site, but I'm not sure this is the best approach.

If potential customers can see that CSL is actively responding to complaints, then this gives a far better impression. Just ignoring the site and hoping it will go away is not the answer. 

Occupy as much of the first page of Google as possible

There are several ways to show your brand in a Google search. By taking a wider view and looking at the different ways you can appear naturally within the main search, you can occupy more of the first page of searches for your brand and related terms. 

For example, rival furniture retailers DFS and Furniture Village both have a Google Maps result when I search for them, but not CSL, even though there is a store less then ten miles from me. Maps results rank highly in Google, and also help to direct users to the nearest store. 

CSL could also look to get more video content up on YouTube, as well as images, as both can rank well. 

Improve its social media presence

A well managed Twitter account could be an excellent customer service tool for the company. CSL is on Twitter, but 48 tweets since August and just 90 followers suggest that there is plenty of room for improvement. 

The same seems to be true of its Facebook account. As with Twitter this provides another opportunity for a Google listing, as well as improving customer relations, but CSL doesn't seem to have made much effort, with just six updates since August. 

Graham Charlton

Published 28 January, 2011 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

Comments (11)

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Aliya Zaidi

Aliya Zaidi, - at Mrs Aliya Zaidi

Good article. I also watched the programme, and thought the format worked well for furniture shops. Looking forward to next week's episodes about phone shops, another retail experience I usually try to avoid.

Looking at CSL's web presence, the furniture company also has two separate URLs that show up on the first page of Google (http://ecly.co/evbnmq)

http://www.csl-sofas.co.uk/

and also: http://www.csl-sofas-furniture.co.uk/

It's quite confusing for the online shopper, since the second looks like it might be an older site, or just a blog. For example, it still has the "Lowest Price Guarantees" covered in the programme, which the retailer no longer offers.

over 5 years ago

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Sam Collier, Social Media Marketing Manager at Silverbean

Good overview. I didn't see the show but any retailer, and particularly those selling big ticket items, needs be very careful about their reputation online. Savvy consumers will research these purchases carefully, considering the quality of customer service as well as price. A few negative reviews can make all the difference, especially when the company isn't making the effort to respond and deal with the issues.

As you say just ignoring these comments and hoping they go away won't help!

over 5 years ago

Peter Jahn

Peter Jahn, Marketing Consultant

I nearly choked on my tea when I read that the MD stopped responding! By simply being seen to take an interest in the customers problem can turn a situation around. Most businesses will have unhappy customers, but an attempt at speedy resolution can immediately turn around that customer's attitude towards your business.

over 5 years ago

Aliya Zaidi

Aliya Zaidi, - at Mrs Aliya Zaidi

I agree that a lack of response is not exactly the best way to deal with a crisis, but I thought another interesting question raised in the programme was, what do you do when the customer might be wrong? In Secret Shopper, the customer wanted to get a free sofa after three years of heavy use, which CSL offered at a much reduced price of £850. Not sure if that was reasonable or not. Clearly, there will be times when customer is not right.

over 5 years ago

Pauline Randall

Pauline Randall, Director at Florizel Media

Great article. So important to not only deal with the problem (poor customer service in this case) but also how to remedy the company's image in Google.

Imperative that the MD deals with the complaints publicly otherwise customers will think things haven't really changed. Gaining additional presence through social media is also hugely important - you can aim to get customers to bring issues to you rather than a third party site but this will only have a positive effect if the responses handled properly. The social media strategy needs to be well planned and implemented - mouldering accounts don't send out the message that the company is interested and engaged with their customer base.

Aliya: Your comment about the customer not always being right is very true. I used to work for J Sainsbury and the things that get returned is beyond belief (one new year I had a customer with a Christmas tree, dropping needles all over the floor!). Sometimes you have to make the decision that you are right, they are wrong but they win because the fall-out from being dogmatic ultimately has a negative effect on the business. You do remember them for the next time though ;)

over 5 years ago

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Jason Tyldesley

I was dissapointed that my comments weren't published from late last week. Was this intentional or an accident as I thought my comments were very relevant to this thread?

over 5 years ago

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Jason Tyldesley

Hi all and thank you for raisiing this subject. It is close to my heart and is certainly not as it would appear. Your thoughts and suggestions are very welcome and many are the very fabric of the business.

The fact is that CSL has evolved to have service that placed under any scrutiny will be not only seen as the best in the industry but fantastic for any kind of retail. I've been focusssed on it with all that is in me and maybe that didn't come through in the Mary Portas programme by design as Mary has to appear to change businesses.

The blog site shown has been in existence for over 6 years and has actually accumulated less than 350 unique and real customer comments in that period, a period when CSL has sold and delivered in the region of 350,000+ furniture orders. It ranked very high from day one, comment one and it's creators have been unbending in their quest to attack CSL service throughout that period. Geoff Walker who is controlling the site had a 4 week experience with CSL and was refunded not on the basis of any fault but on a basis that he was unhappy that his furniture was from the far east. I'm sure his TV, computer, iPad and mobile phone etc don't affect him the same way.

The issue for consideration here is that even though we endeavour to look after every customer, a business selling 1500 customer orders in a bad week will inevitably not please everyone. We do our best but there are some who want something different than we can offer and some that are purely unreasonable (not the majority I have to say). The fact is that a site of this nature must not be considered as a review site in any way. There is no way a positive comment could ever be added to the site and as such there is no real perspective. Combatting it is hence very difficult because it is in no way representative and even though on investigation as in the Mary Portas show, each story has it's own history, the content shown is in no way checked for it's accuracy or to be real.

The Mary Portas show, along side showing who we are and what our values are, also elevates the profile of this biased minority representation. I'm commited to great service but have to say this site will never ever reflect anything we do , it's a simple attack.

I would be interested in feedback as to how to achieve balance or perspective. I have a hugely active testimonials page on our own site that is clearly more representative but I am currently committed to moving these commenters into more indepedent review territory. This way it is fair and balanced and we take the rough with the smooth and believe me there's hugely more smooth than there is rough.

Imagine any review site or personal column where no one is allowed positive comment. This is truly unfair and personal to me and I feel that it's not just a social media issue it's a wider subject for control through legislation to achieve fair balance.

I welcome further suggestions.

over 5 years ago

Aliya Zaidi

Aliya Zaidi, - at Mrs Aliya Zaidi

Hi Jason - your comments accidentally ended up in our spam filter. Apologies - I've now published them in full.

over 5 years ago

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William Vicary

Jason,

Your problem is a reputation management one, and as you didn't undertake proper (online) rep management at the start of the company and considering the links this website now has due to the TV programme (ie powerful links from pages such as this one) its going to be a bit of a bugger to shift. This negative result will taint the search results and give an unfair representation to potential customers first searching for the company name on Google (especially in the south west where your name isn't as well known as up north). I would suggest doing your best to saturate these results by commissioning videos, increasing your social media presence (twitter/facebook), monitoring mentions of your brand and responding to negative remarks personally (or via your PR team), encourage your customers to post positive reviews, optimising your Google places presence and update this page (http://www.csl-sofas.co.uk/csl-store-finder) to have a separate page per store (allows your visitors to find your store using Google easier).

Anywho, enough free advice - that should keep you busy enough.

Will

over 5 years ago

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Val Hutchinson

I too know that the customer is not always right, whilst working for M & S I encountered some unbelievalbe reasons for returns! However a suite or sofa costing £3,000 + is somewhat different. If the owner of CSL refuses to listen to his customers with genuine complaints then eventually he will loose all credibility and his business!

over 5 years ago

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Grammarfiend

never buy a sofa from a man who doesn't know the difference between a possessive adjective and a verb contaction - its / it's

over 4 years ago

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