What Can Customer Experience Leaders Learn From the Case of Cecil the Lion?

Both the hunter's dental practice and online reviewing website Yelp have been caught in the aftermath of the case in a slew of negative customer feedback.

With extensive media coverage in the last few weeks, the case of Cecil the lion can't have gone unnoticed. An American dentist and game hunter shot and killed the animal in its native Africa, which caused a flurry of outrage globally. The ethical implications were heightened because Cecil was a national treasure and kept in a sanctuary, hardly fair game for a hunt.

While at first glance this case may see unrelated to the field of customer experience, there have been two significant relevant impacts since it became public knowledge, which involve the hunter's dental practice and online reviewing website Yelp.

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As soon as the story of Cecil hit headlines, internet-savvy activists released the hunter's personal information online, including the name and address of his dental practice in Minnesota. What followed was both an online and offline attack on the business, with hundreds of protestors gathering outside of the building and thousands more rallying on the internet and leaving negative comments and reviews.

While probably none of these people have ever actually been patients of the dentistry, the comments negatively impacted the online rating and existing customers would've found it very hard to enter the practice with the protestors outside.

The case has escalated so far out of control that the dentist and his wife are currently in hiding, but even if the reactions had not been quite so extreme the slew of negative reviews would've hurt the business considerably, showing the importance of keeping up a professional image even outside of working hours as what you do in your own time can impact the company severally up until the point that you can lose customers and eventually your entire business.

Most of the negative comments online were shared on reviewing website Yelp, which has received its own backlash after they started deleting thousands of the one-star reviews given to the dental practice after the case of Cecil hit headlines across the world. A petition has since been launched, highlighting the disappearance of the reviews and requesting them to be reinstated.

It read: "We demand that Yelp take responsibility for its stewardship of what serves as a public forum: post the reviews. We ask Jeremy Stoppelman and the management team at Yelp to unlock the thousands of reviews that they've squelched on the River Bluff Dental site, and all other sites. let the reviews be seen.

"If the volume of reviews in an exceptional case like this is hard to navigate, provide your users with better tools to navigate and sort them, but stop silencing your contributors, and stop deceiving your users by sweeping controversial and illegal actions by business owners under the rug."

In response to the petition, a Yelp spokeswoman told International Business Times that the company has a special team in place that monitors businesses at the centre of high-profile media stories.

"Reviews that are found to be in violation of Yelp's Terms of Service or Content Guidelines, including those that are contributed as a result of media attention and do not reflect a first-hand experience, will be removed from the site," she said.

However, while these reviewers may not have had any first-hand experience with the dentistry when, and as such it can be claimed as false and deleted by Yelp, the reviewing website has since been negatively in the spotlight, hurting the company's reputation and leaving customer's unhappy and frustrated as their reviews disappeared.

There doesn't seem to be a right answer in this particular instance, but one thing Yelp could've done before the customers' sentiment turned negative, was reiterating the guidelines and explaining their difficult choice to each of the reviewers in question rather than waiting to be prompted by the launch of a petition and unwanted media attention.

Consistent communication is a vital part of providing a seamless customer experience, especially when things are not going according to plan it's key to be open with your customers about it and try to find a mutually agreeable solution.