The Morning Call in Pennsylvania reports about how “Always In Service”, a lock and door company, have run afoul of customers and the state’s attorney general office. In fact the attorney general’s office is suing them alleging the company misled customers into believing it was near their homes; charged more than estimated prices; failed to provide itemized bills; did poor work; and didn’t do work that was paid for.
Now Always In Service is suing SuperMedia, claiming the yellow pages company’s sales reps were trained to be deceptive to Always In Service and that they had advised them to buy local phone numbers with and advertise those numbers so customers would think the company was local.
As I’ve touched upon before and as others have covered, the locksmiths industry (among other types of businesses) have had a lot of trouble with the creation of bogus online business listings or listings which are engineered to deceive consumers into thinking a company is local to them. While it sounds like Always In Service isn’t exactly a locksmith service, they would appear to be operating in a closely-related field.
Locksmiths, contractors and other service providers which frequently do not operate brick-and-mortar storefronts have felt some pressure in recent years in trying to appear and rank in Google Maps. Google has some in-built bias against local companies which only have PO Box addresses, in part because unethical companies have generated many spammy listings using post office boxes in order to exploit Google’s systems and appear in more local search results. Google and other local search engines use street addresses and local phone numbers in automatic determination of whether a business listing submitted to them is on the level or not. Even some companies which have a local office will sometimes seek to add in more listings in order to try to rank more advantageously when people search for providers in the cities around them.
I’d venture to opine that it would be much more likely for Always In Service to have adopted some of the questionable marketing practices from aggressive locksmiths — more likely than them being led to do this by yellow pages salesmen. While I was still working for SuperMedia’s Superpages, I’m quite confident that the company did not have any sort of policy of getting sales personnel to encourage companies to take out multiple phone numbers nor to create bogus store listings. Further, I think it unlikely they’d be doing that since I left the company as well. I think you’d see far more widespread accusations going on if that were the case, because SuperMedia has tens of thousands of customers across the US, and in quite a number of states it’s against the law for businesses to give the false impression of being a local provider. In Superpages’ own properties, I believe it’s still possible for businesses to purchase ads in order to get their listing to appear in many locations — so, I think there’d be no motivation for sales people to try to get a company to buy extra phone numbers and create bogus local listings. I don’t believe anyone could be fooled into thinking that SuperMedia provisions phone services, either, since the company was spun off from Verizon quite a number of years ago.
From the outside of this, without really knowing any of the specifics, the suit against SuperMedia looks spurious on the face of it. How could they claim that SuperMedia is responsible for poor work or failure to perform work for the lock/door company’s own clients? Without knowing any of the specifics, my opinion would be that this appears to be a case of someone trying to pass the buck by blaming the yellow pages company. From the article, it seems the writer of the Morning Call piece has that opinion as well.
Sales people are trained to upsell and to maximize sales, but SuperMedia and other companies use sales contracts, which must be signed, before they charge advertisers and deploy the ads. Further, it’s not uncommon for the ads to be drawn up and sent back for proofing to the advertiser — but, if the advertiser doesn’t respond back they assume the ads are accepted and they will publish.
What’s interesting about this is how attorneys-general in a few different states may bring increasing pressure to bear upon organizations which buy online presence in local areas without disclosing that they’re not physically located there. Could it be that this sort of law enforcement activity might eventually help reduce local listing spam?