Editorial: Reviews, facts, freedom of press – and RIGHT of REPLY
I’m not sure I’ve ever come across a hotel, or in our case, a hunting operator, with a negative review posted on their own site. Why would they? Does that mean that every single guest has had a positive experience? Of course not. Even the gods of great service excellence occasionally mess up. And even if the service was top-notch in the eyes of the business, that doesn’t mean the customer will always agree.
There are a million videos and social media posts about bad customer service and I’m sure you’ve shaken your head in disbelief at more than a few of them. People can sometimes have extremely unreasonable requests and may refuse to listen to reason when their demands are not met.
The difference between recording an interaction on video and writing a review is that a review only gives one side of the story. So, while the customer may have experienced poor service, readers have no idea if the service provider was made aware of the complaint and what, if anything, was done to rectify the situation.
Reviews on public platforms, especially when anonymous, need some degree of circumspect. Who is the source? How insightful is the review? A negative review, assuming that it’s 100% factual, is one thing and can certainly be helpful in making an assessment. However, not allowing the right of reply, AT THE TIME and in the space the review is made, contravenes a fundamental of publishing, not to mention human decency. If there’s no opportunity for a public apology, opportunity to remedy the situation and explain the situation from the other side – it simply doesn’t help.
And what if the review isn’t factual? If it was written out of spite or malice? In the traditional world of publishing, if damaging to one’s reputation, image, business, or livelihood, there were appropriate channels to take it up, at a cost, mind you. And in extreme cases, the publication could be brought to closure under the legal consequences of damaging slander. But in the world of online reviews, there’s very little a business can do to redeem itself in the eyes of the public if it’s not given the opportunity to openly address the complaint.
It all boils down to the RIGHT OF REPLY.
I run a WhatsApp group for the African Dawn Outfitters that we promote. It’s an efficient communication tool for marketing-related issues to this exclusive group. Last year, I posted something – thinking it was newsworthy. While it’s a closed group, which I naively thought was private, it is legally deemed ‘a Public platform.’ Something I learned the hard way. When the integrity of a person was tarnished, rightly or wrongly, on this group, as a result of my posting – it was wrong and out of line. I did not offer that person a right of reply BEFORE posting.
I learned quickly. With a succinct letter from his legal chap; reminding me this was actually a public platform in the eyes of the law. I had to, was prepared to, and was swift to apologize. Sometimes a good ‘klap,’ as the Afrikaans word so aptly describes, helps and it did for me.
Forward we go, and now comes my turn to experience this.
With the launch of the South African-based Taxidermy & Trophy Solutions (TTS) service, some outfitters have been quick to trash what we are doing. How dare I step out of my ‘lane’ (actual words used)?
What do I know about taxidermy? I am interfering with their clients etc.
Not sure what ‘lane’ I should be in? Over 20-something years, it has been the publishing of information (magazine and newsletters), promotion of African hunting, running Afton Safari Lodge, hosting shows across Northern America, marketing and helping many great hunting operations, and shipping trophies around the world.
Yet, some professional hunters on a WhatsApp group are happy to trash what we are doing for the hunting industry and I have no opportunity to explain.
No one is more passionate about promoting hunting in Africa, raising awareness, and reducing obstacles to the industry’s growth than I am. Seeing a gap in the provision of service, I stepped up to close it.
Sure, it’s disappointing, even understandable, how many may be upset. Some have taken to the social media platforms with venom - without offering a right of reply, hiding behind the keyboard. While this goes on and I watch, knowing there are two sides to every story, and building a file of how individuals are operating, I will not stoop to trash them publicly. I will play the media publicity card that we have.
And so here it goes.
This TTS service was launched for one reason. To save the international hunter, YOU, money, and trouble. It’s a Darwinian process, an evolution, from 6 years of the AHG Shipping business.
If you have felt it’s taken too long, or were overcharged, poorly treated, never knew what happened, have not got your trophies back, had them damaged, had no one point of contact, and were less than happy with your taxidermy or shipping, in any way – then this may resonate.
Despite 6 years of offering the least expensive shipping service, we did not get the support of any taxidermist. I personally visited 13 of the top South African taxidermists and proved our service was less expensive than their channels. Yet they continued with their model. I am not here to question their strategy – but we, too, were free to adapt. And that we did!
The consumer is not ignorant forever.
I decided to leapfrog up the chain and engaged with a group of taxidermists that were prepared to join a brokerage and believed in the plan; offering a different pricing and service model. They are all highly experienced. Some of their work is on display right here at Afton and with whom we are comfortable pegging our integrity on, in such a venture.
Craig Boddington was a guest at Afton a couple months back. Around the table, in his booming, articulate tone, he said quite clearly, “What this industry needs to understand, is that it is all about the hunter. Without the hunter, you have no outfitters, PHs, taxidermists, agents, or shipping companies.” It was an encouraging message of our business model.
I do not mean to exclude outfitters. On the contrary, TTS is designed specifically so hunters can save money and, therefore, hunt more. It’s simple. It does mean hunters have more choice than the usual prescribed taxidermist they are offered in camp – (which, I must add, are sometimes really great taxidermists).
However, should the hunter opt for an alternate and go with TTS, the outfitter will automatically get his commission from us. Why? Because we are not trying to cut out the outfitter in any way. Ultimately, it is he (or she – yes there are some) who has worked hard to be hosting you, the hunter, on your adventure, and it is only fair.
What we are here to do is help international hunters get their taxidermy done at prices they otherwise could only have dreamt of. What hunters can save now on their taxidermy will certainly help cover the unavoidable and unpleasant shipping costs.
The service is a one-stop, turnkey, one-point-of-contact model and we are always available and accountable. There you have it, from the horse’s mouth.
Now, we just need more people to come hunt this incredible continent.
Signing off on the anniversary of my musical hero, Elvis’ death!