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In today’s mobile environment, online reviews about products and companies can be a deciding factor when making a purchase. Dealing with them appropriately is made even more challenging because it’s an issue that can change by the minute.
I am conflicted even discussing this topic because there are several schools of thought on the influence — and the future — of online reviews. While reviews can often be wrong, I admit I use them quite often. I check out reviews on Amazon for brands of products I am not familiar with and look at reviews for restaurants on various sites, especially when going to a new town or ordering takeout.
Product reviews tend to be fairly accurate and their quality is proportionately based on price. However, when it comes to restaurants, I’ve found those reviews to be a bit of a jumble. It is especially noticeable when seeing horrible reviews after dining in what I thought was a perfectly fine place. Had I read the reviews beforehand — and believed them — I would have never gone into those establishments.
The late Anthony Bourdain was especially vocal — openly railing against Yelp and saying it’s the worst thing to ever happen to restaurants. Think about a startup restaurant where the owners have invested everything they have and are working tirelessly to build a solid business. To be at the mercy of someone’s tastes or moods would be terrifying because bad reviews will likely cost them some customers. Is it fair to the owner?
I decided to draft this article after a recent visit to a showroom. The owner was a victim of a negative Google review of her showroom that stated, “all the displays are outdated and the old ladies in the showroom aren’t helpful.” Ironically, the showroom owner noted that her oldest employee is all of 33. As I walked around, it became evident there wasn’t a discontinued product on the floor. The showroom is nearly 100 percent perfect and complete.
Even though this review was completely false, it could steer business away from the showroom. We both guessed a competitor had posted the review but she shrugged, saying, “What can you do?”
The next week I read an article in a newspaper describing how YouTube publishers can pay to have their content viewed by bots, thus increasing the perceived value of the posted review. That could lead to a couple of things:
1. It will increase the likelihood of more viewers because of the fact it is already positioned to be so well-viewed gives the impression it must be relevant information.
2. It will get advertisers to help pay the publishers since it becomes relevant content — albeit false. I think it’s important to mention because it continues to paint a picture of the sea of garbage floating around the Internet.
When you combine all that with the accusations of “fake news” — whether you believe any of the political claims about that or not — and it leaves a lot of people wondering if the information presented online is just about all junk. This scares the hell out of me. How does the consumer know what to believe? What if most of the positive reviews had been done by employees or paid staff to create more business? What if the bad reviews were posted by competitors?
Monitor and Respond
There are a few things showrooms need to do to manage this mess:
Monitor your reviews daily. Put someone in charge to check each morning or evening to identify anything new about your company online.
Respond to both the positive and negative posts. On the positive reviews, thank the person for coming into your showroom and for taking the time to share her experience. When it comes to any negative reviews, make sure you respond tactfully and carefully. I would encourage you to let the showroom owner or top manager respond and make sure to address the reviewers concerns with something similar to, “Please call me at the office Monday or email me at XX@XXXXXX for my direct number, as your satisfaction is important to us.”
Even if the customer is someone who is impossible to please, the way you respond will be viewed by hundreds of potential customers. They need to see that you are personally involved and care about your customers’ experience. It’s also important to try to move this from a public forum to direct communication as quickly as possible.
Terrible reviews sometimes come from consumers who just can’t be pleased; others can be the result of the stress occurring during a project or even a personality conflict with someone in a showroom. It’s especially hurtful when there is no truth to the review. This situation can, in turn, lead to any number of repercussions, such as the potential of lost business, decreased employee morale and employees holding a grudge against the customer-reviewer.
The possibilities are endless in the collateral damage department.
One positive result from encountering a negative situation like this is that it teaches us to think twice before leaving a bad review online ourselves. If you do have honest complaints, be specific and helpful to both the business and potential review readers. My preference would be to first call the owner of the business and try to discuss the issue before leaving a negative review that could impact the business. Personally, I would prefer an opportunity to privately make a situation right if I was the owner.
I encourage you to make it a habit of giving great reviews to independent local businesses that treat you well. It can make a tremendous difference for them. When writing reviews about great experiences, be honest, open and truthful. Praise the business and its staff for the things that were done well.
One of the best practices I have shared over the years is having business cards printed with “Like our service? Tell others!” and the links to Yelp, Google and other relevant pages. I’ve even come across some companies offering gift cards to customers who email them a copy of their review. What a great low-cost idea to encourage a positive testimonial advertisement.
At some point, I think consumers also will be labeled, much like Uber labels its users as to whether they tip or not. It will be similar to a Yelp review on you. Are you difficult? Cheap? Like chrome or brushed bronze? When you look at what big data could do — and is already doing — with Netflix as an example, it’s not hard to believe your showroom selections could be made much faster, based on what you have viewed on your phone.
I am not sure if this article was helpful or made me sound old and somewhat paranoid, but I will leave you with two pieces of advice.
First, don’t believe everything you read in reviews and hope that your customers share the same philosophy.
And second, keep supporting local, independent businesses and looking for more great experiences!