"Don't Use This Company"...or so I say.
March 26, 2010 9:00 AM   Subscribe

How do I and my company deal with customer reviews online?

I own a small service based company. We have about 13 employees and work in a home repair sort of industry. I've recently found out about online reviews for my company. While we only have 7 so far (that I can find, and spanning several different review sites), I only see this growing and would like to come up with a way to deal it.

I have read several articles that suggest the best way to handle the situation is to respond back to the review with a professional answer directed specifically to the customer. At the very least it recommends responding "this customer has been contacted about this issue and we are working on a solution".

But I had a few issues that I wasn't sure how to deal with:
1. How do I respond to a customer that is clearly venting and out of line? I remember talking to the customer on the phone and attempting to remedy the situation to no avail, but now their complaint is out there for all the world to see. I have no doubt that were I to respond, it could turn into a back and forth which would not look good.

2. Since I just discovered these reviews, there are some from 2008 and 2007, do I respond to those too? If so, how? I don't want it to look like I delay in responding.

3. What about the hysterical customer whose complaint seems all over the place and really just boils down to them wanting to vent? When I read reviews as a consumer I can sometimes tell when the person reviewing is just venting or is in the wrong, so I wonder if I should trust others reading these types of reviews to see them as being irrational and out of line.

4. I have one complaint that has been logged several times, verbatim, at different review sites. He first posted it back in November, then again in December, then on another website about a week ago. Do I respond to all of them because they are on different review sites? Its very vague, and I have suspicion that maybe it's a competitor.

5. As you can see, I don't have any positive things said. How can I change this? Should I ask satisfied customers to post reviews online? I've talked to other business owners who recommend falsely reviewing my own company. Its what they've been doing, but I feel a little shady about that.

Thanks for the responses in advance.
posted by Tavern to Work & Money (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Why don't you post a nice reply to angry comments and give your personal email address to them so they can email you? Maybe they'll update their reviews?
posted by anniecat at 9:07 AM on March 26, 2010

Don't invent reviews. It's dishonest and if you're found out, it'll do your business more harm than good. Reply civilly to any complaint, no matter how crazy it is. Don't get into "he said, she said" stuff but simply state the lengths you've gone to to remedy the situation and then don't reply again. Ask your happy customers to share good reviews. If you have a website, make a testimonials area where you can put good reviews.
posted by cooker girl at 9:14 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Track down each of those complaints and post a reply that makes you look professional and concerned about your customers. As anniecat said, supply contact information.

Simultaneously, try to contact the complaining customer to resolve the issue to their satisfaction. Biting the 'customer is always right' bullet can be galling when they're being an ass, but it's worth going that extra mile for the sake of your online reputation.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 9:16 AM on March 26, 2010

While we only have 7 so far...

...I don't have any positive things said.

This is just a guess, since I don't know you or your customers, but if you can find seven unique negative reviews and none positive, your service may not be as good as you think it is. I'm not saying your company doesn't do a lot of things right, but it sounds like you might be doing something quite wrong... i.e. dismissing the feelings of dissatisfied customers as being irrational and out of line.
posted by jon1270 at 9:21 AM on March 26, 2010 [12 favorites]

Encourage your happy customers to post reviews.
posted by Pants! at 9:22 AM on March 26, 2010

You won't ever be found out for faking reviews. Do it if you plan to stay in competition with those that are.

Don't respond to irrational reviews.

Offer a 5% off coupon for customers if they post a review on X website. Don't include the word positive, just ask for a review.
posted by lakerk at 9:27 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Back in the day people would write complaint letters. It is a lot easier today with these interwebs and jetpacks. People who receive bad service will be more apt to complain online than people who had "just OK" or "good service". There's that old "people tell on average 9 people when they had a bad experience" adage. But people aren't so quick to comment on average or expected service.

You don't mention what your company does but it may not be something people think of doing if they thought the service was good. I mean if it was outstanding once-in-a-lifetime tire rotation I might leave a positive comment. If it was just a tire rotation, why bother. If a wheel came off, you better believe I'd complain in as many outlets as possible.

To mitigate the damage of the negative reviews you've received responding publicly with a non-bitchy response can help. But what will help more would be more recent positive reviews.

I was at a laundromat a few weeks ago I found with Yelp. The comments in Google and Yelp were mostly positive. The owners has a sign in up near the change machines with something like "had a good experience? leave feedback and had the logos of google, yelp and a few others." This might get a few more serial reviews to give you positive reviews. A lot of people wouldn't think of leaving a review of their laundromat. So a little nudge helps.
posted by birdherder at 9:34 AM on March 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Pace jon1270, it's endemic to review sites in general that dissatisfied customers are more likely to post a review or other gripe than are satisfied ones. I would take all of them seriously, try to rectify as well as you can, and start building a reputation as a company that responds to its customers in a transparent way. The complaints should also inform the company about areas for improvement. In both cases you're going to need to get the boss of the company on board so that it's not just an exercise in placation.
posted by rhizome at 9:36 AM on March 26, 2010

lakerk: not true
posted by rhizome at 9:40 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Aren't you not supposed to ask your customers to review you? I'm pretty sure that according to Yelp, they only want "unprompted" reviews. Obviously they can't tell, but just something to think about.

It's pretty obvious to me when a company has posted its own good reviews, and it's an instant turn-off. It says that they're sleazy and deceptive, and maybe they'd be the type of company to insist that they can do xyz job for me even when they know that it's not in their line of work or expertise or whatever.

You need to take control of your online presence. "Claim" your business on all the review sites -- Google maps, Yelp, Merchant Circle, City Search, all of those. You'll be notified when someone posts a review, you can post contact information, etc.

Get yourself a website -- there are very cheap/free options, especially if you're only going to have one or two pages -- where you can post customer testimonials that you have chosen. You can ask for testimonials, but keep them in the original wording so that it sounds like a real person, and use the person's full name if they've given you permission to do that.
posted by thebazilist at 9:46 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've seen some bad reviews where the company responded, and it was obvious that the reviewer was just some ranty lunatic, but the response was professional and calm anyway -- these tend to make me feel better about the company. Obviously ranty reviews with no response are neutral; I think most customers understand that some people are just impossible to satisfy, and will take that into account when reading reviews.

On the other hand, bad reviews where the company responded defensively, badmouthed the customer, or (most importantly) didn't address the substance of the complaint, make me feel worse about the company. You definitely don't want to get into any back-and-forth argument, ever.

Bland responses like "This customer has been contacted about this issue and we are working on a solution" would be slightly better than neutral -- at least it shows you're paying attention -- but only slightly. Certainly not something to do two or three years after the fact.

So there's a right way and a wrong way to do this, on both ends. If you're going to do it, maybe get someone you trust to read your responses before you post them.

As for positive reviews: There are a lot of obviously fake positive reviews out there. Those make me feel much, much worse about the company; I really do go out of my way to avoid businesses I've seen shilling themselves on review sites. I have no way of knowing how many of the not-obviously-fake ones are also fake, of course. Probably many of them are. As with responding to bad reviews, only do it if you're sure you can do it well.
posted by ook at 10:11 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Regarding lakerk's comment, keep in mind that whether an action benefits your company's integrity in the long run often has little to do with whether or not you are found out. To be frank, if someone fakes reviews, I wouldn't extend them the benefit of the doubt that they treat their customers well in all other respects. Also, it's never a good idea to assume that you won't be found out.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:21 AM on March 26, 2010

In response to John1270:
I take all complaints seriously and investigate their causes inside and outside the company. I know "only 7, all negative" reviews look bad, but they cover a time span of almost 4 years, approximately 15,000 customers in that span. Some were addressed and the customer didn't leave satisfied, as is going to happen in the life of a business.

So far, I've only known the mailed letter complaints or positive feedback. Those seem to be more reasonable and directed straight to the company, or me, if they've gotten my name somewhere. I respond rapidly to them, and in most cases the issue is resolved or the customer decides to part ways. Online reviews, however, tend to be more emotionally and directed not to the business but to other potential customers. The anonymity of the internet can create the environment for embellishment and exaggeration.
posted by Tavern at 10:44 AM on March 26, 2010

Even if no-one else knows you are faking good reviews, you will know.
posted by Logophiliac at 11:13 AM on March 26, 2010

Please do not invent positive reviews. Morality aside, that is a huge turnoff, and they're often fairly easy to spot and make the company look far sleazier than any out-of-control customer rant (the crackpots are also usually easy to spot).

Others have responded point-by-point above, but to counter what seems to be a majority-negative online viewpoint, you might consider setting up a "thanks" or "testimonials" page on your own company's website where you post snippets from the positive feedback you say you've received via mail, and encourage customers to email you directly with concerns, complaints, or compliments. (Sure, I'm always more wary of testimonials posted by the company itself, but it's better than having nothing out there to counter the negative yelps or whatnot.)

Re: multiple posts, if I'm researching something and see the same comment posted on multiple sites, it doesn't really impact my perception of the restaurant/business any more than seeing it once. I can clearly tell that it was either a copy-paste or an auto-flow from another site; it doesn't add or detract from the overall impression I'm getting.

And finally, just want to reiterate that I wouldn't worry overmuch about the obvious rants--I see those often and have no problems recognizing and ignoring them.
posted by alleycat01 at 11:20 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Set up Google Alerts for your company name as the search term to discover the rest of the reviews you are missing out on.

As far as fake reviews go,
I second what alleycat01 said
"Morality aside, that is a huge turnoff, and they're often fairly easy to spot and make the company look far sleazier than any out-of-control customer rant (the crackpots are also usually easy to spot)."

Let's imagine you've served 1500 customers, time for you to mention that on your website, business card, and other places that state so because when a person contrasts the number of customers you've dealt with versus the number of customers with bad reviews, you will win out. Place the number of customers served on your website.
posted by iNfo.Pump at 11:46 AM on March 26, 2010

Yeah, please don't write positive reviews for your own company. People hate that. I don't care how many other business owners do it; do not do it.

Despite the delay in response, I think it is a good idea to respond to the complaints about your company. Just stay respectful, neutral in tone, and address the customers' concerns and what was done to resolve them, if anything. Do not dismiss the customers' complaints as "just venting."

As for current customers, for better or for worse, there are a lot of industries that kind of lag behind others in terms of people even thinking of submitting a review for a company they've used. Like who would think of reviewing their local hardware store online unless they had a terrible experience there? I think simply verbally encouraging your loyal customers to post reviews, without even offering some sort of coupon, isn't a bad idea at all.
posted by wondermouse at 12:27 PM on March 26, 2010

I once had a really bad experience with a business. I was legitimately angry, and when I got home, I wrote a review online. I should have waited to cool off, then contacted the business to address the situation directly, but the Internet was right there and, as I said, it was a truly bad experience with someone I thought was the manager of the business. Anyway, the real manager of the business contacted me, apologized for my bad experience there, explained the steps he was taking to prevent its happening again, and asked if I'd consider amending my review slightly to reflect the business's responsiveness to my concern. I was so impressed by the manager's polite response (and the fact that he included concrete steps the business was taking) that I took the review down altogether. To be honest, the calm, polite, and apologetic response from the manager made me a little embarrassed that I had posted something so angry.

If I were you, I'd see if I could contact the customers directly, and if so first try responding directly to those customers who wrote negative reviews. If that's not an option, or if the customers are not responsive, I'd post responses on the review sites clearly identifying yourself as the representative of your business, apologizing for the person's bad experience with your company, and offering your contact information as a way for them to get in touch.

My main point is that it's possible to both be venting and be legitimately angry, and not everyone who vents on the Internet via a negative Yelp review is going to be unreasonable if you take the time to respond. On the flip side, I generally view extremely negative or ranty reviews with a grain of salt, but it's easy enough to remember times when I've been sufficiently upset by an experience with a business to want to post something angry about it. (Yes, yes, a subset of your customers will be insane, unreasonable people, I get that--but when you're writing things on Internet review sites, you have to pretend you're writing to the majority of your customers and potential customers.)
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:04 PM on March 26, 2010

1. For legitimate, specific complaints, respond in a positive way that reaches out offering assistance. Include a dedicated customer service number/email (that you use to address the specific complaints, and anyone else trying to reach you for service.)

"[person], my name is [first name] and I am the [your position in the company]; I'm sorry to hear about your experience with [the specific problem], which should never have happened. At your convenience, please contact me at [the contact info] so that we can make things right."

2. For customers whom you've spoken to before and who want unreasonable things, trust that other people reading the reviews will be able to tell it is sketchy. Briefly express regret that they were not satisfied and note that you are available at the number/email noted above.

"[person], my name is [first name], and I'm the [position in your company] you spoke with previously on this issue. I am truly sorry that our efforts to satisfy you as a customer have failed, and remain open to discuss the matter further at [the contact info.]"

3., For venting, again reach out in the same fashion, but again assume that other people reading the reviews will be able to tell it is sketchy.

"[person], my name is [first name] and I am the [your position in the company]; I'm sorry to hear that you have not been satisfied with our company, and would appreciate the opportunity to address your concerns directly. At your convenience, please contact me at [the contact info.]"

4. Encourage reviews from your customers before they become your customers; encourage them to give feedback regardless of their level of satisfaction.

[on the web site, pamphlets, et al]: "Positive or negative, all feedback from our customers is good feedback! We encourage you to provide feedback on social networking sites such as [whichever ones you like], and hope you'll also get in touch with us at [the contact info] to tell us what we've done well, or what we need to do to make you a satisfied customer."

Ultimately by increasing the amount of feedback you're getting, and ensuring the negative feedback is addressed by an indicated good-faith willingness to resolve the situation, any negative comments left by competitors won't matter a whit -- everybody gets at least a couple of BS neg, you just have to drown them out with legitimate pos and neg.
posted by davejay at 2:28 PM on March 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Moving forward you should take control of your Online presence. You need to make sure you have a website and a Google local business listing. (What's Found in Google Maps) Next step is to make sure that you have a process for directing clients that have had a positive experience to a place where they can give you great reviews. I suggest signing up for a company called Rate Point, there you can collect a vast amount of reviews that automatically attach to the Google local business listing. (Google Crawls Rate Point) Rate Point does a great job of weeding out people that are just mad, it asks to verify very specific info. (Can't just hide behind a user name!) Lastly, always try and respond to negative feedback by resolving the complaint and posting about that process. Hope this helps!
posted by pandrew3 at 2:17 PM on April 12, 2010

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