DO NOT try to prohibit negative reviews
As the importance of online reviews has risen in recent years, so too have reports of small business owners going to extreme measures to stop customers leaving negative reviews online. By that, we do not mean extreme levels of excellent customer service so good that nobody could bring themselves to leave a bad review. No, they just threaten to charge them lots of money instead.
The Union Street Guest House in New York made headlines around the world for threatening to charge customers an extra $500 for any negative review they posted about the hotel online.
The company’s Yelp reviews page was already littered with 1 star reviews from dissatisfied customers (with no response from the owners). However, once the internet got hold of the story, it led to a flood of thousands of reviews berating their horrible policies.
Many of those reviews have now been removed, but a quick online search for this business will show any potential customers a raft of scare stories. Despite the owners later apologising and trying to pass the policy off as a misunderstood joke, the damage had already been done.
They are not the only company doing this, either. In 2012, Virginia resident Jane Perez was slapped with a $750,000 lawsuit for daring to leave a negative review of Dietz Development following unsatisfactory work the building contractors carried out on her home.
Dietz disputed claims of potential theft in the review, and Perez then took umbrage to accusations of untruth. In the end, both parties were found guilty of defamation and no damages were awarded to either side.
In June 2014, online gadget store Klear Gear tried to implement a ludicrous $350,000 “Non-Disparagement Fee” on a couple who left them a negative review following an order that was never delivered.
As the condition appeared in the company’s terms, the dispute was pushed all the way to court before common sense prevailed and Klear Gear was ordered to pay $306,000 of damages to the couple instead. So take those lessons – trying to blackmail customers out of honest feedback will probably just make things worse.
DO NOT argue with the customer
Any business owner knows that the customer is not always right, but they should always feel like they are. The golden rule of dealing with negative reviews is to not tell the customer they are wrong.
You should accept that they had a bad experience, apologise, and strive to rectify the situation while ensuring it doesn’t happen again. Simple, right? You would think so, but some people tend to get very defensive when someone insults their business.
Earlier this year, a Glasgow hostel owner went viral after he did absolutely everything wrong when responding to a negative customer review posted on TripAdvisor. The owner of the Blue Sky Hostel made several spectacular errors of judgement, disputing almost every claim made in the review and labelling the author of the review ‘a retard’.
Numerous stories detailing his horrific approach to customer service now populate the first page of search results for his company. Not so clever after all.
It’s not only business owners who hit back at online reviewers. An excellent recent example of how not to deal with criticism came from a self-published author, Stephen J. Harper, who went on a spectacular tirade against a review of his latest novel that wasn’t even that negative.
Remarkably, the author has even taken to the comments section on a Guardian article about the incident to further dispute any wrongdoing on his part. It’s an incredible display of self-sabotage worth noting because it is only serving to make more of a story.
An extreme example that many may be familiar with is that of Amy’s Baking Company, a cafe in Arizona that appeared on an episode of the reality television show Kitchen Nightmares with Gordon Ramsay. The episode became notorious as a result of the owners combative and deluded attitude, which was so bad that the celebrity chef was unable to help them to turn their business around.
When the episode aired, the owners came in for a huge amount of criticism, and it’s fair to say they did not handle it well – unleashing a torrent of abuse towards their critics, which guaranteed their company name is now synonymous with bad service.
DO NOT take the negativity offline
A lot of advice for dealing with complaints may tell you to take things offline so you can engage with the customer on a more human level, whether that be face to face or over the phone. If you are striving to fix the situation, that can be a great move, but you should never take your own negative responses offline.
One horror story of reviews gone wrong involves a book shop owner from San Francisco who took serious issue with a bad review her company received. So much so that she tracked down the author of the review and attempted to gain entry to his home – a wrestling match ensued and the business owner was arrested by police. Needless to say, the business has now closed down.
HOW TO make light of the occasional bad review
No company is perfect. Negative reviews are inevitable at some point, even if you do everything right. As long as you are confident that you have done all you can to ‘fix it’ with the customer in question and you are not receiving regular negative reviews, there are ways to make that blot on your otherwise perfect review rankings work for you.
Please note, such tactics are not suited to all lines of business – make sure it is the kind of joke that your regular customers will appreciate.
Some restaurants decide to display negative reviews on a board outside the front door, essentially challenging people to come in and try it out. Their good humour about the situation gets them plenty of attention online and is usually worth its weight in free marketing buzz.
Meanwhile, the Michelin starred Longman & Eagle restaurant in Chicago has even printed their favourite negative review quotes on to snazzy cards to be shown off and raise a chuckle among customers – again, it helped get them noticed online.
There is even a restaurant that garnered mountains of buzz online by actively striving to become the worst reviewed restaurant on Yelp. The owner of the Botto Bistro is so confident in the quality of his food that he thinks online reviews ultimately won’t damage his business – and so far it seems to be working for him!