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Thread: Negative reviews and how to deal with them

  1. #1
    Marketing Mentor Mikl is a Premium Member
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    Negative reviews and how to deal with them

    I was out on a bike ride with some friends yesterday. We stopped at one of our favourite cafes for tea - a pleasant establishment on the banks of the river just outside town. The staff are invariably friendly, the food always good, and the prices reasonable.

    We got talking to the owner, who was clearly upset. It seems that the cafe has a presence of TripAdvisor, and has attracted many positive reviews over the years. But yesterday, someone had posted a really damning review. He complained of having to wait a long time to be served, the server was rude, the scones were stale, and he was overcharged.

    After seeing the review, the owner questioned all the staff members, none of whom knew anything about the incident. She came to the conclusion that the whole thing was a blatant lie.

    But she was still upset. We did our best to be sympathetic, but we couldn't come up with any advice or suggestions to redeem the situation.

    We'll probably stop by there next week. Any suggestions for anything I can tell her that might make her feel better?

    Mike

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    Moderator Kay is a Premium Member
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    It's sad but true that your friend's experience is not terribly uncommon, especially if their reviews are usually good enough to arouse envy in their competitors. A friend of mine has an excellent restaurant (in Malaysia) which was first in its category for ages. Then he was knocked off his perch by a damning review. He later discovered that a competitor had put the reviewer up to it. (Apparently my friend had proof of this.) Unfortunately, there was nothing he could do about it - the damage had been done, and legal action wasn't appropriate in the circumstances.

    It's similar to Amazon reviews where all kinds of shills and revenge ratings are prevalent. When you're in business, you just have to take the good with the bad. (Are there any grounds for legal action against the reviewer?)

    I've given a couple of damning reviews on TA and on my food blog. In most cases, the owner/manager has responded with a view to putting things right, eg try again after they've fixed the problem. Your friend could try that, but if the person has some motivation or incentive to leave a bad review there's not a lot she can do to placate the disgruntled customer. If there's any appropriate legal remedy, I'm not aware of one, and many of TA's reviewers are hiding behind a pen name.

    (It might be different in France where the French courts might rule that the review should be removed. Stranger things have happened!)

    Anyway, most people probably tend to believe the majority view. If 99% of reviews are good, then the odd one out looks dodgy or it perhaps looks as though the restaurant just had a bad day.
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    TheodoreK (14 August 2014)

  4. #3
    Marketing Mentor Mikl is a Premium Member
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    Thanks for those insights, Kay. You made some good points - especially the point that "when you're in business, you just have to take the good with the bad." That's something that businesses would do well to remember.

    Regarding legal remedies, there's always the possibility of suing for libel, at least in cases where the negative comments go beyond fair dealing and are based on blatant lies. The problem is that the cost of any legal action would be out of all proportion to the benefits. And that's always supposing you can identify the culprit in the first place.

    You mentioned that it might be different in France. You might be thinking of the case of the blogger Caroline Doudet who was ordered to change a negative blog post, and also to pay damages to the restaurant she was criticising. But that was a very exceptional judgment, and not one that was typical of the French system. The general opinion is that it wouldn't have been upheld on appeal, and the only reason the blogger accepted it was that she was too stressed to take it further.

    Anyway, back to our friendly cafe owner. Next time I see her, I will try to convince her that the one bad review will quickly sink below the weight of the many good reviews. In fact, it's probably already done that. Or, as you put it, Kay: "Most people probably tend to believe the majority view. If 99% of reviews are good, then the odd one out looks dodgy."

    I suspect the reason she was so upset was not that she was worried about losing business because of the bad review, but that she felt personally insulted by it, which I can sort of understand.

    Any other comments or suggestions from anyone would be welcome.

    Mike

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    Very few business owners are as internet savvy as they should be, which opens the door for local services to businesses for those who understand how to help. If business owners cannot handle their online presence, then they should hire someone to assist with their needs. I don't do this myself, but know a couple people who do.

    TripAdvisor is a social media platform. The site recommends that a business owner proactively respond to every review. Positive review response can demonstrate your business cares about what is said and appreciates their customer taking their time to share an experience. Negative review response is an opportunity to display professionalism and show you take customer satisfaction seriously. Does your friend do this in a timely manner?

    TripAdvisorSupport.com has a help center for management of businesses receiving reviews, including response guidelines. I wasn't going to post a reply here, as I'm sure you probably searched Google for how to handle negative TripAdvisor reviews to assist your friend but, as you asked for other comments, this is my two cents.

    Beyond a published professional response (where allowed and needed), I always try to track down a negative reviewer and speak with them (using a Google phone for anonymity) when possible. People tend to use the same user names across multiple forums and social sites (unless they're using throwaway user ids for illicit purposes). While you won't trace a user name like Kay (without extra data) to its owner, it is possible to track down more unique names.

    Through enough discussion on forums and social media, it is possible to determine most pertinent details about someone. Rarely is a paid database service needed. Every business owner has tracks all over the internet. Private individuals that are social media users often can be traced as well. Finding puzzle pieces about users that can be assembled into a profile is fun practice to enhance due diligence skills. Does this TripAdvisor review include a user name? If so, the first step is to Google it in quotes (so that the SE doesn't spell correct or search something different).

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    dsieg58 (14 August 2014)

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    Marketing Mentor Mikl is a Premium Member
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    Ken W, thanks for your comment and suggestions. Your points are very helpful, although I'm not sure if they would be useful in this particular case.

    The problem is that this particular cafe is a very small business, and the owner is much too busy running the business to handle her online presence or to pro-actively manage her reviews. This isn't a question of not being "Internet savvy". Rather, she spends all day in the kitchen or serving behind the counter, and when she finally shuts up shop for the day, she has to plan the next day's menu, contact her suppliers, write up the accounts, and do all the other stuff that very small-business owners have to worry about.

    It's true that she could hire someone to deal with the problem for her. I don't know anything about her financial position. But I suspect that if she had any spare capacity in her budget, she would rather spend it on front-of-house staff - with the aim of giving a better service to her customers.

    You could argue that she is getting the benefit of the many positive reviews that her cafe has collected, so it's fair enough that she should expect to spend some time or money in managing the reviews. I would agree with that. (On that point, I wonder if she initiated her TripAdvisor presence herself, or whether its existence is outside her control. Do the owners of eateries and lodgings have to explicitly set up their listings on TripAdvisor [or similar sites], or is it the site visitors who do that?)

    Of course, it would be a different situation with a large restaurant or hotel. In those cases, I would agree with everything you said about spending time managing their online presence - or hiring someone to do so for them (although I'm not sure how effective an outside contractor - as opposed to an in-house staff member - would be in that role).

    Mike

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    Mike, As Marketing Mentor on EP, I'm sure your post above didn't suggest she wouldn't have time to promote and sell to existing customers? When her customer has taken their time to praise her restaurant online, why shouldn't she respond? Response to a positive is important, to a negative is essential. The excuses you list for her inabilities to interact could lead to failure. A person who has bought once is more important than someone who has never spent money at your business.

    Your suggestion she is small so doesn't have the time to respond is invalid, as larger would receive more reviews and take more time. If, as you say, she has too much to do and cannot take time for customer interaction, then maybe that is what instigated this bad review?

    If you wish to maker her feel better, then use your mentoring skills for marketing to help her take control of how her business is perceived. Help her promote to new and repeat customers through the source of her distress. You give her that level of control, I'll guarantee your goal of making her feel better will be achieved.

    P.S. W is not one of my initials. W3 refers to World Wide Web. Just call me Ken

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    dsieg58 (25 August 2014)

  10. #7
    Marketing Mentor Mikl is a Premium Member
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    Good points, Ken. I shall consider using them (in whole or in part) when I next see her.

    Just call me Ken
    Will do.

    Mike

  11. #8
    Marketing Mentor Mikl is a Premium Member
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    Just to bring this thread up to date.

    We stopped at the café again over the weekend, and had another chat with the owner. (By the way, the owner is not a particular friend of mine [I don't even know her name], and I have no particular interest in the success or otherwise of her business.)

    This is what emerged from the conversation.

    For a business like this one, reviews in TripAdvisor and similar sites are pretty irrelevant. If you were looking for a restaurant for a special celebration dinner; if you wanted to book a hotel in a strange city; if you were planning a special holiday and were looking for the ideal destination - in those cases, you might well read the reviews, and the reviews might well influence your decision.

    But in this case, the entire customer base of the café consists of people out for an afternoon walk or bike ride along a pleasant river bank; they come across the cafe, and they decide to stop there for a cup of tea. These people don't plan their visit in advance. They don't peruse the reviews before they set out, and evaluate the possible eating places on their route. They don't notice the cafe on their walk and whip out their smartphones to help them decide whether to go in. They simply glance inside and decide it looks OK - or not.

    At least, that was her assertion. And I have to say it sounds entirely plausible.

    Assuming she's right, then the conclusion is that an occasional bad review - or even a whole batch of bad reviews - is unlikely to have an adverse effect on the business. Of course, if there is a good reason for the bad review, that in itself is something that must be addressed. I'm not saying that negative reviews should be ignored - only that the existence of the review is unlikely to affect people's decision to patronise the business.

    So why was the cafe owner so upset about the bad review when we first discussed it? My guess is that she took it as a personal affront - nothing to do with the business. I can't say whether it was intended that way, but that was probably the effect it had.

    I do stress that all of the above applies to the sort of establishement where people visit on impulse, without any advance planning, and where they can judge the likely quality from their own impressions. I am not saying that businesses in general should ignore bad reviews.

    Mike

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    Kay (25 August 2014)

  13. #9
    Moderator Kay is a Premium Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by MikL
    So why was the cafe owner so upset about the bad review when we first discussed it? My guess is that she took it as a personal affront - nothing to do with the business.
    I expect that this is fairly common, especially among people who don't do business on the Internet, or those who aren't yet battle-hardened to anonymous and often vindictive keyboard warriors. I too used to feel very hurt if anyone said anything bad about me or anything I was involved with. I took it personally. Criticism is one thing, but when the person wouldn't have the guts to say something to the recipient's face, I just think they're a coward and therefore not worth paying any attention to.

    And before anyone asks, yes, I do have "user names" on various places where it's the norm. But I'd be prepared to say to anyone's face what I'd said using a nickname.

    In any case a lot of reviews of various things are written by illiterate and incoherent morons.

    On the other hand, many restaurateurs and cafe owners shut down to what they don't want to hear, either that or they insist that the person criticising them must be wrong.
    British Expat - helping people to live and work abroad since the year 2000.

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  14. #10
    Marketing Mentor Mikl is a Premium Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kay View Post
    ... many restaurateurs and cafe owners shut down to what they don't want to hear, either that or they insist that the person criticising them must be wrong.
    That's very true - and always has been, long before on-line reviews were invented. Their attitude is "If he's going to complain, we don't want him here" rather than "Let's hear what he thinks is wrong so that we can put it right".

    But I'm sure you're also right about business that are not "battle-hardened" to vindictive reviews.

    Mike

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