Online reviews cannot be ignored! People have always wanted to share their experiences with businesses. It’s not hard to see why. Sharing your experiences – good, bad, or ugly – is fun! We want our friends, family and coworkers to get excellent service and avoid bad experiences.
ONLINE REVIEWS MAKE A DIFFERENCE
While word-of-mouth will always exist, the internet has empowered customers to take their reviews to the next level. Online reviews fill the gap between traditional word-of-mouth and digital advertising. Even the most enthusiastic customer is limited in how many people they can reach with face-to-face recommendations. Online, however, they can tell everyone in their social circle at once. Similarly, digital advertising is polished but can lack authenticity. Potential customers are far more interested in hearing what previous customers have said, since those people’s experiences could be theirs soon.
The value of online reviews for business is mind-blowing! They can increase brand awareness and directly impact sales. Potential customers are more likely to purchase a product or service that is recommended by others, regardless of whether or not they know the reviewer. If a business is good, there is an expectation that others have already discovered and mentioned it online! Additionally, before risking their own money, customers want assurance that there are not glaring issues with a product or service. Learning from others’ mistakes is a great way to defend your wallet. After all, if something bad happened to so-and-so, the same thing might happen to you!
STAY POSITIVE… OR ELSE!
Business understandably dislike receiving negative reviews. We want everyone to love our product or service as much as we do. It’s hard to hear that people aren’t thrilled by something you worked so hard to create. There is a financial component too. Negative online reviews can absolutely ward off potential customers.
If you’ve ever wished your negative reviews would just go away, you aren’t alone! Word-of-mouth has always impacted businesses but now businesses have to see the less-than-flattering discussions sitting alongside their own public materials. Many would rather not see them or have to deal with them at all.
So what would happen if customer were not allowed to post negative reviews?
Some businesses have started to take extreme steps to protect their brand from negative online reviews. The fine print of service or product contracts may not contain non-disparagement clauses, specifically designed to restricts individuals from taking any action that negatively impacts an organization, its reputation, products, services, management or employees. That means no bad online reviews!
Non-disparagement, or protection or reputation, clauses are not new. It is fairly prevalent in employment contracts and severance agreements. Most of us would agree that this is perfectly reasonable. If someone who represents your business is trash-talking it online, customers will understandably be off put. There are appropriate ways to handle conflicts with coworkers and managers. Facebook is not one of those ways!
Customers, however, are not employees. Placing the same legal restrictions on customers as employees is an odd, new trend.
Brash, unhappy customer are as old as time. Review websites, like Yelp, are designed specifically to empower anyone and everyone to publicly reveal their experience with companies. Receiving praise is fine with most everyone but reviews are a double edged sword. It’s an unfortunate reality that most happy customers don’t stop to write reviews. After they leave, even if they had a great time, they tend to forget. Unhappy customers, however, are quick to vent online. Anger is a better memory aid than happiness, unfortunately. To combat this new issue, some businesses are turning to old legal tools.
Prestigious Pets is trying the non-disparagement clause route to deal with a 1-star review. They are suing two customers for $1 million in damages. The clause, which the customers did not realize was in their contract, reads as follows:
NON-DISPARAGEMENT / INJUNCTION In an effort to ensure fair and honest public feedback, and to prevent the publishing of false or libelous content in any form, your acceptance of this agreement prohibits you from taking any action that negatively impacts Prestigious Pets LLC, its reputation, products, services, management, employees or independent contractors. Prestigious Pets, LLC will make every reasonable attempt to resolve or assist in any dispute or disagreement in services. Any violation of this clause is to be determined by Prestigious Pets LLC in its sole discretion.
In this particular case, the couple said that Prestigious Pets’ assigned pet-sitter overfed their betta fish. They saw the issue while they were away on their fishcam; however, since Prestigious Pets did not give the couple a way to contact the sitter directly, they emailed the company itself. They were frustrated afterwards and turned to Yelp.
Yelp isn’t entirely uninvolved. In response to these non-disparagement clauses, Yelp has started flagging businesses like Prestigious Pets with a Questionable Legal Threats notification. The clauses have already been outlawed in California. The US Senate passed a bill to make them illegal nationwide in late 2015. It should be before the House later this year.
EMBRACE THE NEGATIVE
Managing your online reputation is hard. It’s a new medium that older business owners may be unfamiliar with handling. Unhappy customers can be petty and it’s hard to show an accurate representation of the satisfied-to-unsatisfied ratio of customers you actually see in a day. No one can blame you if you get frustrated with negative online reviews!
It can seem like a lose-lose. Leaving reviews alone can hurt your sales and Struggling against them can backfire on you. Prestigious Pets has 4.5 stars on Yelp but, since they are fighting so hard to get rid of a single 1-star review, people nationwide are discussing them poorly. But, believe it or not, negative reviews can also benefit your business!
No business owner likes to see a customer complain but trends in negative reviews can give companies an honest appraisal of how they are really doing. Also, praise is great but it isn’t necessarily actionable. Striving for perfecting means understanding what your areas of improvement are. No one is perfect. Even the best businesses in your industry have a few negative reviews online. At the end of the day, if your customers are identifying a problem, you need to know!
Authenticity is incredibly important to online reviews. Digital shoppers are savvy to the fact marketers exist among them. You might prefer the idea of all 5-star reviews but customers want a true representation of what they can expect from you. When every review is flawless, they will assume your business paid for the reviews and disregard them. If the reviews are marketing materials in disguise, they aren’t providing true insight into what they could expect from you. If you want to take advantage of online reviews, they need to be truthful, including the occasional lukewarm reaction.
When a customer gives a negative review, ask yourself whether or not they have a point. If so, correct the issue and then let them know online. Everyone makes mistakes. It will set your future customers at ease to know that you listen and improve yourself!