When Critics Speak

January 9, 2014
BY Jon Goldman

A while ago, the most powerful man on Broadway was not a performer or producer. Frank Rich was a critic for The New York Times who could single-handedly launch a show to great success, but he earned the nickname “The Butcher of Broadway” because a bad review from him could close a show instantly and put hundreds out of work.

Today, the power of the reviewer has been taken on by the masses at websites such as Angie’s List and Yelp, where customers provide grades and reviews. Businesses that amass high grades and positive reviews benefit from unbiased testimonials, which can frequently include those of customers publicly raving about their experiences.

But low grades or bad reviews can harm companies. One Chicago company sued a woman for $10,000, claiming that her grade of an “F” damaged its reputation. Another contractor launched a $750,000 defamation suit against a Virginia customer over her one-star review.

Lawsuits are frowned upon, but what can you do with a bad review? Most companies with a solid performance record, good customer service and a positive reputation won’t be sunk by a few bad reviews. But if your company has scads of negative reviews on the web, it means you’re doing something wrong.

“Knowing that people are publicly grading you keeps you at the top of your game,” said one CEO, who proactively speaks with customers about their concerns in hopes of maintaining a good relationship. What else should you do or not do?

• Do not ignore bad reviews. Respond to the writer directly to show that you are committed to customer satisfaction.

• Do ignore reviews with inappropriate language or distasteful comments. You never want to stoop to that level. You can also flag inappropriate posts.

• Do offer customers who have written negative reviews a small incentive, such as a discount or coupon, to give you a second chance.

• Do not give too much away or others may take advantage of your well-intentioned offer. They might see it as “write a bad review, get a free pizza.”

• Do encourage your customers to write positive reviews without being pushy or “bribing” anyone.

• Do not try to “game the system” by loading the site with false good reviews. It’s unethical and probably won’t work; review sites have algorithms to prevent this.

• Do read your reviews regularly. If you see legitimate criticism or a pattern emerging, address the problem internally and let the public know what you have changed. For example, if there are many complaints about service being slow, fix it, then publicize that you now offer faster service.

• Do (if it doesn’t conflict with a site’s rules) use positive reviews in your favor, such as utilizing third-party endorsements from recognized organizations, i.e., the Better Business Bureau or the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

Any site that allows customer reviews can be a benefit if your house is in order. But you need to monitor the reviews you receive, be ready to respond, and be patient. It takes time to build a good reputation, especially in a world where everybody is a critic.

Jon Goldman is president of Brand Launcher and a board member of Jewish Entrepreneurial Trust (JET). To learn more about JET or to get involved, contact info@jetbaltimore.org.

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