What to do with bad reviews

October 13, 2018




I decided to have a bit of a teachable moment in light of a recent review that I found very surprising. We still continue with our outstanding record and while we do show up as the top rated Estate Sale company in local Google searches no company is immune to getting a bad review. As a business owner, I have mixed thoughts. I am certain that there is unlikely to be any business in the public eye who has not dealt with the same issues and so I thought it would just be an interesting discussion. This is not in any way a reflection on the reviewer or to be disrespectful to anyone who has legitimate issues with our service.


I have spoken to many friends, family and workers as to what an appropriate response is when someone posts negative things. It is especially upsetting to have someone write things that are just not accurate or things unrelated to the their dealings with your business. I always wonder what is the best way to respond. There has been a variety of responses from people I have asked. "Not responding makes you look guilty" or a polite response without addressing issues presented looks bad as well is what one co-worker said. Some people said "Don't respond at all because it's defensive or distasteful" A piece of great advice I was given was to look at a big corporation, I believe Macy's was the example. and see how they respond to negative feedback. That works well but sometimes I cannot disconnect from what is being said. I take it very personally because I know I would go to any length to turn the situation around and to make someone happy. I also want to put the review in context and to clear the air. I believe it is Dr. Phil who says "perception is reality". If you perceive I did not do my job properly as a business owner it may be untrue to me but very real to you. I of course want to set the record straight if I don't agree with your perception of events especially when it turns to public shaming more than reviewing your business. He also says, "No matter how flat you make a pancake there are still two sides" (Don't judge my guilty pleasure. I love Dr, Phil!) A business owner is told to take the high road or not respond but as a person you feel awful and want to address the situation. As a small business owner without hundreds or thousands of reviews every single one is so important. Don't let any small business startup tell you that each glowing review is not silently celebrated and read many times. You are feeling great and you know you are doing things right. Then it comes..not a 3 star that says your pizza could have been hotter but the dreaded one star attack that is personal and hurtful and many times riddled with false claims about what really happened. Most of us aren't the CEO of a billion dollar company who never sees the reviews or can just "shake it off". Most are simply an owner, and worker putting blood sweat and tears in every day. It's difficult to not react with emotion knowing you would bend over backwards to make each person happy if given the chance. Every business owner knows that feeling of getting that customer (you know the one we aren't supposed to talk about) that no matter what happened you are wrong and they will be angry no matter what you say or do to try and help them. There's always that person who you know probably just had a miserable day or has something else going on but you just became the undeserving target of their frustration.


The person writing negative reviews is almost always someone who never took the time to bring things to a business owner's attention in a polite or constructive way or allow them to fix what went wrong before they posted a review. I remember a time, before internet, when you were told to write a letter to a company and you almost always received a positive result. You had to properly write a business letter in school right? They used to make it a class project. You pick a company and write them a letter regarding a negative experience you had. Free gifts or refunds were what you could typically expect but your letter was always polite, proper, and constructive. Business owners could create good will without being held hostage by endless threats of bad reviews. Those days are long gone. Now people write nasty hateful comments and hide behind their computers all over the internet. People say things any decent person wouldn't dare say to someone they are speaking directly to. They berate the business owner or employees they saw that day and write every nasty thing, true or not, that comes to mind. There is so much bad behavior to go with today's bad spelling or bad grammar. People say anything to be the most angry or most hurtful and seem to forget their manners completely. I had an interesting exchange with someone a few weeks ago. This person came and knocked on the door at a house we were working at. They were angry because they claimed the homeowner, now deceased, had promised them things from the house. I was not able to give them what they wanted because we had no knowledge of this of course and had already run a sale an removed all the contents from inside. This person responded with angry insults and said, "Wait until you see your reviews for your business". I find the attitude of people using tactics like that to vent your frustration why the review systems in place today have become unreliable at best. This attitude started, I believe, way back in early Ebay days. If you didn't give someone all their unreasonable demands, did not take returns for no reason even if your rules state you don't, you were forced to comply or were slapped with a negative review. It's there permanently. What was supposed to inform others about legit bad actors or scams turned in to a form of extortion. "Meet my demands or I will just post a bad review." Now it's only slightly improved that a business is guilty until you take a tedious process to try and prove your innocence. You then might have a slim chance to get the incident corrected. I further find it frustrating that a business owner has no choice where or how people are allowed to comment or who can post things. A spiteful ex or a nasty neighbor can find your business and do so much damage. I was recently contacted by Yelp and asked to pay for advertising. My company was added to their site without my knowledge or consent. It was actually jarring to go to Yelp and see photos, information and reviews already and I had not ever seen this page before. Don't get me wrong, I love their reviews on restaurants and use their service often. I believe the service helps people find good places to do business but my lack of choosing how or where my business is listed makes me frustrated. My problem is that I was forced to "claim" my own business and activate an account that now opens me up to endless telemarketing calls to sell me advertising and other services. I don't have anything to hide but would rather remove the whole review set up from yet another place I need to monitor. I would prefer to direct my attention to one place. I frequently get reviews on Square where I process credit cards. They obviously solicit this from my buyers without my consent because the requests are not from me. I see several glowing reviews from customers who surely want to help us out. They don't realize they are submitting reviews to a place other consumers don't even see like they would if it were on Facebook or on Google. I have often had to ask people to rewrite the review on Google or Facebook so others could see it. 


As business owners we get a barrage of texts, calls, e-mails and such to answer. We are often expected to give everyone immediate responses but that is often just not possible. Small businesses are put to a standard of big companies such as Amazon or Walmart. We are expected to have immediate responses or to correct things with payments, gifts and refunds or accept returns that are not always reasonable or possible. Now reviews are on sites all over, Google Yelp, Facebook etc. Often texting and messaging gets confusing and sometimes lost. A phone call is the best method to talk and avoids the common confusion that someone's text or messaging can create. Of course each business is different but more often than not it is very likely a business would go above and beyond to fix a situation. I also believe it's much harder to get a good result from a business after you attempt to trash their hard work on every page of the internet you can find a review platform, just because you didn't get an immediate response from your texts or calls or had what is probably a simple misunderstanding to work through. As the expression goes, entrepreneurs are the only people who will leave a 40 hour a week job to work 80. It's sometimes impossible to have to be the worker, accountant, customer service rep and everything in between without making mistakes.


I spent hours deciding how to respond to a recent review that was the first, and only negative I had up to this point. It was loaded with inaccurate or false data. It was based on the idea that even though I have rules and information on my site, messages and other places, and sent instructions to pickup items from our sales, the end user did not see or follow what I put out. Not following direction or reading the information was not my issue. We all do it right? You click past things in a hurry and we don't always take time to read and understand what we are agreeing to. What puzzles me are the people who get angry and want to blame me when they don't read the instructions or follow the rules that everyone else has followed. I can have 150 auction lots all purchased and picked up by as many as 50 -100 people and any large number of items to ship in a couple of hours but one person who clearly didn't read my description gets angry at me because their items were not picked up by them. There's always a few people each week who miss something. Most people simply understand that in the endless stream of online messaging things can get missed. They get that while I am coordinating pickups of 150 - 200 auction lots in a few hours I may not be available to talk you through it or answer calls and texts. The sad thing is with so many clients who hire us and hundreds of people each week buying from us who I know are happy, because I see them, there are rarely people who go the extra step to praise you. One mistake or misunderstanding and one out of hundreds cant run to their computer fast enough to trash you up and down without even telling you that something was wrong or telling you what they would like you to do to make them happy or fix an issue. 


I find there are many reviews that are simply unrelated to what the matter is and in most cases the real issue is never discovered. I find it frustrating when I am using reviews to make my own decisions as a consumer. We often see angry posts and a stream of information posted that does not relate to the real question. "How would I benefit, or not, with using this business". I would like to see that people keep the reviews based on what would benefit other people when making a decision. Isn't that what reviews are for? When did it become the place for people to vent frustrations or get out their anger issues that are clearly not related to what a business did for that customer. Even better is to know that when there was an issue, which every business would face, how did that business resolve or attempt to resolve my concerns. When you see a business owner respond and say things like "I will refund you and give you the items for free" only to see a reviewer so hostile that they just ignore that attempt as kind-hearted and continue the attack or to defend their original stand. When did people get so angry that no matter how wrong they are it's impossible to take a step back and say "I'm sorry or I was wrong" People can't seem to say "Thanks for resolving my issue" or "ok I am happy now that the business addressed my concern" Often they disappear after the issue is resolved. You have to wonder is that the best way to use the review system? Is it fair to a business owner that they are told by some to not even respond but those comments, often misleading, hateful or sometimes just false are left on a permanent record that only. if you are lucky, gets buried deeper by people inclined to say what you did right. I wish one of the companies so eager to have a review system would have people to actually verify reviews and attempts by a business to resolve them. I have a friend that said they used to work for the better business bureau and was tasked with verifying the statements made or the review was removed. Every company who puts a business at risk with unverified claims should at least be responsible to verify the results of the incident. 


I recently had a bad experience revolving around a purchase made on Amazon. I never would dream to immediately attack them in a public forum. I messaged directly to tell them my disappointment and I was very happy with the results. It actually works! Try having conversations with people. Try communicating and being pleasant before you go in to immediate attack mode against someone. Very often the mistake was just that...a mistake and most of us would be happy to resolve things and leave you as a happy customer. 


I am always open to hear people, to fix an issue or improve and always just a phone call away. I wonder what other people think? To respond or not to respond... that is the question. If you are a reviewer think before you start posting. Just imagine for a minute that you start your day with a nasty public shaming for an issue you had no knowledge of or had no chance to resolve. How would your day be? It's important to remember that a business is not a building but it's people who work hard and most of them can also have a bad day or make mistakes. Things happen but deep down there's probably a good person, with feelings, that wishes you would have just dropped them a note, a request or a call to let them know what they can do better. I bet you will realize much better results from that approach. Like so many areas of our society it's just one more way for people to lash out, vent frustration or hurt others. What do you think? 


Brenda Stewart

Business Owner

(716) 325-0401

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