Andy Vaughn

The upside of a down review

There’s been a lot of buzz around Corvallis lately about local business reviews. Yelp has been a platform of choice for many of these reviews, as it provides a chance for patrons to put a quantitative star-value on their experience(s) and couple it with a qualitative comment, for browsers to pay heed. This pairing has worked quite well, and Yelp is getting much-deserved attention as a purveyor of the democratic process.

Cheerful Yelp Patron
However, not all businesses are equal (or even good), and this sometimes leads to a less-than-optimal review. The social-media Luddite shirks in fear that the negative reviews are open for all to see. His business may actually be influenced if someone sees it, and the less-discussed competition is likely to reap the rewards. In a fearful last-ditch effort, he calls out the reviewer as being biased and too influential, and he must repent by removing the review. Resigned, the reviewer admits that maybe he had a singular bad experience, and is willing to remove his bad review. After all, he doesn’t want to harm anyone’s business. He just thought that he finally found a place where he could be honest. With a sigh of relief, the Luddite settles back in his seat, content in the silence on the social media front. “I would rather have nothing said than something bad said,” he erroneously thinks.

Noisy Logic

I heard this story last week. I knew the reviewer. I knew the business. I knew the problem. Here’s the breakdown:

  1. I’m hearing this story. So probably 10-100 other people have heard this story, considering how quickly word gets out in Corvallis.
  2. I know it was a bad review, otherwise there wouldn’t have been a confrontation, and there wouldn’t have been noise.
  3. This was an opportunity, not a pothole, for the business to gain a ton of free visibility in a positive way.
  4. Squelching a well-known and vocal patron is not the type of bent on publicity they wanted – but they ended up getting it anyway.
  5. I now have an impression of the business as one who is fearful of a negative review and not looking for critiques.
  6. I can extend this to my future experiences, and if I were to have a critique, I can expect to be squelched as well, not listened to.
  7. Ouch.

What do I do?

Here’s what to do when you get a negative review:
You immediately have a choice whether to ignore it or address it. But first, rejoice in the fact that someone is willing to spend their time to mention you. A worse outcome is if no one talks about you at all, and you have to pay for every voice. This gets expensive, and the marketing budget will kill you, if your boring product won’t first.

Ignore the review

There is only one good reason to ignore a negative review. If the negative review is a Troll; someone aiming to be inflammatory for response purposes, not trying to critique, but rather trying to get a reaction.

The only other reason we (as potential patrons) see, is that you’re too lazy.

Address the review

Addressing the negative review is the only way to go. Because 1) It shows you care; and 2) Do you need a #2? Don’t you care!?

When a patron provides a critique or negative review, you can offer that her experience was one of opinion, taste, or difference in vision.

If your goal is to provide high-end Mexican food at all costs, and someone says that the molé was great, but the bill was outrageous, you are fairly within your means to defend your execution. This is a difference in vision, and you should welcome this by saying “thank you” for the molé comment, but explaining how difficult and expensive it is to bring in Oaxacan consultants to make it each week. Therefore, future patrons will see this comment, and if they want the ultimate dining experience, with no concern for cost, they will go here. It is a great opportunity to state your vision for the business, why this experience can be expected in the future, and how you are not trying to please everyone, but simply those who want to align with your vision – aka. be the hero in your story. Case closed. Objective satisfied. Free marketing (+1).

If a patron has a negative experience and it was due to something outrageous or somehow the result of poor execution, you need to redeem yourself. This is like spilling hot coffee all over someone. You don’t just say, “I apologize if I caused you any discomfort,” or something of that ilk. You say, “I’m so fucking sorry. What can I do?” Or, even take off the onus, and follow-up with a, “Here, let me help you in ___ this way.”*

Again, this is a fantastic opportunity for you to show that the down review was not due to a difference of vision, but rather due to a poor experience – or hopefully not, multiple poor experiences. You want to show that your goal is to execute successfully on the vision you set out to achieve when you started the business. If patrons are saying that you are failing to deliver, this is important for you to find out, and a great opportunity for you to right it. Be vocal about wanting to change, redeem yourself. People are inherently forgiving, and if you truly want to succeed, this is a great – public – forum in which you can show that your vision is still intact, and you’re growing/changing towards getting people there. Again, free marketing (+1).

Squelch the review

This is the worst option of all. You can’t stomp all the bugs, only the ones you see. And, inevitably the story will spread that 1) Your business sucks; and 2) You tried to keep it quiet. No one likes blood-sucking dollar leeches in this economy, and not just anyone willing to ship shit-on-a-shingle is going to get our dollars. At least not for long.

And, as long as you are running a business in My Town, you better be willing to keep your patrons happy. Otherwise we’ll be noisy, and form some sort of a brigade. Plus, we can’t all be squelched.

Free marketing (-3).


If there’s one thing worse than a bad review, it’s how bad we imagine a suppressed review to be.

*Readers of 37signals’ Rework will notice this is akin to their discussion on real apologies.

Posted by Andy Vaughn on April 27, 2010

One Comment to “The upside of a down review”

  1. Wilma says:

    I agree – I’ll never stop going to a place because of one bad experience – we all have off days. But, if I let them know and they don’t respond appropriately, or act like it’s no big deal, then I’ll stop going there. I think that a bad experience handled well can actually get a more loyal customer.

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