When my friend called me, there was a little panic in his voice. He owned a successful, customer-friendly small business, and was generally an easygoing person. But he didn't know what to do. A long-time and loyal customer alerted him to a savage review of his business on an Internet Yellow Pages site. And so now he was turning to me to find out what he could do about it.
I asked him for the details and he ruefully related the story. When he read the review, he immediately knew who the unhappy client was, recognizing some details in the story. He told me that this client had been impossible, constantly changing her mind about what she wanted with no notice, and although he did his best to satisfy her, at the end he had to tell her that he had done all he could for what he had been paid.
Image via CrunchBase
This isn't an isolated case. Although most reviews are factual, and some small businesses have it coming, there's nothing stopping dissatisfied customers from responding in extreme ways. And the services that post such reviews, such as Yahoo! Yellow Pages and Yelp, don't want to be in the position of having to discern who's telling the truth, letting the "wisdom of crowds" sort things out.
So, what's a small business to do? First, treat your customers well, remembering that they have more power than you think. Encourage your happy customers to post reviews online, so that the wisdom of your crowd is in evidence--that will dilute the power of any one negative review. (Yesterday, I posted some small business social media success stories that you can emulate.) When someone posts a bad review, consider engaging that person online to try to make amends.
Unfortunately, it might require that you develop a thicker skin, because the rudeness of some online reviews might be more than you can bear. One San Francisco bookstore owner was arrested for battery after responding to a Yelp reviewer.
But that's no reason to accept outright lies. When it clearly goes beyond a difference of opinion, and you can prove you've been wronged, go to the review site and plead your case. Show them that it's a lie and ask them to remove it.
That's what my friend did, and Yahoo! Yellow Pages, to their credit, did remove the dishonest review. But my friend learned form the situation. Now, he solicits good reviews and he works harder to satisfy even the nut jobs. It's a different world out there, so make sure you know how to make your way through it.
Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.
Mike's previous appearances include ClickZ Live, RKG Summit, Ticket Summit, Webdagene, the CiTE conference, and the Forrester Marketing Conference.
Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc., and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.
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