Sword and the Script

Small Business Negative Reviews are a Gift; Here’s What to Do

by Frank Strong

Small Business Negative Reviews are a Gift
She was unhappy with a small businesses service, so she left a negative review.  She gave the business two stars in Google.

The business owner was outraged by the review. “You will be hearing from our attorney,” he allegedly wrote in response.

And there, in just a few paragraphs, one negative review went from zero to sixty in a game of chicken that isn’t likely to benefit the business.  It’s generally not a good idea fight with customers, let alone angry ones, and it’s downright dismal to do it in public.

Sure, such a public debate might draw attention, but it’s certainly not desirable attention. Even if a case winds up in court and the small business wins, it still loses.  It’s called the Streisand Effect, which The Economist sums up as follows:

Named after the American singer and actress Barbra Streisand, the Streisand Effect describes how efforts to suppress a juicy piece of online information can backfire and end up making things worse for the would-be censor.

The noise aside, there are plenty of other reasons to get over it and move on. There’s the psychological and emotional toll, the sheer business distraction, and in event of an actual lawsuit, the attorney fees.  Finally, at the end of it all, there’s current and future customers to consider:  Who would choose to do business with company – amid an ample supply of competitors – that sues its customers?

But we are right and the customer is wrong

Maybe it’s the case that the small business is right and the customer is wrong, but it’s very difficult to prove an opinion wrong.  An opinion is just that: an opinion.

Small businesses are especially prone to this sort of visceral reaction to negative reviews, because the business is often a reflection of their life.  Often small business owners have taken huge risks to start the company, poured countless hours into it, and made incredible sacrifices.

A small business owner that has gone from nothing to something, may feel a range of emotions when one customer comes along to seemingly ruin it all. The small business owner is stuck on what’s right and wrong, “But we are right!” he or she might exclaim in exasperation and vowing to go after the reviewer.

It may be true.  You may be right, but it doesn’t matter; everyone won’t see things through your lenses. A better solution is to address the matter and get back to business as soon as possible, because you have other customers to serve.

Quoting from a contributed article in another publication, a Wall Street Journal blog cited Josh King, a lawyer and the general counsel for Avvo, which in part, provides a review site on lawyers.  He said, quite eloquently:

“The trick is to not get defensive, petty, or feel the need to directly refute what you perceive is wrong with the review. It’s far more effective to think of future readers when writing the review, rather than the original reviewer.”

A few negative reviews are not the end of the world

In a childhood fable, an emperor walks around naked because the staff – and people – are too afraid of insulting him or raising his ire.  As a result, he runs around in the buff believing his own little fallacy because he created an environment where feedback was unwelcome.

Feedback, even in the form of a negative review, is a gift. It’s a chance to make an evaluation, a change – or to validate the current direction. No leader, small business or otherwise, can effectively lead people, an organization or a business without feedback. Those negative reviews are special gifts.

Rest assured I’ve had plenty of experience with negative reviews with a grain of language and viciousness that would stun most people. Nothing takes the wind out of your sails like a trying exchange with an outraged customer.  Beyond experience, there’s a wealth of research data to support the idea there’s a better way to respond than with outrage:

  • Engagement. Some 16% of brands ever acknowledge comments – either positive or negative, but brands that do, tend to see more engagement.
  • Credibility. Research consistently shows that a few negative reviews adds credibility. Nobody gets straight A’s in business and a business can’t serve a dozen, hundreds or thousands of customers without earning a few D’s or F’s.  Simply stated, a long list of glowing reviews isn’t believable. What matters is the aggregate – that the reviews are generally more positive than negative.
  • Power in responsiveness. In one retail study, 61% of respondents said they would be shocked if a business responded to their negative review. For those that were contacted, about a third deleted the original post or turned around and wrote a positive one. About 20% became lifelong customers. Responsiveness can turn critics into fans, and fans into fanatics.

Even if a good faith effort to respond to publicly respond to a negative review goes sideways, or worse, south, every other customer or prospect that sees that review, will see the response as well.

What should you do about a small business negative review?

Respond with a sense of humanity and try to solve the problem – an offer to do the work again, a refund, a discount – or in some way demonstrate that you’ve heard the issue and are working to address it.

Most people – customers – will be blown away by the fact the business takes their complaint seriously. True, it won’t always work out and a business can develop persistent detractors, but over time, people will come to see those for what they are – unfounded rants.

Phil Buckley, a Raleigh-based SEO, who has had his own experiences with negative reviews, and who is curating, perhaps even mediating, the story in the beginning of this post, sums up a sound response metaphorically.

A bartender who didn’t notice a customer didn’t enjoy a drink in his bar the previous day wakes up to a 2-star review and “rather than attacking the reviewer to show the world his desire to do right – he replies…”  Phil continues:

“I’m sorry your experience wasn’t as good as it could have been, it’s my fault. I personally strive to make every customer experience on they’ll remember and recommend to their friends.

I’ve already refunded the amount of your purchase and if you email me your mailing address I’ll make sure I send you a gift card for you and some friends to give us a chance to redeem ourselves.

Let me know if there is anything else I can do.”

Additional reading:

Photo credit:  Flickr, via Creative Commons; CC BY 2.0.

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The Buyers Journey and Why Content Marketing is a Thing

by Frank Strong

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In January 2013, I was licensed to skydive.  For a variety of very good reasons, it had taken me roughly 10 months to complete the accelerated freefall (AFF) course at Skydive Orange.

As newly licensed skydiver, I needed to think about buying my own gear.  While rental equipment is available, every jump will cost roughly double, there’s always a chance the dropzone (DZ) will need that gear for other AFF students and by design, it’s intended to meet a variety of sizes; it’s not fitted well.

I wasn’t about to rush into buying gear either. It’s expensive and if a skydiver makes a mistake ordering gear, the chances are good it’s going to be an expensive mistake. Read More…

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These particular posts didn’t have many social shares and yet the analytics demonstrated someone had been looking at them.  The traffic was noticeable.

Generally I’ve found – both on personal professional sites – that for every social share, there are three visitors. So why were there so many page views on these particular posts?

With just a little more thought, the catalyst became obvious.  The sales team had found these posts and were emailing them to customers and prospects as a touch point. Read More…

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8 Epic Takeaways from Joe Pulizzi’s Epic Content Marketing

by Frank Strong

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There are a lot of business books that claim to have something for everyone – from beginner to expert.  Epic Content Marketing, by Joe Pulizzi, is one of the few that fulfills that promise.

Recently I finished his book, and as it is with many books I consume these days, I listened to the audio version – all 8.5 hours of it – over the course of several long drives. It was well worth the time invested and I’d recommend it to anyone in marketing, if you consume one book by year’s end, make Epic Content Marketing that book.

Pulizzi says he first started using the phrase “content marketing” in 2001 when working for a custom publisher.  Few marketing executives had an interest in “custom publishing” but the term content marketing seemed to resonate. Read More…

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by Frank Strong

One wierd trick morpheus
There’s one weird trick that can solve all of your marketing problems. It’s a magic bullet that’s so incredibly effective, it’s amazing that more people don’t know about it.

Marketing agencies HATE this psychologist!

After more than 10 years of rigorous study, a psychologist has discovered how you can improve marketing:

  • Create massive awareness
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  • Develop thousands of leads
  • Convert more 80% of your leads

It requires no upfront investment, very little effort and you’ll start converting leads to sales in a week.  Best of all it is absolutely guaranteed. Click this link now to find out this amazing secret. Read More…

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Off Script #8:  Mitch Joel, How a Period Begins a Conversation

by Frank Strong


The period used to be the end of the story. Period.  End of story.

Today, it’s just the beginning.

In many ways Mitch Joel has built a business around this concept and recently he (and his partners) sold that business to WPP.  There may have been a period or two in the acquisition agreement, but again the conversation is just getting started.

Typically, Off Script interviews are conducted by email, but this will be the first conducted by Google Hangout. Moreover, I asked Mitch – a blogger, author, podcaster, speaker and entrepreneur – for 15 minutes and he ended up giving me about 30. Read More…

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by Frank Strong

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If you don’t know where you’re going, then any road will take you there as the old adage says.  The challenge for many businesses is they do know where they want to go, but they aren’t sure – or there isn’t consensus – on how to get there.

Conceptually, strategy is pretty simple and follows a logical flow:

1. Business strategy first
2. Then marketing strategy
3. Then functional strategies, like content strategy

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Jeff Jones took two unusual steps among executives in large enterprises.  First, he responded.  Second, he responded with humility and grace.

As the CMO of Target, Jones was responding of course, to a Gawker story that circulated the social web last week, where an anonymous employee attacked the company’s culture.

The Target culture is very Minnesota – it’s very passive aggressive. They expect you to conform to them, to be “Targetized” and drink the Koolaid. If you aren’t super bubbly, super social and passive aggressive, you get told that you’re a problem. Being direct, wanting to actually get your work done, asking questions and pushing back are all viewed as bad things and you’ll be told to tone it down or you’ll be pushed out.

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Panda’s may be in need of some PR.  First the world is confused as to whether it’s more closely related to bears or raccoons and now Google has Google-bombed its namesake.

The one-time lovable and cuddly-looking species – which even has its own reality show – has seen its trademark hijacked by the mighty search engine.

The panda PR people are writing op-eds. The panda lawyers are filing claims. But nothing compares to the outrage of the panda SEO staff.  As Google rolled out Panda 4.0, all eyes were on the web to discover (h/t Danny Brown) the winners and losers.

My bank is sending me a new credit card because eBay is already having a bad week.  And then Panda 4.0 bites.  But it’s not just big business getting hit.

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