Businesses can be made and broken on the backs of online reviews. It is so easy for anyone who has a bad experience to pull up a review site on their phone and leave a scathing review of the business that harmed their fragile psyche. I would like to submit the idea of thinking twice before leaving a review that could do massive damage to a small business trying to succeed.

Reputation Management

One of many services Wapiti offers is reputation management for my clients. It's a really hard segment to work in, especially when you're working from a negative place in the reviews, and so I usually have other people take care of this area.

There are tons of places that you can have reviews left depending on your industry. There are the standard ones like Yelp, Google My Business, TripAdvisor, and of course, Facebook.  Then there's the more niche ones, too, like Houzz.

An Eye-Opening Experience

I had one client in particular who was trying to solve some reputation issues that she had with her various businesses. I told her I would take some time to work on it and so I did a lot of the work myself. I'm familiar with reputation management, obviously, but as I mentioned, I don't usually do it. So this time, actually taking the reins and doing it myself was kind of eye-opening in quite a few ways.

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"They said what?! Why on earth..."

When you go to leave a review, you need to strongly consider the implications that review carries with it. One or two bad experiences hardly calls for ruining a business. If the business has enough positive reviews, then you're not really going to hurt them with your negative review anyway. But a lot of smaller businesses only have a few reviews, and one negative review can flip it from being five stars to being two stars. Your one negative review could have so much weight that you actually destroy the reputation of a business online just because you had a bad experience.

Now let me be clear. I am not defending poorly run businesses, and I'm not saying that if you have a bad experience you should ignore it. I just think that a lot of people do not think through the implications of their online review and their online kibitzing.

How A Negative Experience is Probably Overblown

Here's one example of a review that I've seen a lot working with that specific client, other clients we do reputation management for, and other businesses. This type of review is probably the most maddening to me. For example, let's  say it's a restaurant (restaurants tend to be the ones that are super affected by reviews because people look them up online all the time). Someone will write a review saying, "I've been going to this restaurant for two years and I've never had a problem until today. I don't know what was wrong with the server. She was the grumpiest person..." blah blah blah blah. Enter complaint. The complaint could be completely legitimate, but my question is: if you've been going there for two years, where is the positive review? Does this one or maybe even a couple experiences really justify ruining that business's reputation when you've had two years of great service?

What ends up happening is that online review sites are actually inaccurate views of what you could expect because a business's rating is simply an overall average of the good and bad reviews. By and large, people do not leave good reviews when they've had a good experience. I realize some people do, but a lot of people are more apt to be trigger-happy and leave a negative review when they have a bad experience. Therefore, if you take Amazon for example: for every negative review a product gets on Amazon, it has to have 10 times a good experience just to have a 50/50 good/negative split on reviews because by and large, people do not leave good reviews when they've had a good experience. That means that 10 people had to have a good experience to get on average one positive review, whereas almost every bad experience leads to a bad review. If you have 10 good experiences leading to one positive review and one bad experience leading to a bad review, you could be left with a 2.5 star rating. That's a gross generalization, I realize, but hopefully you can see how it's not hard to ruin the reputation of a business.

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Hey, wait! Put down that phone and finish this article before you leave another review.

It is extremely hard for a business to build a positive healthy reputation. That's good in some ways. However, it is bad when you consider that there are things such as human error – people who are having bad days for whatever reason – you just don't know their life story; and if you did, you would probably be more apt to excuse and not lash out at the business purely because of one of the server's having a problem. I just believe it's important to think before you leave a bad review. And remember, on average, it's going to take that business 10 times the amount of work to just balance it out.

A Local Example

Moving on to the example that I came up with today of a business unfairly hurting from bad reviews. We have a local UPS Store that I've dealt with quite a few times and I've only ever had a good experience. I was looking up their phone number to send a couple things in for printing and get them laminated. I looked them up online and their Yelp page came up right away. They have two and a half stars out of five reviews. (Now, this doesn't include the reviews that Yelp has decided not to display – two of them being five stars and one of them was a ridiculous one star. I know Yelp supposedly has these algorithms for some reason but I've had perfectly legitimate reviews filtered out that I've left so I don't really trust Yelp's algorithms.)

Looking at the UPS store's ratings more closely, we've got one guy who's mad because they wouldn't ship a piece of a firearm. It's in UPS's policy that they won't. And there are reasons for that and the UPS Store owner actually responds basically saying they're a franchise of UPS, they have to follow certain rules and cannot ship firearms, and that he even tried to explain this in the store. Maybe there's a legitimate gripe there; but for me, it's like, "Okay, they wouldn't ship it. It's a policy." Is that really worth coming on and leaving a one-star review for them? It's not like they wouldn't serve that customer for racial or religious reasons for example. It's purely that they do not ship things that are related to dangerous items that could have potential issues in the mail. And sure, maybe this piece was tame (scope rings for a hunting rifle), but sometimes there has to be a good blanket rule to cover everything.

The next one star review is from someone who said that they had a bad experience. I tend to think it's a bit exaggerated, but that said, I'll give some credence that maybe she actually had a bad experience with the employees. She said that she stated she felt the cost of something was excessive and then the employee snapped at her. Now this could be legitimate so I don't want to judge that one too much. Then there was one that was basically saying UPS is so slow delivering a package they had dropped off. However, the UPS Store is not UPS. So that one star just ruined a small business person's reputation online because they didn't like what the greater company did. It's a somewhat understandable confusion – UPS Store and UPS sounds pretty much the same thing, I get that. But in this case, it really just doesn't apply. Then, of course, they use harsh words like, "They suck," and stuff. That's not helpful to anybody wondering what's going on with the business.

The other negative review that they have, which is "not yet recommended" and hidden by Yelp's filter, talked about a bad experience with USPS (the United States Postal Service!). So either they mistyped it and meant UPS or they actually put it on the wrong one. Either way. Maybe that's why it was filtered off because it just didn't seem too. I didn't seem to apply but they also talked about doing a change of address which is generally a US Postal Service thing. Not a UPS thing.

So the UPS Store has four positive reviews (of which two of them are filtered out by Yelp's filters). Then they have somebody who's griping that they won't ship a piece of a dangerous item, somebody who had a bad experience and said that they were over quoted (but UPS sets prices), somebody who says that the delivery service is too slow and therefore gets mad at the UPS store, and then somebody else who possibly isn't even leaving a review on the correct business. In total, that's four one-star reviews and four five-star reviews and they get a grand total of a two and a half star rating. That rating looks pretty bad in today's day and age, yet if you go through and look at all those reviews, you could only give real credence to one, maybe two of the negative reviews.

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Bringing out the stress-ball. I can't stand how easy it is to ruin a business' reputation and how hard it is to build it up. Even perfection isn't good enough when an employee can have a bad day or the reviewer is having a bad day.

Leave Positive Reviews Whenever Possible

I think more people should do positive reviews to help outweigh the junk. When you have a bad experience, you really need to stop and think. Is this worth potentially ruining a business over, was this experience indicative of the business as a whole, and do I really feel like I need to warn people against coming here? Or, did I just have a bad experience and therefore I'm going to personally choose not give patronage, but I won't smear their reputation online.

Personal Examples

To wrap this up I want to leave a couple personal examples from my life. I went to a restaurant here in Stanwood that is still in business. I had what was probably the worst meal I've ever had in my life. My wife and sister-in-law who went with me agreed. So we told the manager that it was not good, and he said it was supposed to taste like that. He didn't offer a credit or a coupon or anything. Even if we were wrong and our taste buds were all goofy, there was no customer service concession whatsoever. So I chose not to go back. It was one of the worst restaurant experiences I've ever had in my life purely from a quality of food standpoint.

If I had gone online and left a negative review, that would have severely hurt how the business looks online. But the business is still here today, which means that more than likely they're doing okay. They're making ends meet which means there are probably enough people that actually appreciate their food and like it. That means I was probably just an outlier, otherwise enough people would just stop going and the business would go under.

Another case from my life is I've actually started purposefully leaving positive reviews for good experiences. I could definitely be better at this, but it's a start. Too many people have good experiences and just say, "Hey, that was good." They may even tell their friends and they come back, but that doesn't actually combat the negative online reputation that these businesses can get just from a few bad experiences.

Last Thoughts

I'm going to leave you with this thought. If you're a business owner, you feel my pain. You probably know how easily a negative review can severely hurt your reputation.  If you're not a business owner and you're listening to this, or even if you are a business owner, it is important to weigh the decision to leave a negative review before you make it. Don't leave a negative review and hinder another business's reputation when instead you can try to handle it internally and then just don't go back. If you don't like it, let that business fail on its own. Don't push it over the ledge just because you didn't enjoy your experience.