The Macaron Nazi.

soupCraft a perfect image for your business complete with logo, tagline and mostly stellar online reviews. That’s great. You WANT all those things. But many businesses have a hard time getting their heads wrapped around the idea their identity is public property and that even though it’s your blood, sweat, tears and money that built the business, you have an unpaid marketing department.

They’re called customers and they notice every detail. And to make it worse, every one of them is an expert. The sooner you get comfortable that their “expertise” is perfectly valid and will be shared relentlessly, the better.

There is a French bakery in a neighboring town that I pass by quite often. Their macarons are sublime and I would put anything they do that’s vaguely pastry up against anyone. The couple that owns the place are as nice as can be…until something happens that they don’t like.

It can be a dog tied to a lamp post in front of the shop, a noisy group, a guy moving a chair from one table to another, someone who asks a lot of questions and, mostly, Yelp reviews that are anything less than 5 stars. Reading their Yelp replies is as horrifying as anything Stephen King has written. Anyone who offers the slightest criticism gets a faceful of “what culinary school did you go to?” In this day and age, if you have a sizable number of Yelp reviews (and they do), there is no need to panic over one or two mediocre reviews. But if you insist on ripping into customers on-line, you, yes YOU are the one tearing down your business. New potential customers don’t want to run the risk of running into Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi. They’ll find somewhere else to buy a tart as I reluctantly did. I just could not reward their aggressive online persona with my money.

It’s natural to want to defend your business or your employees but keep a level head. Online reviews are generally opinions and opinions are highly subjective. Generating what amounts to a court transcript of a back-and-forth with a disgruntled customer can never be good for you. Your regular customers will most likely side with you and the other 99.9% of the population that makes up people you WANT to be your customers will not want to get involved. Maybe your regular customers will mention that they read the bad review and give you an “attaboy” for your crusty (see what I did there?) response but that doesn’t make the cash register ring. Cold solace I’d say.

Writing a defensive “it’s easy to hide behind the internet” response to a bad review should be given the same consideration as drunk texting an ex. Think about it. Think about it again…and then don’t do it.

So what SHOULD you do? Remember your three constituencies in this case:

  1. The reviewer.
  2. Happy customers who will most likely continue to visit in spite of the review.
  3. People reading the review who are not customers yet

Think of the reviewer. But think HARDER about #3. It’s perfectly acceptable to offer your email address and ask for more details on their visit. Let them know that their business in important to you. Heck, it’s perfectly fine to get more to the point and say that YOUR business is important to you and you want to make it better.You should want to understand what could have made their experience everything they’d hoped it would be.

Get the information if it’s offered and see if there is anything to learn from. If it’s helpful, see what you can change or retrain staff where appropriate. If the feedback is a corner case or not helpful, disregard it and don’t feel you have to explain why it’s not helpful to the reviewer.

Remember, it’s more important to grow your business than be right on the internet.

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Author: wordsrangtrue

Brian Boyd has served in sales management and operational executive roles in Silicon Valley for over 25 years. His interests include the business life, wine and the wine business, music, film and social media.

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