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UHY Hacker Young | Chartered Accountants
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How to deal with unfair business reviews

16 December 2019

In the days before Google, TripAdvisor and social media, the accepted way of complaining about poor customer service was a strongly worded letter or exasperated phone call. Most of the time, these matters remained a private affair between customer and supplier. However, things have since changed, and now the nuclear option is often the first to be deployed. The fallout can be very damaging. So is there anything that can be done?

Unreasonable behaviour

A couple of years ago, I stayed in a guest house whose proprietor was very keen that I write a good report on TripAdvisor. He had been in business only a few weeks and one of only two reviews he had received was scathing. According to him, a family had cancelled their booking one afternoon but nevertheless arrived on his doorstep at 11pm explaining that they had changed their minds, and requested a hot meal. It was explained to them that only cold food was available as the chef had long since gone home to bed. So they lit a camping stove in their bedroom and started to prepare a dinner. Unsurprisingly, the owner objected and a couple of days later a one-star review was posted on TripAdvisor, which incidentally omitted to mention the camping stove!

A bad review can be devastating for any business, particularly one involved directly with the public. But remedies exist.

Fraudulent reviews

TripAdvisor claims that it accepts over 200 million reviews and receives more than 315 million site visits each month, and that it takes a hard stance on fraudulent or malicious reviews. Nevertheless, with so many postings, it would be impossible to stop all unfair reviews. So the first question about your unwelcome review is: has it been posted by an unscrupulous competitor, a disgruntled employee, or merely someone with a grudge against you?

If you can prove that the alleged customer has not, in fact, done business with you as described in the review, you can report it through a registered TripAdvisor account. This makes sense because TripAdvisor has to protect its reputation for truthful, impartial reviews. The same goes for Google, so they also offer a means of objecting to fake reviews. Even Facebook can be persuaded to take down fraudulent content, but apparently this can take a long time, unless hate crime is involved.

Bad news spreads fast

You could perhaps approach the offender and persuade them to withdraw the review. Another way is to post a response publicly. You might consider this if it is not strictly fraudulent but rather biased or unreasonable. However, this needs careful consideration. It might just lend more weight to the review or attract attention to it. And I for one am not confident enough in the fair-mindedness of the British public to think that they would always believe your side of the story.

Our guest house proprietor’s solution was a good one. The more positive reviews he could obtain the more diluted the effect of the bad one. Except, as we all know, bad news spreads more easily than good – just ask any newspaper editor. So, I regret to say that, like many others, I have to make a mental effort not to give poor reviews more weight than good ones when I am researching the internet before making a purchase.

The positive effect

Feedback, especially if it is fair and dispassionate, is generally useful. If the complaining reviewer has a valid point, it could be a good opportunity to demonstrate how effective you are at responding to customers’ needs. Surveys perversely suggest that customers’ perceptions of an organisation are even better if there has been a problem that was effectively resolved, rather than if the organisation had got it right first time! So posting a response that acknowledges the reviewer’s concerns and strives to put the matter right can have a positive effect.

If your policy is to make requests for feedback, don’t make it a chore for your customer. Many organisations do this routinely after every sale. My experience is that this eventually becomes counterproductive. A company that I know used to carry out a survey of its clients’ opinions nearly every month. One answer to the question: “What can we do better?” was “Send out fewer questionnaires.” So, use satisfaction questionnaires sparingly, deal with matters raised in a positive way, and try not to fall out with anyone.

However good your service, it is a fact of life that you cannot always win, but my wish for you as we approach Christmas and the New Year is: may all your business reviews be five-star!

If you have any further questions or comments , do not hesitate to get in touch with me at a.hulse@uhy-uk.com.

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