Before the web 2.0 era, honest consumer reviews and opinions were often hard to obtain. They would be whispered to friends and family, but word of mouth circulated largely out of the business owner’s view. Today, the consumer review circulates so freely on the web, it’s amazing to think how public opinion has become.
Reviews of all shapes and sizes now appear freely on the standard Google search – search for any accommodation provider, restaurant, or tourism experience and watch the reviews roll in. Websites like tripadvisor.com and eatability.com.au and much more, exist solely to provide a forum for independent reviews.
For the business owner it can be a nightmare. Angry and unsatisfied customers can express their views for the whole world to see, whether that be through some semi-controlled rating mechanism, or through completely uncensored forums, personal blogs, facebook comments and the like.
But it’s not wise to stick your head in the sand. As much as it might sting, you need to be aware of what people are saying about you. The prominence and accessibility of the online opinion has meant that the negative comments are really balanced with the positive. I’ve seen forums and reviews with hundreds of comments from others, defending the business in question, or offering their own experiences. Many comments also refer others, for example: ‘if you love Italian food, you’ll love Maria’s on Prince Street’.
Whilst it’s impossible to control free expression on the web, there are a couple of suggestions I can offer to minimise the damage from any negativity.
The first suggestion is to build yourself a website. There are many cafes, restaurants or accommodation providers out there who do not have their own websites as they perceive there to be little need. For some this is a legitimate reason, but if your customer base comes from anywhere other than foot traffic on your street, then chances are the customer will research online before making a choice. In the absence of a website what do they have to go on? That’s right, independent, uncensored customer reviews. If you really want to harness the power of the customer review, the next step is to create your own forum for reviews, comments and experiences. While it’s on your website, you can monitor it, and also have the opportunity to respond, in public, to someone who has had a less than positive experience. Sometimes how you handle the mistake is more powerful than the effect of the
My next suggestion is to set up Google alerts to notify you when someone says something about you on the web. Of course you can’t do anything about it once it’s online, but you then have the opportunity to respond (post a comment or reply), or at least know what the general feeling is about your business. You can use the information to assist with reviewing staff, designing menus, deciding on product extensions and much more. You can catch onto new trends, gather useful consumer insights or check up on your competitors, and it’s all free!
The growth of the online review is a scary prospect, but it doesn’t have to be. Knowledge, negative or positive, is always power.