Whether or not your particular business depends on ratings to get customers, it’s still unsettling to see even one bad review, and even harder not to take it personally. But once that bad review is posted, how do you move on from that, and is it really as bad for our business as we think it is?
In the business world, reputation means a great deal. What better way to build that reputation than by encouraging your happy customers to write a review, share their experience and recommend you to others on one of the many online review sites, such as Yelp or TripAdvisor. How you deal with negative reviews is also important, especially if you are skilled in knowing how to turn a bad review into a positive spin for your business – and it is possible!
Daniel Lemin was a pioneer in realizing the importance and power of online ratings and reviews, and understands the struggles business owners have with maintaining their online reputations. In this episode he shares his experiences, ideas and strategies for building and maintaining business reputations online, and how to put a spin on the negative ratings that can still make your business look good.
Rich: Daniel Lemin is a respected authority on the reputation industry. An early Google hire, Lemin was one of the first pioneers to realize the importance, impact and power of online ratings and reviews on businesses, and the ongoing struggle business owners have with their online reputations.
Daniel is one of Jay Baer’s senior strategists in his consulting firm, Convince And Convert, and he’s a regular contributor to the Convince And Convert marketing blog, rated the #1 content marketing blog in the world. Daniel, welcome to the Agents Of Change podcast.
Daniel: Thank you very much for having me, it’s a pleasure to be here.
Rich: This is going to be great, I’m really excited about this. You’ve got a new book coming out called, Manipurated, which is all about the ratings industry. Why are review sites so important in this day and age?
Daniel: Well, they serve a variety of needs in our society. We all know how things have shifted in terms of where we get information about the companies and products we seek out. We’re looking at less and less our friends and family and turning to ratings and reviews. About 90+ percent of consumers say online ratings and reviews they trust as much as recommendations from friends and family. So basically, it’s out extended network of friends and family. They matter most certainly to the consumer who’s doing research, but they also matter to the business. That’s where they’re getting the vast majority of their new customer referrals.
Rich: It does seem it. I’ve got on my phone Yelp and Tripadvisor and a number of these others, and very often when I’m in a new space – even in a place I know – I’ll turn to one of these tools to just get an idea of where I might want to have lunch or go have an activity.
So in researching this book you must have heard a lot of horror stories from business owners. What were some of the most egregious stories that you heard while you were researching?
Daniel: You can imagine just about every scenario that you can dream up, I heard. Everything from “Yelp has threatened to derank me if I don’t pay for their services”, which by the way I found no evidence of. But I heard things at that end of the spectrum to “my competitors are attacking me on social media on ratings and review sites and I can’t do anything about it”, and there’s a variety of gray areas somewhere in between. Which is actually where most businesses live – that’s where the frustration is – extremes are what we hear about but it’s that gray area that is a day to day challenge for businesses.
Rich: I’ve worked with a lot of bed and breakfast inns as well as restaurants over the years and there’s always a complaint from a customer – seemingly legit complaint – is that part of the mix or do you feel that sometimes people only leave reviews when they’re only pissed off and that can skew somebody’s reviews as well?
Daniel: Yeah, I actually think there’s some truth to that. Unless you’re reminded to go review a business or you had such a positive experience that you can’t help yourself, I think most people don’t inherently think to do that and take that step unless they have a complaint. That’s where a lot of businesses start to interface with these platforms is at that complaint point.
They think “God, everybody on TripAdvisor hates me”, and it’s really I think that the business isn’t necessarily encouraging and cultivating reviews as part of that. It’s kind of a self affluent prophecy to some degree.
Jay Baer actually has a whole book coming out in the spring on the nature and reasons behind why we complain and what the motivations are about our complaints. So that will be a great resource for anyone looking into the complaint sites.
Rich: Yeah, I saw his keynote on that subject at Social Media Marketing World this past year and I thought it was brilliant. But I think you’re right, nobody finishes a meal and says, “ That was meh, the world needs to know!” It’s that urge of, I need to let everyone know this is the greatest or the worst, but nobody wants to go out on a limb and say it was average.
Alright, so I’m a small business, I run an inn, a restaurant, a retail shop or whatever it is and I’m getting some negative reviews – maybe it’s on Yelp, maybe it’s on TripAdvisor – what do I do about that? Are there actionable steps that I can take to deal with an angry patron or that I should be doing just in general?
Daniel: Yeah, for sure. I think the most important thing is that consumers see that you’re present on those platforms. The easiest way to do that is to jump in and say, “I’m really sorry you had that experience, we had an off night.” Don’t make an excuse, but if there’s a reason for it you address it, say you’re sorry and ask them to please come back and try again. And there’s a variety of ways to do that.
When consumers see that a business owner is so invested in their overall reputation and their business, it makes them feel good. Even if it’s not a perfect day – no one has a perfect day everyday – they still care enough to respond to other customers even when they’ve complained and not be inflammatory about it. I think it puts the consumer in the perspective that this business owner really cares, and that matters to me. You don’t want to do business with people that don’t really care about their business.
I think that’s a good place to start is kind of respond to and think about every review as an opportunity to market your business and how great you are at that kind of customer relationship.
Rich: Should we be responding to every negative review we see?
Daniel: Yeah, for sure. Even if you perceive that the person was having a severely off day – and those people exist – and even in those cases it’s just good practice to pause, jump in and say, “I’m really sorry you had that experience and I hope you’ll give us another chance.”, knowing that they’re not going to do that. That’s ok, but other consumers will see that and that’s a good thing.
Bare in mind that consumers are pretty savvy people and they can perceive when someone looks crazy to you, customers will probably think they look crazy, too. So don’t panic if it’s an exceedingly bad situation.
Rich: Right. So engage with them, apologize for their experience, and then would you suggest making an offer like, “Come back and see us another time”? I’ve also heard people say, “Can we take this conversation offline”, in other words, if there is something where there may need to be a refund or a real type of apology or something needs to be fixed, that you’re not airing your dirty laundry in the public eye.
Daniel: Yeah, that’s a great one. Jay actually calls that “onstage versus offstage interactions”, which I really like that method of thinking. You don’t want to have a long, drawn out debate with someone about a bad meal in the public realm. You wouldn’t host a podcast about that, certainly. But, you want people to know that you addressed it so it’s a good thing to say, “We’re really sorry, if you wouldn’t mind giving me a call I’d love to learn more about that.” Most consumers won’t, it’s a little too personal to actually call you, that’s why they wrote the review in the first place.
Rich: But the other thing – and I hate to admit this – I’ve gotten a bad review in my life. Either publicly on a site – or more likely a complaint that has gotten back to me – and I have made that apology and sometimes people do come back. I’ve also seen that sometimes your biggest hater – with a little bit of verbal judo – becomes your biggest proponent if you set things right.
Daniel: That is absolutely right and that is one of the most difficult lessons to learn as a business. I’ve been there myself, it’s hard to take criticism. But actually if you own up to it and kind of confront it, that customer may turn around and say, “This person is awesome. I laid it on them and they owned it, what a great experience.”
Rich: Absolutely. I think on some level we realize that the people we’re dealing with on the other side are human beings as well, and when they show that human side it’s hard to stay angry with them sometimes, especially if they’re trying to do the right thing.
So be present on the site, I assume that means we should take control of our account and be able to respond. I know a lot of these sites have the ability to log in as the business to respond to these. I’ve done some research into this a while back for some hotels I was working with, and one hotel was very good about responding to every complaint, but it was obvious it was a copy and paste response. And after seeing the same 20 type of complaints and the same copy and paste response, I had to wonder if maybe there were bigger things going on than just an angry customer.
Daniel: That makes you wonder and you think are they not paying attention to their reviews, I hope they pay attention to their laundry and bleach their sheets.
Rich: Alright, so somebody leaves a bad review – understandable – we’re present, we apologize, we try and take it offstage, as you say. Are there – and I hate the word “proactive” – but are there proactive things that we can be doing on the review sites that apply to our industry that would help us kind of deflect negative complaints or just be a little more proactive in this review space?
Daniel: Yeah, absolutely. There are some generalities – and I prefer to give specifics – there were some specific things I heard from businesses that they were doing that I thought was just great.
Rich: Great, let’s hear them.
Daniel: Some of the general things – cultivate reviews, ask for reviews – those things are all kind of good, general things to keep in mind. I actually just talked to a vet clinic this week. They are small and local here in L.A., they don’t have a huge clientele but they have a pretty big email list of about 2,000 or so on their email list, which is pretty sizeable for a small vet clinic. They’re going through that and looking for people with gmail addresses – which is a pretty good percentage of the list – and when they find them they’re emailing them looking at their record to see when they were last in and saying, “We see you were here a couple weeks ago, we were hoping you had a good experience and would love some feedback. If you’re willing to write us a review on Google we would love that.”
They’re doing that specifically for gmail addresses and know that those people already have a Google account so it’s easy for them to convert and go write a review on Google for them. And for them, discovery and search is really important. They’re pretty highly ranked on vet clinics in Los Angeles, but that’s the star rating that comes with it is what they’re really trying to, in their case, sustain.
Rich: So that’s an interesting point, and that actually brings up 2 issues. One is the idea that this company is actively going after reviews. I understand some review sites absolutely frown upon that, so I’d like some thoughts on that. But the other thing – and maybe you can talk about that – is the barrier to reviews. I just happen to run into this today where somebody wanted to leave a review on Google but they had to basically create a public Google+ account. I didn’t even know that that was still a thing, but they had to create this in order to leave a review and that’s too much work. I think that’s asking too much of your clientele to create an account just so they can leave you a review.
Daniel: All of these things create some friction, but the idea is that if someone already has a Gmail account, that’s better than asking them to go to Yelp. They may or may not have a Yelp account so they’re trying to go after the lowest hanging fruit they can find, which I think is smart. It is true what you said that a lot of sites discourage the solicitation of reviews. Yelp in particular is very, very aggressive about that. It’s not necessarily something that I personally agree with, I think they take it a little too far, it’s a very gray area. Some sites like Angie’s List actually encourage it, they even give you tools to solicit and ask for reviews. They have some IFrame widgets and stuff you can put in email, they make it very easy as does TripAdvisor.
It’s such a gray area, it’s hard for businesses to decide what’s right and wrong and I think the macro of the answer is always “no” when a business owner says, “Should I give people an incentive for writing reviews, a discount coupon or something?” And that answer is almost always “no”.
Rich: That’s bribery. So we don’t want to be bribing our customers. It sounds like with Yelp, is there language we can use that is Yelp approved to let people know, “If you want to review us, you didn’t hear it from us, but you’re allowed to”?
Daniel: Exactly. Well Yelp will say just remind people that you’re on Yelp. I’m not sure that’s quite enough. It’s sort of like saying, “I have a phone, maybe you have one, too, and we’ll cross paths someday.” You sort of do need to exchange phone numbers at some point if you want that person to call you. It’s the same thing with Yelp, they’ll say they just encourage businesses to say, “Hey, we’re on Yelp and we love feedback.”
I think you could take it a step further and gently suggest that you love for other consumers to see your experience here. That sort of reinforces that you’re present there, too, and that’s a good way to cultivate reviews. And actually, just the act of responding to reviews on a platform will help encourage other reviews there. Consumers just kind of see, “Hey, Rich is pretty active here. He’s responded to a lot of reviews. I won’t be shy to give feedback because he’ll probably take it seriously.”
Rich: That’s a good point, that encourages it. And the interesting thing about them going after Gmail accounts just like I said, it’s tough if you don’t have a Gmail account, if you don’t have a Google account, you’re being asked to create one just to leave a review. In preparation for today’s conversation I happen to take a look at Flyte New Media on Yelp – not that I personally care about Yelp, because I’m a web design firm – but I was just curious. And we did have one review and it was very nice.
And then I saw that there was actually another review that somebody had left but it wasn’t being counted. You could click and go look at it, but because this person only reviewed our business and no others, they had devalued it. And I understand the logic behind that, but again it comes to this point where it’s like even if you tell somebody you’re on Yelp or go review us on Yelp but don’t tell them I said that, that if they’re not active on Yelp it may not make that much of a difference. And I couldn’t find anywhere where I could find out which of my friends were active on Yelp, I didn’t see that like I could on Instagram or Twitter or something like that.
Daniel: Yeah, they won’t let you, of course, do that. They’re not going to speak up and say, “Hey, you’ve got 6% of your customer base on Yelp.” There’s a few different ways where you can get at that answer. Obviously you can just ask, “Are you on Yelp? You can find me on Yelp.” You can also kind of look in your analytics and see if you’re getting inbound traffic at all from any of these sites. And sometimes what you might find is you’re getting a ton of stuff from one platform and a small number from another. Maybe there’s some correlation there.
Rich: Yeah. The other thing I’m thinking is if you were to send out a survey on what kind of sites do you use to judge things, or “Are you on Yelp?” would be one of the questions. Then segment that list down and just send out a blast that says, “Hey, we’re on Yelp, too, come find us.” Or give a link to your Yelp profile, which might encourage people to leave a review and you’re still staying on the straight and narrow as far as Yelp is concerned.
Daniel: Yup, absolutely.
Rich: So we talked about Yelp, obviously that’s probably the one that touches the most lives and businesses here, at least in the states. And then there’s TripAdvisor which is something I use every time I’m leaving the great state of Maine. And you mentioned Angie’s List – which I believe you actually have to pay to look at the reviews on that site, unless it’s changed – are there other review sites that people should be aware of, or is it very industry specific, how does that all work?
Daniel: There are reviews sprinkled just about everywhere. So obviously we talked about Google, they have reviews and they actually give them quite a bit of weight in search ranking. So that’s one I always encourage businesses to look at their Google reviews because in the search results that is really having a big impact right there before they even click away.
So Google is one, Facebook is one, Foursquare, there’s actually quite a lot of reviews on Foursquare, it’s a pretty powerful review engine that can help with discovery for prospective customers, mostly in the restaurant and local space. But certainly if that’s your category, Foursquare is one to look at.
And then in specific industries, car dealers have their own. There’s one for lawyers, doctors, just about everything else. There’s even one – and you probably saw this news a few weeks ago – this crazy, scary, new rating and review site for people, it’s called Peeple, where you can rate and review anyone without them asking or approving it. I think that site actually went dark and went offline, it got amazing bad press.
Rich: I think people are immediately taken back to high school and realize what an awful time that was and just decided not to play.
Daniel: How did we get to this point? We’re rating people, that’s just not fair, it’s not right. But there is everything for every category for rating and review, it’s a mechanism that seems to have picked up.
Rich: So maybe one of the things is if we’re not a restaurant or an inn and some of the big sites go dark, we might want to know what of the big review sites are in our industry by doing a Google search like, “Doctor review sites”, just to see what comes up and make sure we have a listing and it’s a positive listing. Does that make sense?
Daniel: That makes sense and you can look at your competitors to see what they might be doing with reviews. If you’re a pediatrician and you look at your competitors or friends in other cities to get a handle on what they’re doing. I have a lot of dentist friends that, believe it or not, Yelp is huge for dentists.
Daniel: It actually drives a lot of foot traffic. A woman I interviewed for the book in San Francisco, she was pretty active on Yelp. She was running specials offers, she did a Groupon. I think dental kind of spans this”beauty/health care” span a little bit, and that may be while the dental sems to be pretty popular on Yelp.
Rich: Interestingly we just picked up a couple of dental customers, so this really is interesting to me. So if I’m a dentist – and it sounds like they’re active on it – and we talked about reviews but are there other things, like are you talking about advertising on Yelp, or what other things can we be doing to be active on Yelp?
Daniel: Certainly you can advertise on Yelp. They will be the first to tell you that if you don’t advertise, they will let your competitors do it on your profile on your behalf. They’re happy to take that money instead, which is definitely off putting for a lot of businesses when they hear that. That’s one of the first sales pitches they give is, “Hey Rich, did you know you’ve got a Yelp profile? And by the way you’ve got competitors advertising on top of it.” So the minute you pay them they take those ads away.
But there are some free things they will give away, one of which is actually really great, it’s “check-in offers”. It’s a great way to encourage reviews on Yelp because it forces people to check in to your location, and when they do then you can give them a 10% off coupon or something. And they offer those for free. So that is a great way to cultivate reviews. I use Yelp and I don’t ever check into places, but it kinda self selects Yelp’s most high performing numbers and reviewers. So that’s a good one and that’s free, for now at least.
Rich: I’m going to start giving 10% off of websites. Maybe not, maybe not. I’ll have to think through that.
One of the review sites we haven’t really talked about is Facebook, obviously Facebook is an 800 pound gorilla. It doesn’t’ seem like Facebook reviews necessarily impact Google rankings or anything like that, especially the local search ones. But you and I were talking a little bit before we got on the phone today – I’ll try to keep this as vague as possible – we have a client who recently had an experience with somebody who left a very bad review on Facebook, and may have actually gotten some of her friends who have never been to this establishment to also leave negative reviews, thus dragging the reviews down.
I know what it’s like to get a bad review, I think we all do, we take it personally. Our businesses are like our children and if anybody is going to besmirch our business, it feels like a personal attack. But you’re obviously going to say that that’s not the way that we should handle it. What do we do when we see a review – especially on Facebook when it’s almost impossible to remove – what is a good way to approach this besides just saying to somebody, “Hey listen, I’m sorry you had a bad time, maybe we can take this offline”? Are there other things that we can be doing to help out?
Daniel: Yeah, for sure. It’s not a quick answer, which I know is frustrated for a business to hear. There are a couple of things to keep in mind. One is that these sites exist in large part in Google’s large search system, which favors freshness. Google – and by extension Yelp and TripAdvisor – they thrive on fresh content.
So one way to battle bad reviews is to somehow encourage other reviews, most of which will be neutral or positive, by most common logic. The other thing about it of course is you respond to the negative review in the first place and say, “We’re really sorry you had this experience. Please call us and we’d love to invite you back in.” The first thing I would say to a business owner is don’t panic about that. What you need to know is consumers are pretty savvy and they ready anywhere between 2 and 10 reviews when they make a decision, so they’re not just looking at bad reviews. They’re looking at the whole context of good, bad and other reviews.
The other thing about it is there were some research that shows the presence of a bad review helps to validate good reviews. So you kinda think of that as a sandwich, it’s the perfect BLT but without bacon you wouldn’t have it. You couldn’t just have one with lettuce, tomato and mayo.
Rich: Few would sell.
Daniel: Especially just mayo. I think mayo is just about the worst thing in the world.
Rich: It sounds like you’re giving it a 1 star review.
Daniel: Well, if there’s garlic in it I might reconsider. But you’ve kind of got to think about it like a sandwich and don’t panic about those reviews. The order is going to change, some sites order things by date, you just have to be a little bit more mindful about it and not focus so much on that bad review. You kind of want to take that next step and say, what can I do now. Calls are not going to stop coming, people are not going to stop coming just because of this one bad review.
Rich: Right. I think I’ve read the same research – if not, something similar – products that were reviewed with 5 stars on Amazon actually were outsold by products that had an average of 4-4.5 stars. So there’s some sort of b.s. meter we must have in us that when all the reviews are perfect we say, yeah, I’m not sure I can get behind that.
Daniel: Yeah. I mean, I think most consumers are not looking for perfection, they’re looking for above average. There are very few restaurants that reach perfection, French Laundry – the famous one in California – maybe gets close to it, it’s several hundred dollars a meal. People are just looking for above average for the most past, no one’s perfect. I think that’s just it.
Rich: I think this has been great and I think hopefully a lot of small businesses are breathing a little bit easier now, and also you’ve given them some suggestions on what they can do. Besides cultivating reviews and being present, are there any other things we can be doing to improve the reviews of our businesses on these sites or to negate any kind of negative reviews that might be there?
Daniel: I love it when businesses show off a little bit. I have a story I often use. I have pet insurance for my dog – actually, his insurance is better than mine – but I’m on their email newsletter and every month they put a review from a pet insurance review blog website and they take one of their reviews out and put it in the email just as a customer of the month campaign/review of the month campaign. The customers like to feel that they’re in good company.
If you love a brand or a store or a restaurant, you kind like to know that other people love it, too. That makes you feel good that you’re in good company there.
Daniel: So just the act of showing off, you can use the humblebrag and say, “Gosh, we’re so proud that John in Boston had this to say about us.” It’s great, and it may encourage – in fact – more reviews. They might say, “Yes, this place is great. I love it, too, it’s wonderful.”
Rich: Excellent. Well this has been fantastic. Tell me a little bit more before we sign off today, tell me about your book. Can we preorder it, is it available now, what’s going on?
Daniel: It is available for preorder now wherever people like to buy books; Amazon, Barnes and Noble, local book stores. It will be out the first week of December, maybe even a little bit more. If you order it now it’ll be just like another month or so before you get it. There’s stuff on my website and I’m adding more all the time, it’s manipurated.com.
Rich: Very cool. And any other places you’re hanging out online these days that we should be checking out?
Daniel: You can always find me on Twitter @DanielLemin, that’s my primary place and I’m easy to get ahold of, as most of us are.
Rich: And we’ll have those links. Daniel spells his last name L-E-M-I-N. But we’ll have all those links and the entire show transcript, as always, in the show notes. Daniel, I just want to thank you very much for making time for us today.
Daniel: It’s been a privilege, thank you for having me, I enjoyed it.
Rich: It was a 5 star performance.
Daniel: That’s what I like to hear.
And here’s that photo I promised in the podcast…
Happy little trees, people, happy little trees.
- Check out Daniel’s business website to learn more about what they do to help businesses target, reach and keep their customers.
- Check out the Convince and Convert marketing blog for lots of valuable tips and information.
- Be sure to follow Daniel on Twitter.
- Pre-order Daniel’s book, Manipurated, there’s no better holiday gift for yourself and everyone else on your list!
- Rich Brooks is the President of Flyte New Media, a web design and marketing firm in Portland, Maine, as well as the founder and creative brain behind the Agents Of Change Digital Marketing Conference.
- Transcription/Virtual Assistant services provided by Jennifer Scholz Transcription Services.