Bad Reviews: What Not To Do

Online review sites are extremely valuable tools in our technological world.  Between search engines and smart phone applications, review sites are becoming more and more prevalent with consumers of all ages.  Personally, I have a number of applications on my phone that I use regularly to check the ratings on restaurants, bars, music venues and products like movies, books, wine and beer.  Sites that provide rating information like Yelp, Judy’s Book and even the local sections of Google and Yahoo can give you a pretty accurate assessment of what to expect at any establishment in your city.

I’ve worked with a number of clients that have been concerned about negative ratings (and rightly so.)   Too often when an organization comes across a negative rating or review, they are tempted to find ways to push that rating down using “grey” tactics that go against the true purpose of these community-based review sites.  It is my job to help them realize better ways to encourage positive feedback to make sure these negative ratings are few and far between and, when they actually happen, to address them quickly and in a positive manner.  This is how you retain customers and promote your organization in the right light.

But recently a buddy of mine (and avid Yelper) experienced first-hand the nature of a company that, for lack of a better phrase, really messed up.  Before I dive in, you need a little background to really understand the nature of the situation.  My friend literally reviews every place he goes.  He prides himself on giving a truthful review on experiences with an establishment and offers readers a personal look at these places so they can make a decision on whether or not it is a place they would want to visit.  He doesn’t just jump on and post a review if he had a bad experience or is upset about a single visit.  He reviews every place he visits.  Even Conviction Fitness in Chicago.

Conviction Fitness is a local fitness center located in Chicago.  I personally have never been there so I won’t speak about the business itself, but I am an avid user of Yelp and, judging by the 2 out of 5 star average, I would probably conclude it is a place I would not want to visit.  But my friend was a member.  I write that in the past tense not because my friend gave a bad review, gave up on the place and stormed out with his arms in the air.  I write that in the past tense because the owner of Conviction Fitness in Chicago monitored his Yelp reviews and sent out cancellation notices to all those patrons that wrote less-than-favorable reviews.  You read that correctly.  Instead of sending emails out to the customers asking what Conviction Fitness can do to make their experience a positive one, they sent out cancellation notices to wash their hands clean of those customers that weren’t completely satisfied.

As a person that works with social media websites on a daily basis to help clients realize their online potential, I can honestly say this is a poor example of how to handle online review sites.  Here is a stronger approach that would have benefited not only the customers, but the organization as well:

  • Send out emails to all those customers unsatisfied with their service, but instead of attaching a cancellation notice, personally address their issues with timelines on when items will be fixed, why it is taking so long and what you are going to do to reconcile the situation.
  • Encourage your current customers to leave reviews about positive experiences.  Reach out to your current satisfied customers and point them in the right direction to leave solid reviews on a number of different review sites.
  • Don’t just focus on the customers that are unsatisfied with your service.  Send out messages to the customers that leave positive reviews and thank them for taking the time to write about your organization.
  • Don’t cancel their memberships! Word spreads fast.  If you told ten people you were giving away free money, you would have hundreds (if not thousands) of people lined up outside your door in a few days (if not before.)  The same is true for negative experiences.  Treat someone poorly and the word will spread like wildfire.  No customers, no money.

From what I understand, Conviction Fitness in Chicago is still a fairly new organization.  And my buddy, bless his heart, still hopes they pull through and make it.  I guess he sees the good in everyone.  In a way they should be lucky they are getting these reviews so they can make the proper adjustments and move forward.  Let’s hope they want to move forward.

7 Responses to “Bad Reviews: What Not To Do”

  1. I must say that by and large I am really happy with this web site. After reading your post I can tell you are educated about your writing. Looking forward to future posts. Thanks!

  2. Pete says:

    Nice article. I checked Conviction Fitness on Yelp and there are some entertaining reviews. After reading some of the stunts Conviction Fitness supposedly pulled, this is NOT a company I’d want to spend my money on. A perfect example of an immature reaction to reviews.

    A good example of responding to bad reviews is on newegg.com. People can leave product reviews on there and on more than one occasion, I’ve seen companies respond to complaints/bad reviews of their products. The responses to bad reviews are always courteous and helpful–showing the company cares about their image, product and customers.

  3. Kyle says:

    I totally agree. Yelp is becoming so valuable to the consumer now that most people won’t even try out new places without checking the reviews first. Conviction Fitness made a huge mistake in attacking the most valuable asset it had in generating new business: word of mouth. Good call on newegg.com. I use their website all the time and never really appreciated the depth at which they go to make happy customers. Just proves that some people get it!

  4. Karl Saban says:

    The owner was one of the contestants on American Gladiators.

    http://www.hulu.com/watch/42120/original-american-gladiators-second-half-preliminary-round-4

    I know a guy that worked for him at Cyberworks Media. From what I heard, he always paid out in cashiers checks from the Currency Exchange right underneath the Brown Line on Montrose.

  5. Kyle says:

    Karl, that is so awesome. It totally makes sense that he was on that show (and also makes sense why he is so abrasive with his reviews…he’s just competitive by nature.) Thanks for sharing!

  6. Karl says:

    Solid, sensible advice but I’d rethink:

    “Encourage your current customers to leave reviews about positive experiences.”

    A sudden burst of positive reviews from new users with no history ends up making it look like an astroturfing campaign. Users can spot organic reviews from “motivated” reviewers.

  7. Kyle says:

    That’s a great idea Karl. I have in fact run in to this issue in the past with clients and it can sometimes be very difficult garnering those organic positive reviews. However, you’re absolutely right about too many reviews at one time as it not only has the potential to harm your credibility, but also your social commentary via search engines. Thanks for the feedback!

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