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The Fine Art of Handling Negative Reviews

July 16th, 2014

Not all reviews are negative. The negative reviews are simply the ones that most deserve your attention. Some negative reviews are worse than others, but the worst negative review is the one that was left unanswered.

In most instances, I find that small business owners cannot be objective when handling criticisms of the businesses which are often extensions of themselves. That is understandable, but it is important to put subjectivity aside and recognize that, in the vast majority of instances, a negative review is providing valuable input regarding improvements that you should consider making.

In other instances, a negative review might provide insight into a situation that requires urgent action; however, if you are unaware of the review, the situation is likely to continue and the viral power of the online review will only multiply. Let me share an example.

I recently did a search of Google for the name of a business, hoping to find its correct mailing address. At the absolute top of the search results (#1 on page #1) was the following review that has been online since January of 2012. I have changed the names and any other identifying information, but the point is clear.

“While driving on Eastern Avenue (near Spring Street) today (01-11-12) at 2:05 PM I was tailgated by someone driving a truck (license plate RVJ-524) from Acme Enterprises. I was forced to pull over because the driver was driving too close. When I pulled over I was given the finger and when I continued driving the driver doubled-back to actually chase me! I’m a member of the [a local business association] and I will certainly be sending an email blast to my fellow members to ensure they avoid this organization. I took a picture of the driver and have it on file.”

Wow! Can you imagine this being at the top of the search results for your business for 2½ years, and not knowing about it? Can you imagine having an employee acting in this manner while driving a clearly identified company vehicle? I presume that any business owner would take immediate corrective measures if he knew about this situation. Without any such knowledge, this type of behavior on the part of an employee is only likely to continue.

Yes, this is an extreme example, but it is totally true. How about the employee who is short with one of your guests, or the employee who did not perform a maintenance task up to the expected standards? Those are often the foundation of a negative review. Even if a review site does not give you, as the business owner, an opportunity to directly respond online, it is still providing you with valuable information that should probably be incorporated into your next company meeting, job description, or employee performance review. The reputation of your business is at stake.

When you do have the opportunity to respond to a negative review, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Listen to what the reviewer has to say. Try to be as subjective as possible, putting your ego aside. The review is not a personal attack upon your reputation (even if you think that it is.)
  2. Empathize, introduce a positive factor into the conversation, and apologize if necessary. An apology is not an admission of guilt but simply a polite acknowledgement that the reviewer had less than a perfect experience involving your business.
  3. Try to take the conversation offline. I recently posted on Facebook how dissatisfied I was when an energy audit contractor failed to show up for a scheduled appointment. The organization saw that it had been mentioned on Facebook, responding by asking me to contact them privately with my telephone number. Offline, they apologized and re-scheduled the appointment for the following day. Any damage was under control.
  4. Despite the urgency of responding quickly, before posting a response to an online review, always run it by another set of eyes. Too often, in the absence of body language and tone of voice, a response with the best of intentions might sound condescending or even sarcastic. Remember that you are trying to rectify a situation, not make it worse.

There are literally dozens of online review sites, the most important which impact the travel and tourism industry being TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Foursquare. Other types of businesses are reviewed on sites like Angie’s List, MerchantCircle, Manta, Buzzillions, Epinions, and Insider Pages. Then don’t forget the BBB (Better Business Bureau) Online, where any consumer can file a complaint against a business.

Just as important, any comment on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ is a de-facto review within the writer’s network. In fact, those can often do the most harm because they come from somebody whose opinion is trusted within his or her network of friends.

There are also more than a dozen of which are specific to the campground industry. These include RV Park Reviews, CampRate, Campground Report, Campsite Reports, RVparking.com, RVcampReviews.com, RV Park Finder, and of course GuestRated. Some of these sites get much more traffic than others, but keep in mind that only one person reading one negative review can translate into lost business. Do your best to try to keep that from happening.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Make the Most of Online Review Sites

July 28th, 2013

Years ago, as a business owner you were pretty much in control of how people perceived your business. You advertised to influence opinions, you went out of your way to please your customers, and you provided a quality product or service. Everybody was happy. In the rare instances where a customer was displeased, he told his friends and never returned. Things could have been worse.

Today, things are worse. Conventional advertising has lost much of its credibility and clout, and most people turn to their network of friends (including virtual friends online) for trusted opinions and recommendations. That dissatisfied customer from years past now has the means to amplify his displeasure before an audience of thousands. On the other hand, the same tools are available for your happiest of customers to share their experience and influence equally vast numbers of potential guests.

Most campground owners seem to fear review sites more than an attack of locusts. Those fears are unfounded. P.T. Barnum is often credited with coining the statement, “There is no such thing as bad publicity,” and that concept is truer today, in the age of the Internet, than ever before in history.

First of all, a successful campground will be operated in a customer-friendly manner, and reviews of that campground are likely to be overwhelmingly positive. My advice is to proactively promote those reviews and the sites that contain the reviews, rather than simply reacting in a state of panic when a negative review appears, typically written by someone with an axe to grind.

Rather than hiding from reviews, I encourage campground owners to provide links to the major review sites – and to individual reviews – on their own websites and within the social media. Quote great reviews on your Facebook page and in Tweets, and encourage your guests to post their own reviews, particularly if a review site has a less than stellar recent review of your park. Some review sites allow you to respond to reviews, while others do not. Either way, the most recent reviews and the most intelligently written reviews (and responses) carry the greatest credibility. Older reviews or those written by somebody who is obviously on a rant are generally dismissed by readers.

If you are going to encourage your happy campers to submit reviews, you need to know the review sites that count. You also need to know whenever a review of your park appears online. Use Google Alerts to stay on top of what is being posted about your business online. When guests are checking out, commenting how much they enjoyed their stays, ask them if they would like to submit a review that puts that satisfaction into words. If they agree, send them a follow-up e-mail with a direct link to the review page for your park on the review site of your choice. (Don’t ask them to submit a review on more than one site, since that would be a bit of an imposition.) The following is a list of some of the review sites that need to be on your radar.

RV Park Reviews – This site has been online since 2000 and includes nearly 200,000 reviews of every campground in North America, including yours. If you are not aware of this site and have not read its reviews of your park, you have only yourself to blame. Use this site to your advantage. If you have the highest rated park in your city or town (based upon the average of your 10 most recent reviews, rated on a 1-10 scale), promote that fact by providing a link to the reviews for your park and its competitors. Use transparency to your advantage!

Yelp – This site was started in 2004, gets over 100 million unique visitors per month, and hosts over 39 million reviews. Originally designed to rate local business service providers (like mechanics, electricians, and plumbers), it now includes reviews to lodging services, including campgrounds. As a business, you can setup a free business account that allows you to post photos and additional information that will enhance your listing on the site, as well as generating free widgets that you can use to promote your Yelp reviews on your website. Follow this link to get started: https://biz.yelp.com

TripAdvisor – This is the world’s largest travel-related website. It gets more than 200 million unique visitors per month and contains over 100 million trusted reviews covering more than 2.5 million businesses around the world. Although the site originally concentrated on hotels and similar lodging, it now includes campgrounds under the Specialty Lodging category. If your campground is not yet listed on TripAdvisor, you can submit a listing by following this link: http://www.tripadvisor.com/GetListedNew

Because of the volume of traffic, reviews on TripAdvisor carry plenty of clout. As a business owner, you can (and should!) create a free business account, allowing you to update your business details, add photos, receive e-mail notifications of new reviews, and – most importantly – respond to reviews. You can also generate free widgets that can link your website to your reviews. Follow this link to get started: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Owners

GuestRated – Campground owners are probably also familiar with the GuestRated program that was founded by industry consultant Bob MacKinnon in 2008 as the first ongoing guest satisfaction rating program relating to the private campground industry in the United States. Run in conjunction with National ARVC, this online survey program provides very useful consumer information and statistical analytics to campground owners, as well as providing an opportunity to respond to guest reviews. There are also widgets that allow campgrounds to feature reviews and ratings on their websites and that encourage visitors to initiate their own review process. Learn more about the program at: http://www.guestreviews.com

This is far from a conclusive list of review sites. There are many other campground review sites that generate less traffic and less impact upon public opinion. I would recommend not fretting over any of the more obscure review sites, particularly if any investment of your time would come at the expense of the attention that you should be devoting to these review sites that count.

This post was written by Peter Pelland