By GalTime's Consumer Watchdog Mary Schwager
Companies are fighting back! The next time you hop on an online review site and leave negative comments for a company, Tweet or Facebook about your disastrous dining experience, be warned: Businesses are starting to fight back, and sometimes not in a nice way!
For frequent diner Eric Winick, it all started soon after he left a mixed online review about a restaurant. He raved about the food, but with a fidgety two year old in tow, he was frustrated dinner took an hour to be served. "I had said in the review that they had taken a ridiculously long time to bring the food." Soon a surprising email popped up in Eric's inbox from the restaurant's owner asking him to take the review down. "He said that something along the lines of 'We're trying to make a go of it in this area, we all have families to feed,' and sort of trying to pray to my sympathies a little bit."
We found more and more businesses across the country are reaching out to customers who leave bad reviews, and they're not always trying to make amends. In an extreme case things got hot in the kitchen for an Atlanta restaurant earlier this year when it launched a Facebook and Twitter campaign identifying a customer who left a bad review and the food fight went viral. After the BBQ place posted a picture of the customer with some harsh words it eventually apologized.
Social media expert Patrick O'Malley explains the effect web posts now have on companies can make or break their reputation. "Word of mouth is more popular than its ever been and more powerful than its ever been. A single person can now go home and get on Facebook and tell 500 or 1000 people what they think of your restaurant."
The impact is immense. A recent Harvard Business School study found that a one star increase in a businesses' rating on the online review site Yelp leads to a five to nine percent boost in revenue for independent restaurants. "In the last few years it has changed the way we have done business," says TheFreshDiet.com founder Zalmi Duchman.
He contacts customers who leave poor reviews about his gourmet food delivery company and asks them to take them down. Duchman explains to them that having a 'not so hot' online reputation can hurt a business and even cause layoffs. Sometimes his reasoning doesn't work, but sometimes it does. "We've found in the past, the faster you react to the customer the better chance you're going to have to get that customer to remove their negative review because they see you take their comments and their feedback seriously."
"Companies are now on the defensive," says Gerry Polucci, founder of SmartParents.com. Polucci takes reaching out to customers of his company, which protects kids on social media sites, so seriously that he uses "Zendesk" software to track what people write about it on Twitter and Facebook. "When we find comments it allows us to engage directly with that person in a public manner to answer the question, respond to their concern, or counter their negative assertion."
Online review site UrbanSpoon.com encourages businesses and reviewers to connect. Senior VP of Publishing, Kara Nortman, warns customers that many companies take what they type very seriously. "For a small business their business is an extension of who they are. There's a real emotional connection to that. Consumers should remember that businesses do make mistakes. So if a company reaches out to you to make amends, it may be worth giving them a second chance."
There was no second shot for the restaurant Eric visited. The business didn't offer any kind of reason or incentive for him to come back and give them another shot and he responded he wasn't removing his review. "I thought it was a waste of time frankly on the part of the restaurant to do that."
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