Attack of the Killer Review

by Jim Williams

Killer-ReviewsApparently, there are those who don’t embrace the old adage: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

The list of players that support this dialogue has become intimately familiar to us in recent years: Facebook, Twitter, Google+ Local, Yelp, Angie’s List … and that’s really only scratching the surface.

In this age of nearly instant communication gratification through social media channels and online review sites, an irate customer or a consumer with an ax to grind can easily torpedo any business on the front line of the service industry. However, the reality is that there really aren’t hoards of angry villagers out there with pitchforks and torches ready to set fire to your good name. In fact, 75% of reviews posted on review web sites are positive, according to

So, how much do reviews matter in the whole scheme of things? The short answer: They matter, though just how much is harder to determine.

In a recent survey of nearly 2,500 consumers, 82% considered user-generated reviews valuable, and seven out of 10 folks consult a review and/or rating before making a purchase. This new online landscape can be fraught with land mines, says Mark Deuitch, founder and CEO of, a member-supported online dispute resolution service.


“If you look at social media, there’s a lot of confusion, a lot of fear and a lot of apprehension when a bad review goes up against, say, a contractor, for example.

One bad review can cost a contractor a huge amount of business. That’s the reality of it,” Deuitch says. “It only takes a very small percentage of bad reviews to ruin a business’ reputation. There are always two sides to every story.”

Finding a happy medium for those two sides is what Deuitch’s company, PeopleClaim, is all about.

“If something goes up on the web about you, there’s no easy mechanism for you to respond, clarify and tell your side of the story,” he says. “If both sides can tell their story, the impact of that commentary is much less. That’s one aspect that a lot of the sites do not allow or provide equal space for the contractor to respond.”

In a nutshell, Deuitch’s company helps facilitate communication between the two sides in an online dispute, with the expectation of settlement without mediation, arbitration or litigation.

“What we do is offer a way to use PeopleClaim to file a claim to tell your side of the story,” Deuitch says. “We’ll file your claim, which might state that [the site] has published bad content about your business, or content that you disagree with. The site is asked to take that content down—and in most cases, they’re not going to take it down—and then we will post your side of the story so it’s published online. So, if someone is doing a search for your name, and they see that negative review, they also see your claim against the site. This helps get both sides of the story out, and that’s half the battle.”


While it’s not an exact science as to why people write negative reviews; one thing is certain … they’re not happy campers. Peter Brissette, the self-proclaimed ‘digital marketing dude,’ has written extensively on the topic, most recently publishing a special report titled, Overcoming Negative Online Reviews: How to Survive a Digital Attack.

He says some of the specific factors include:

1 Not delivering on what you said you would do

2 For contractors, causing some kind of damage or other problems from the work you did

3 Not having a very clear understanding with the customer on the scope of work and costs

4 Assuming what you say and mean is what the customer actually understands (point No. 3)

5 Responsiveness when there is a problem, or delaying or ignoring it

6 Not training your staff on what they should do for customers and how to handle things

7 Failing to understand customer service as your No. 1 marketing tool

“That, and some people just like to complain,” says Brissette. “One study shows that out of all reviews, 0-star ratings are by far the most popular. Happy customers are not as motivated to give a positive review as a complainer or unhappy customer is to give a negative review.”

Brissette lumps most of these unhappy folks into one large angst-filled basket.

“For most, I think it is just the sense of being treated unfairly or not getting a response or any kind of resolution at all to a problem,” he says. “They obviously want something that they feel they didn’t get, and they want to leverage social media and reviews to try to get it. This is a more and more common scenario in a Web 2.0 world where any individual can make a big online stink about something to get a resolution they want.”


Doug Miller, president of SatisFacts, a division of Internet Brands, feels avoiding that negative review is predicated on good customer service.

“All the marketing in the world will not matter if customer service is poor,” Miller says. “As we say, the starting point for managing one’s online reputation is managing the customer experience.

“Regardless of the industry you serve, the drivers of customer satisfaction are those things that make it easy to be a customer,” he continues. “Simple things like promptly responding to calls and emails. Doing what you say you were going to do. Following up to make sure service delivery met expectations, and that there are no more outstanding issues. These are the things that drive customer satisfaction, and customer satisfaction drives ones online reputation.”

Miller’s colleague, Jen Piccotti, SatisFact’s senior vice president of education and training, points out that customers are going to tell more people about their negative experiences rather than their positive experiences.

“Only now, instead of just telling 20 people, they’re posting it online for a million people to see,” she says. “The key is to focus on prevention so that there is no reason for them to be broadcasting their negative experience.”


No business relishes the idea of getting a bad review, especially one posted on a popular online site that you know will get thousands of views. Brissette understands why it hurts, but it shouldn’t be viewed as all bad.

“Every review, negative or positive, should be used to evaluate your processes and how you deliver your service to a customer,” he says. “It is a good idea to have regular meetings with your team to discuss your reviews and talk about what can be done to make sure future reviews are all five star.

“There is a study from Pepperdine University that shows a business with a four or more star rating has an 80% likelihood that a prospect would initiate business with them. It drops dramatically for three stars to only 14%,” he continues. “If you want to be a 3-star business then I guess that’s okay, but if you are going to be doing business, why not be a 4- or 5-star business all the time?”


It’s a good idea to carefully consider your options before responding to an online review or complaint. Jamie Sternberg, Esq. and Stephen Modafferi, Esq., of Sacramento, California-based Kimball, Tirey & St. John—a firm specializing in landlord/tenant, collections, and business and real estate law—offer some step-by-step advice for handling an online review.

Review Guidelines. If negative information is posted, the first step is to review the web site’s guidelines, and determine if the web site operator provides any options to management.

Report Abuse. Some web sites have a ‘report abuse’ feature that may result in deletion of the posting if the poster doesn’t comply with the web site’s guidelines. and are examples of web sites with this feature.

Carefully, Respond. Some web sites allow reviewed businesses to respond to, delete and/ or edit reviews. If the web site allows the reviewed business to respond to a review, consider whether a response is a good idea. There are two trains of thought.

1) Some property managers choose to ignore negative reviews under the theory that negative reviews won’t affect their property, and/or that they are unlikely to win an war of words,’ and/or that by responding, they are lending credence to the complaint.

2) Other property managers choose to be more proactive, reasoning that prospective applicants are likely to use an online search to investigate the property before entering into a lease, and that a negative review may ‘turn off’ a prospect.

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