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Getting Rid Of Negative Reviews – Before They Happen

Posted on August 8, 2011

I scooped into the bin of bulk sunflower seeds only to discover it was full of worms! I quickly reported it to the grocery store cashier in a hushed but urgent tone.

Her lackluster reply, “Oh.”

I proffered my debit card to the clerk at the convenience store, only to be told,

“Can you give me cash? I’m using the Internet and I don’t want to hook up the card machine.”

I walked into the quaint and pretty tea room and bakery behind a line of elderly ladies…

only to be greeted by the guttural strains of Metallica being blasted by a group of floury teenage boys.

I trotted up to the farm stand counter with my fresh produce where I encountered the cashier rubbing lip balm all over his shiny, open mouth with his fingers.

I almost couldn’t bear to hand him my cash.

I waltzed into my vacation rental, found it decorated in dead bugs and festoons of mold and phoned the owner.

Her careless reply, “Well, the guy I hired to look after the place is really falling apart.”

And nowhere to be found, a simple apology…

Friend and colleague, Mike Blumenthal, has published a very good post today entitled Review Management: 7 Tips on Avoiding Bad Reviews. In this post, Mike states that the three elements of a review management plan are: great customer service, ask for reviews, avoid negative reviews, and I would like to take a closer look at factors one and three as they relate to a point I have been making a lot of recent efforts to get across to worthy local business owners like you.

It’s all very well to suggest avoiding negative reviews. Wouldn’t we all like to do so? But how can you do it? In my opinion, your number one ally, protection and weapon against negative reviews is:

Staff Training

Sorry, no magic wand. It may sound old-hat and unglamorous, but so many of my interactions with workers in the service industries have convinced me to the soles of my feet that busy business owners are either totally skipping this vital step towards satisfactory customer service, or they are not monitoring their staff to see if good practices are actually being implemented. Be warned, failure to train staff is almost certain to result in negative reviews just like this:

“Unbelievably surprisingly poor service when things are not going great.

First, the waitress did not bring me a salad (everyone at my table could have a complimentary salad as part of a prix fixe). She said she gave it to someone else at my table, and blamed that person for taking the salad. Not bringing me the salad – that’s ok, she’s human, but she blamed someone else, not good.

Then, there was a water leak from the ceiling that first poured water all along my left leg, then when I moved over, I had the misfortune of putting my head under another water leak. The waitress did not handle this professionally at all, and found excuses rather than at least simply saying “sorry about that”.

Then, the waitress brought me the wrong entree. I ordered the gratin. There is a big difference between how one pronounces Gratin vs Duck or Canard. No big deal, right, it’s human to make a mistake taking an order. But then the waitress blames me, and says “I will bring you YOUR duck anyway”. Really?


The Formula For A Negative Review

Mistakes and accidents happen. Unless you hire robots, this isn’t something you can control. So let’s take a look at the telling elements that make this scenario such a predictable setup for the inevitable resultant negative review, the elements that could have been controlled with appropriate staff training:

  • The server blamed someone else
  • The server blamed the customer
  • The server did not know how to say I’m sorry even when a leak spouted right over the customer’s head

When you read as many reviews as I do, you will find that these elements are consistently cited as the cause of the negative review, and this reminds me that long ago, when the world was still young, I worked in retail and can attest that apart from training me to run a cash register, I never once had a boss offer to train me in the arts of serving the public. I was pretty much on my own, and unless your employees were raised by a mother as skilled in the teaching of Ps & Qs as mine, your business is in serious trouble. *See infographic below:

Staff Training To Combat Negative Reviews

One negative review isn’t going to put anyone out of business, but a pattern of neglect of staff training is putting your company’s reputation at certain risk for bad press, and I am positive that with all you’ve invested in your business, this isn’t what you want.

Mitigating The Risk Of Negative Reviews With Simple Training Techniques

Uno – Put out the chips and salsa and a pitcher of iced tea and be prepared to pay overtime for this if necessary.

Dos – Bring the entire existent staff together for an after-hours training session.

Tres – Role play every imaginable negative or tricky scenario that could happen in your business. Encourage staff to suggest their own scenarios and act them out – ones they’ve experienced on the job. Fly in the soup, item returned broken, unruly children at table, rude customer, intoxicated customer, shoplifter, staff shortage, etc. Make it 100% clear to every employee what your company’s acceptable methods and policies are for handling each of these situations. Don’t rely on them acting on gut instincts. Teach them how to behave in your business and strongly stress that the ability to say “I’m sorry,” when something goes wrong is a pre-requisite for keeping their job with you.

Cuatro – In the session, set expected standards for polite interactions. Make it clear that you expect eye contact, please and thank you. Encourage staff to be friendly and outgoing, but not to be overly personal or interfering during patrons’ time spent in the shop. Don’t expect that new staff members have pleasing manners. They may never have had the chance to learn them outside of this job. Set sanitary standards, too. Public grooming is not something most of us want to see, and we all feel better if we believe service employees wash their hands at appropriate times.

Cinco – Bring in the services of a medical professional for the night to give basic training in CPR and First Aid and be sure that every employee knows where emergency numbers and the first aid kit are located.

Seis – Ask employees if there is anything you can do to enable them to give more efficient or consistent customer service.

Siete – Teach every employee to say some version of this to patrons, “If there is anything that doesn’t meet with your complete satisfaction, please, just let me know. I’m here to serve you.” Make in-person complaints so easy for patrons that they are inclined to seek resolution at the time of transaction, rather than turning to the web to vent. That’s right – in addition to training your staff, you’ve got to train your customers to know that they can approach staff with problems to seek resolution.

Ocho – Repeat this training session at least once a year. If your staff turnover is accelerated at your business, these sessions will have to occur more often.

Nueve- Be IN YOUR STORE frequently enough to see if good practices are being put into place.

Diez – Be the absolute best example in your business of excellent people skills. Treat your staff and your patrons with consideration and courtesy at all times. You set the tone of your business and your employees are watching you.

The training session would also be a great time to implement a staff-wide positive review encouraging strategy, but the main point here is to make the effort to equip staff with the right words, gestures, actions and tools to handle the public well. In this way, your business will avoid much of the risk for the disappointment, shock and anger that is fueling the review world with volumes of complaints large and small right this minute.

You won’t be able to catch every customer before they walk out the door unhappy enough to write a negative review, but with a small but dedicated investment of your time put towards meaningful staff training, chances are, you will be stopping a meaningful percentage of negative reviews – before they happen.

Question For You: Already training your staff? What works for you? Other business owners will benefit if you take the time to share your tried-and-true techniques. Please share!

Categories: Local Content

8 Responses

  1. Mike Stewart:

    Great advice. It pays to treat people nicely and actually have employees that have an interest in the company reputation, not just their own. My most important asset is my reputation, my second is my skill. Thanks for a great post gal!


    11.08.2011 19:12 Reply

    • Miriam Ellis:

      Welcome to CopyLocal, Mike!
      It’s a pleasure to have you here and I’m so glad this post seemed on target to you. I think it’s a lot more challenging, these days, to inspire a feeling of real interest in the company reputation. Not long ago, the promise of seniority benefits and eventual pensions did much to give employees a sense of a long term stake in the business. Too often these days, it’s all whittled down to mere paycheck-to-paycheck survival, but even in this case, it certainly benefits every employee to keep the company going. Great words from you regarding the importance of your reputation.

      Please stop by again!

      11.08.2011 22:01 Reply

  2. Case Study: How to Deal with a Negative Review on Google Places | GROWMAP.COM:

    [...] NEW: Getting Rid of Negative Reviews Before They Happen [...]

    12.08.2011 16:08 Reply

  3. Gail Gardner:

    This post should be mandatory reading for every business owner, manager and employee. In the small towns I prefer to frequent instead of cities the level – or lack thereof – of knowledge about how to treat customers can be astounding.

    I recently ate at a restaurant where the waitress – I kid you not – had no clue at all about anything to do with serving someone dinner. She did not offer menus, or drinks – she had to prompted for everything. And when she finally brought dinner she forgot some of the order and silverware.

    While this was going on the manager was working but did not notice. I am willing to bet the other wait staff was well aware and that locals probably avoid sitting in her section.

    She may even wonder why the others get better tips or why people don’t want to sit in her area – but it is equally possible she is glad they don’t because she doesn’t want to work anyway. Quit likely she is related to the owners.

    Fortunately for them I am a champion of small business which have enough challenge without me writing negative reviews over incompetent service. I would have discreetly told the manager if I could have gotten her attention, but she was oblivious.

    Businesses – even tiny ones in small towns – need to learn how to treat their customers. Another restaurant I frequented was great when the owner wasn’t there but if he was his demeanor was so depressing you hated to go there. I suggested to the Manager that he recommend the owner stay away if they didn’t want to go under. It was that bad.

    Those are only two of the many instances of horrible service I’ve experienced. I do my best to share content like this post so that businesses have a chance.

    I just linked to this post from a guest post on how to deal with a bad review on Google Places today and am sharing it on social media. I’ll be sharing it regularly because businesses really need your tips.

    12.08.2011 18:21 Reply

    • Miriam Ellis:

      Welcome to CopyLocal, Gail!

      What a great comment, and I completely agree…small town or big city, employees must be trained to know what is expected of them, what behaviors are appropriate and how the business employing them wants them to handle things. Expecting them to know without actually telling them certainly is risky. It sounds like you are out and about with a keen awareness of how businesses are being managed, and I’m delighted this post seems good to share. Please, come again soon!

      12.08.2011 20:07 Reply

  4. Gail Gardner:

    Thank you for the warm welcome, Miriam. We’re both interested in promoting local so I hope we’ll become collaborators. Any time I can raise awareness for you just add @GrowMap to a tweet and I’ll take it from there.

    We are growing some excellent blogging collaborations and encourage bloggers to welcome and support small business. I’d love to hear from you any time you are seeking to place content for local businesses.

    We offer blog outreach and also introduce bloggers to others who are seeking to work with them. This comment links to some additional information about blog outreach and there are posts about blogging collaborations on my blog.

    13.08.2011 01:50 Reply

  5. Miriam Ellis:

    Thanks for letting me know about what you do, Gail, and for your kind offer. I appreciate it! Hope to see you here again.

    13.08.2011 10:44 Reply

  6. Gail Gardner:

    As I reread this post something important occurred to me. Businesses must be willing to fire bad employees. There is no getting around that. If you train them and they KNOW what to do, but their attitude is “who cares” – especially when no one is watching – or today even when the owner or manager IS watching – they need to go.

    I will choose an untrained person with a great attitude and manners who cares over a well-trained intelligent person who can not be trusted to act appropriately every time.

    What to do about relatives working in the business is a tougher nut to crack. Many family run businesses are not doing nearly the sales volume they could because one or more members of the family are either incompetent or just outright rude. Those issues rarely get addressed and they hurt the business for years or even decades.

    10.02.2012 18:40 Reply

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