Good Brand Reputations are Earned, Not Faked.

Yes peeps, it’s all over the inter-newses:  NY regulators undertook a year long investigation into companies that sell fake reviews and the companies that buy them, and fined several companies for the deceptive practice.

What the NY regulators are doing is very important – these fake review services are deceptive practices that contribute to consumer fraud. Consider this snippet from this NY Times article:

US Coachways, another company in the investigation, is a charter bus service based in Staten Island. If a prospective customer were to look on Yelp, she might get the sense that this is not an outfit she would want to hire.

“This company basically ruined what was otherwise a great trip,” wrote a typical reviewer in 2012. Currently, the company has 14 reviews averaging one star. It is not possible to get much lower than this.

Edward Telmany, US Coachways’s chief executive, was upset about the low ratings, according to the formal Assurance of Discontinuance he signed with the attorney general’s office.

“We get bashed online,” Mr. Telmany wrote, accurately, to his employees on Nov. 20, 2011. “We are loosing [sic] money from this.”

His response was not to fix the problems that customers were citing, like buses never showing up, but to begin a full-fledged effort to get fake reviews. Mr. Telmany hired freelance writers, mandated that his employees write favorable reviews and even pitched in himself. He posted a five-star review on Yelp that began, “US Coachways does a great job!”

Neither Mr. Telmany nor a spokesman for US Coachways could be reached for comment on Sunday. The company agreed to pay $75,000 in fines and stop writing fake reviews.”

Instead of fixing what was wrong, the US Coachways guy spent money on fake reviews that ultimately ended up costing him $75,000 and a big negative hit to the US Coachways brand and reputation. He could have spent that money on researching and implementing solutions to the problems the reviewers complained about, but noooooo. Instead, Mr. Telmany’s actions sent out a very public message that US Coachways doesn’t care about its customers. 

Actually caring about your customers and their experiences will take you much further than deception!


What Reputation Were You Going For Again?

Somehow, some companies who are suffering from bad reviews come to the conclusion that the way to cultivate a good reputation is to buy fake great reviews to combat the bad ones, rather than listening to their customers’ compliments and complaints, valuing their feedback, and then taking that valuable feedback and looking at ways to improve their service.  Really?  Because getting caught buying fake reviews will cultivate a reputation for you, just not the one you were hoping for.  Go ahead, put another PR nail in your own branded coffin!


Don’t Get Mad, Get Analytical

I challenge you business bloomers out there to look at negative reviews from another perspective:

1.  Value the feedback!  Legitimate reviews from legitimate customers are bringing you a wealth of information. The kind of focus group feedback information that companies pay for! So consider  your negative reviews as a feedback tool to indicate where your business is doing well and what areas might be improved.  Are you getting lots of negative reviews for customer service?  Don’t take it personally.  Instead, gather them all together and look at what those negative reviews have in common – this can give you key insights as to where your customer service policies might be studied and revised to improve the customer service experience.  Don’t get mad, get analytical.

2. Take Them Seriously – Again, look for the most common content among your reviews. See a particular service mentioned over and over again in a positive manner?  Highlight and promote that service!  See a particular service that gets negative reviews over and over again?  Review and revise that service. Watch the comments that come after – are they still negative, or have they improved?  Have the negative reviews been reduced? Reviews sites can be great marketing tools both for the good reviews they may generate and for the information they bring you about what your customers are saying and feeling about your business.

3. Actually Mean It When You Say It – If people see the same canned response about “how sorry we are and how we value your opinion” over and over again on negative reviews but no actual solutions offered, they will think you are just putting a response out because that’s what you’re supposed to do, and that indicates you don’t actually care about them.  Instead, make your response personal and sincere, and back it up with action.

4. Follow-Up and Turn It Around – Most people are very forgiving when they feel they are being taken seriously and that customer service really is trying to help resolve their issue. In fact, good customer service can turn a negative review into a glowing ‘thank you for making it right’ review. If I get bad service, but the company recognizes and acknowledges my pain and then does something to make it better, I leave that situation thinking “they really made me happy in the end, I wish everyone had this kind of customer service,” and I will go back to them again.  However, if I get bad service and the company instead marginalizes my pain and says I should have researched more or read the package better, even if they are right, then I won’t use them again but I will give a bad review for customer service. That’s just the way it is, human nature.

Also, consider this – think about what it looks like to the public when they see:

1. bad review / complaint

Now in response, the public could see:

2. business owner responds “thanks for your valuable feedback – we took it seriously and implemented change A, program B and customer survey C to address it! Please come back again and let us know how we’re doing”

Or they could see this:

3. business owner responds “sorry you were unhappy but this is on you, you brought it on yourself because you did(n’t) _________”

Let’s go out on a limb here and say the #3’s reviewer never goes back 😛

In #2, the viewing public watched as the business owner provided great customer service by acknowledging and validating the reviewer’s experiences and feelings, valuing their feedback, and then fixing something to make it better for any future customers. They also saw the person who originally complained invited to give them another chance and provide feedback again, not discounted and debated. The public is going to leave this review thinking this is how companies should respond, and will have a favorable impression of the business’s dedication to customer service.

As An Example 

I searched, and searched, and searched, and finally found a response I thought was pretty good. But I gotta tell ya, during the course of my searching for a good example to show you, I came across so many examples of how not to respond that I’m now adding a presentation on how to respond to negative reviews to my “to create” list!  But I digress…so here is the example, just a screenshot from a TripAdvisor page:

Trip Advisor Review Response


What I liked about this response:

1. Tim first thanked the reviewer for staying at the hotel and leaving a review

2. Tim acknowledged the reviewer’s pain and offered apologies for it.

3. Tim was concerned and his action backed up his response – he actually investigated, and found out about the exception permit. The important thing here is Tim showed he cares about the customer’s complaint.

4. Tim expressed a desire to do better and make things right for the reviewer, should he or she decide to give the Warwick another try.

These things lead me to think that this hotel manager really does take an interest in how the guests are treated and the hotel is run, and that if I were to go there I would be able to get some help should some problem arise. Maybe I wouldn’t base my whole ‘where to stay’ decision on that, but it is certainly a factor that weighs in along with the other reviews, number of reviews and average ratings.

Some Things You Just Shouldn’t Fake

In summary, in order to create and cultivate a good reputation and positive brand identity, you have to offer quality goods and responsive customer service.  If you try to bypass this with something shady like buying fake reviews, you will be caught, and the resulting attention will only add further to a bad reputation.  Word does get around, and fake reviews are only a momentary ego stroking that will be short lived and when you are caught, your reputation will be damaged.

It’s far better to value the feedback you get and, when called for, act upon it to review and revise policy to create improved customer experiences. If you need some guidance in learning how to address and conquer bad reviews, I can help. Contact me here or check out my consulting services page.