You’ve seen them everywhere online, they are supposed to guide you into making better buying decisions, but reviews are a big business nowadays and learning more about how to use them and interpret them can save you big bucks in the future. I was recently interviewed by Primer Impacto, the most highly rated news magazine in Spanish speaking TV on the subject of online reviews and it was very informative, so here is a handy primer on reviews in a little bit more detail.
The main online reviews sites are Google My Business and Yelp even though you can find reviews on Facebook and many other niche review sites. If you are a car dealer, there are review sites specializing in your industry, there are sites like Trip Advisor that specialize in hotels and of course, online retail giants like Amazon have made it a crucial part of their business.
E-commerce sites are expected to have reviews incorporated but the bridge between the online world and your brick and mortar business can be a painful one.
Yelp was the pioneer in the space, but Google came in strong leveraging their total dominance of search results. When you do a Google search for any local business, a pane appears on the right side of the search results with the relevant information about that business.
Yelp has been crucial to many businesses, especially in the restaurant industry. They started with restaurant reviews and they then branched out into other specialties.
I think these sites are a major double-edged sword, both for consumers and for small business owners. Consumers are duped by business owners that know how to manipulate the review process and business owners are at a disservice by dishonest consumers that try to take advantage of the process, are rude or just misleading when they write their reviews. In both cases, there is very little recourse since these sites have almost non-existent customer support systems, everything gets done via e-mail and there is no real ability to appeal a decision.
Interestingly enough, I recently had a bad experience with a financial company and when I went online to try to give them a review, I found that they don’t have reviews enabled on their Google My Business site or even Facebook. Wow, I should have started my search there but got distracted by their offer, which turned out to be misleading, surprise, surprise.
Every business has a percentage of transactions where customers have, or feel they have, a negative experience. Too many negative experiences and you go out of business, that simple. A not so long time ago before the internet and social media, the world relied on word of mouth but now the word gets out at the speed of a click about negative or positive experiences.
Here is some advice
Forget the positive reviews
If you really want to know what you may face when dealing with a business, don’t even read the positive reviews. Why? Very simple, savvy businesses utilize services such as Reputation.com, Yot.Po and many others that allow them to request reviews automatically to customers once a transaction is finished, this facilitates and encourages for the everyday or normal transactions that any business has to receive a higher rating or five-star reviews. This pretty much buries the bad reviews that might actually tell you something about the problems that a business faces. If you see the same problem or complaint buried in the negative reviews, you are more than likely to encounter it.
Do your Due Diligence
For this, you might be required to so some reading. This is not a big deal for a small transaction like going to a restaurant but it’s crucial for things like buying a house, a car or other major transaction. Spend a little time and try to understand what people are complaining about on the review sites. The stars are not enough, you need to get specific to see if this issue might affect you personally.
Check multiple review sources
It’s not a secret that reviews are manipulated so try more than one source. Go to Google, Yelp, Trip Advisor and the Better Business Bureau but be very careful with some of the other industry-related review sites since many of the industry specific sites actually make money from the same businesses that they are supposed to be evaluating. They are not fraudulent, but they find creative ways to show businesses with real problems in a good light.
When leaving a review, be honest about your experience with the business, you don’t have to exaggerate it, if it was 4 stars because it wasn’t perfect, then it was, don’t sugarcoat it. It’s funny because most of the reviews I see online are either one star or five stars, people usually love it or hate it, there are a lot less reviews in the middle than at the extremes so use that as a guide.
You might be angry with a business you had a horrible experience with but be careful and stick to the facts to make sure you have a defendable position. Business owners have been known to file lawsuits against reviewers in the past and although it’s rare, it’s something to keep in mind.
It’s good to leverage the experience of others and learn about businesses before spending your hard-earned money so try doing the same and documenting your experiences. You’d be surprised how much you can help neighbors, local businesses and your community in the process.
Reviews are here to stay and we need to learn how to live with them so we better learn how to leverage them to our advantage. Do your homework before you visit the business, compare several sites and do a little reading, you are going to save time, money and avoid many negative experiences that you didn’t need to have. After all, life is short so why not do business with the people that care? A no brainer. You’re welcome.