In a world where information is easily accessible from the palm of your hand, reviews play a significant role in the lives of customers as well as businesses.
The data from websitebuilder.org showed that 95 percent of customers today read reviews online about a business.
“I would say that the typical business is very review conscious. The current culture is different from the older one. In the old days, if you didn’t like a restaurant’s food or service, you would just think to yourself, ‘I don’t think I would come here again.’ These days, so many people will go online and write a bad review,” Deborah Bruton, owner of Family Lodge Apartments said.
Bruton has owned and operated her business since 1968 and says it’s been a positive change that people can access information about businesses online nowadays.
“People are more prone to go online and air their complaints to the world, so I would say the average business owner is very acutely aware of reviews,” she said.
Her business has a good rating on Google with 4.6 stars, and she attributes that to the product and living quarters they offer and the care her team has for their residents.
“We really try to provide them with a place to live that we would want to live,” Bruton said. “The majority of our reviews are very positive, so when I get an occasional negative one, the public can see that the reviews are real, and it gives credibility if you have an occasional negative one.”
She said it’s not possible to please people all the time and negative reviews are bound to happen once in a while.
“But if I looked online and the only thing I ever saw as a consumer was all five stars and nothing below that, I would wonder if the business had paid the reviewers or if the reviewers were the owner’s relatives, and it would call into question the credibility. So for me, I don’t mind having a negative one every once in a while,” Bruton said.
FTCC’s Dean of Business Programs Cindy Burns says she likes to know of other people’s experiences before she chooses a service or goes somewhere and looks for the five-star as well as one-star reviews for comparison.
“If you only had 10 one-star but 500 five-star reviews, obviously that means something,” Burns said. “I also look at how old they are when I am going to a hotel, because reviews written seven years ago may not be as relevant as those from seven months ago.”
According to the World Economic Forum, the influence of fake online reviews on e-commerce translates into a $152 billion global impact. The website also stated that about 4 percent of all online reviews are fake.
FTCC’s Director of Innovation & Entrepreneurship Kent Hill says if someone has all reviews that are five stars, nobody will take the item seriously; it takes away some degree of reality.
“I think the best customer experience companies, for example, Publix and Chick-fil-A, even get some negative reviews,” he said. “Negative reviews do give validity and a typical consumer can tell a fake review from a regular one.”
Burns emphasizes the importance of responding to all kinds of reviews for business owners.
“Even if they left not a great review, always be professional, polite and apologize for their bad experience and thank them for feedback. Don’t blame them or anyone else. Don’t argue with them,” she said. “You don’t get defensive. What you do is you try to show your consumers that you care about what they think and their experiences and [that] you want to improve.”
Bruton said if sees management respond defensively to the reviews, that tells her that as a consumer they will do the same to her if she has a problem.
“I think it’s important for business owners to respond to all reviews, and depending on the nature of the problem, I might say, ‘Thank you for your feedback,’ or ‘I am sorry you did not have a five-star experience. We pride ourselves on customer service,’” Bruton said.
In difficult situations where the complaint isn’t legible, Bruton says she responds to them by saying she hopes they found suitable accommodations to meet their needs. She says she doesn’t fight back or say anything negative.
Bruton recalls a negative review by a tenant who lived in her community for three years. He said in a review that management was giving him trouble over rules he hadn’t heard of before for an extra car in the parking lot.
"In reality, he had seven cars in the apartment community, and he didn’t mention that in the review, and I thought I could blast him back but I decided to say, ‘Sometimes people’s hobbies and lifestyles aren’t a good match for an apartment community. Maybe it’s better suited to a personal home, and that’s okay,’” Bruton said.
Burns says it’s important to know what’s being said about your business.
“If there is something somebody is saying that is negative, you want the opportunity to show you want to make it right,” she advises. “I would suggest you don’t want to do it online. You want to take it offline. Get a phone number or email address.”
“If you have evidence of a fake review, you can ask that the platform take it down. You need evidence for it,” Burns added.
“A lot of them may not do that right away, but if you can show it was fraudulent or fake, then you can ask them to.” She encourages people to monitor their businesses and set up alerts so Google will send an email when the name of their business gets mentioned on the internet.
“A lot of customer service has died, and it’s important for young businesses starting out to focus on relationship building,” Bruton said. “I like residents to come into my office to pay bills, and I find out what’s going on with them. If they’re having any problems with their apartments that I need to address, If they’re having a surgery we’ll run an errand for them — we’re about relationship building. And, if you do that, you’re going to have raving customers who come back to you, and they will write good reviews.”
Steps that businesses can take when being affected by fake or negative reviews are, number one to respond without getting into an argument and number two to use it as feedback, Hill said.
Burns advises new businesses to encourage their customers to write reviews for them.
“When you have a satisfied customer, please ask them to put out a review or testimonial for you because people will either love you or hate you and well you don’t want just the ones that are mad or angry at you to just be the only ones speaking,” Burns said.
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