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How to shut down bad online reviews

What can managers do to shut down bad online reviews? Here is a real example: 

It started at the Broadway Oyster Bar in St. Louis this February when Mary S., a Yelper, left the business with a one-star rating and a description of the negative experience she received in the restaurant. As a reference, the restaurant is now being monitored by Yelp for any content related to media reports, meaning some reviews have been or would be removed from the business's page on Yelp, but the restaurant has an overall 4.4 star rating from more than 900 Yelpers in March.
Mary went there for a birthday dinner. She claimed that she had a reservation for a party of nine people, but the party waited for two hours before they were finally seated. To make it even worse, because there were three additional people joining the party and the manager was unwilling to work with them, they would have to wait for longer to be seated together or be split up.
She then took the group of 12 people with her to a nearby restaurant, where she and her guests could enjoy a "FABULOUS dinner with EXCEPTIONAL CUSTOMER SERVICE"(in Mary's own words).
Then, the owner of the restaurant exercised his rights of responding to Mary's review on Yelp — for every comment left by a customer, managers are usually allowed to post one response. As a matter of fact, managers are highly recommended to post managerial responses to online reviews because their responses have significant positive impacts on the helpfulness of reviews as well as their business's financial performance.
The owner of the Broadway Oyster Bar pointed out the "real" facts on Yelp, including:
  • Mary did not have a reservation because the restaurant doesn't take reservations.
  • The party was waiting for one hour and half, but not two hours.
  • The party of nine was indeed squishing in a table for eight guests, but that was agreed to by the party.
  • Shortly after the party was seated, five additional guests (not three) joined the party.
  • Without asking for any assistance, the party helped themselves by getting more chairs from another part of the restaurant.
  • When 14 people sitting in a table for eight, some guests were actually sitting in the aisles or right next to other guests.
  • Because the party had infringed on other guests' personal space and the server found it difficult to serve the party in their current seating situation, the floor manager offered a separate table for those five additional guests, which triggered a fight between a member from the party and the staff, or "a heated argument with F-bombs" in the manager's words.
  • Some members of the party ended up staying and not going with Mary to another restaurant.
Later, Mary posted another review to respond to the manager's "real" facts:
  • Some members of her party stayed only because they had already ordered food and wanted to wait to take out their order so that they could join the party afterward in another restaurant.
  • "The rest of your inaccuracies were not even worth debating."
Now that you have read the reviews from Mary and the manager's response, which side will you take? Who presented the real facts?
More importantly, do you see how critical it is for the owner to respond to Mary's review? In a case like this, managerial responses can provide additional information from the business's perspective, allowing other customers to make an informed purchasing decision with an evaluation of both sides of the story.
In the end, I would like to make the following recommendations for managers who are ready to take an active role in responding to online reviews:
  • Listen to what customers say about your business, and treat online reviews as customer feedback.
  • Encourage satisfied customers to post positive reviews and let them be the advocates for the business.
  • Thank those "influential" customers who left positive reviews.
  • Stay calm when reading negative reviews; do not get emotional.
  • Focus on the facts, but not how you feel or how the guest felt when writing a response.
  • When more than one customer brings up the same issue, it is likely that the customer is right.
  • When the customer is right, acknowledge that and seek ways to address the issue. It is important to show that the management team is listening and working on the issue.
  • Understand the needs and wants of the target customers. Because different customers are seeking different types of product-service mixes, managers should adopt different tactics in responding to online reviews based on the unique characteristics their product carries.
What else should a manager do in responding to online reviews? What are your suggestions?
* Another version of this post was published in MultiBrief.com

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