How businesses should react to feedback on the Internet
© Cole Burston.
Dimitri Lokhonia is president of online flower shop Bloomex.
So when close to 20 per cent of the people who wrote about his new restaurant, gezellig, after it opened late last year were less than happy, it was something of a surprise.
Businesses have always had customers who, for one reason or another, aren’t satisfied. The only difference is that now, consumers have an audience as big as the Internet to broadcast their displeasure about a service.
Mr. Beckta said sites like TripAdvisor and Urbanspoon – where one customer said he felt “swindled” of $50 after eating at his restaurant – have created a whole new world for entrepreneurs like him.
“The online community of review sites has changed the conversation that used to go on between businesses and their customers, because often times instead of a customer complaining to the business directly, now they’re choosing to vent it online,” he said.
He added that, while the response to his new restaurant was surprising, it by no means spelled the end of its chances of being successful.
Given these conversations are now taking place in a public forum, Mr. Beckta said it’s more important than ever that businesses choose to react in an appropriate manner to complaints.
Business owners got a local example in how not to react to online criticism last year, said Francis Moran, a marketing strategist with Francis Moran & Associates.
That’s when a ByWard Market restaurant owner responded to a negative review by creating an online smear campaign against the author. Marisol Simoes, the owner of Kinki and Mambo, was found guilty of libel last November and sentenced to 90 days in jail and two years’ probation. She has appealed the decision.
Companies should instead realize that online reviews give businesses of the 21st century chances to learn that they didn’t have before the Internet, Mr. Moran said.
“The proliferation of these forums gives you the opportunity to learn about feedback – good or bad – and to address it,” he said. “And I think that’s a good thing: you now know what your customers thought about their experience.”
Mr. Moran recommended that business owners monitor what’s being said online about them as much as possible. This allows managers to address aspects of the business that might not be performing as well as they originally thought.
Owners should also try to deal with negative reviews on an individual basis, he said. Mr. Moran advises them to reach out to the reviewers and have a conversation in an offline environment.
Mr. Beckta said business owners need to get past taking online reviews personally. That means not trying to prove a point or belittling a customer’s criticism.
Instead, he looks at negative reviews as an opportunity to get someone back in the door who didn’t have a completely positive experience the first time.
He pointed to an e-mail he received from a customer this summer who didn’t like the cut of steaks his restaurant had available. His response was to ask her what her favourite was so they could bring it in the next time she comes in.
However, some businesses say there’s a fine line between customers with legitimate complaints and those who are simply never going to be happy.
Ottawa-based online flower shop Bloomex will always take responsibility if a customer isn’t happy with their product, said Dimitri Lokhonia, the company’s president. That includes cases where a customer has filled in their address wrong on the form.
But that can only go so far. Even though it’s only a very small percentage, Mr. Lokhonia said he’s seen cases of customers trying to steal from the company by asking for their flowers to be replaced even after they arrived as advertised.
The company receives about 20 online complaints out of the 200,000 sales it does every year, he said. That’s one of the reasons why he refuses to change how the company operates just because one or two people aren’t pleased.
When asked if he had any advice to businesses dealing with negative reviews online, Mr. Lokhonia said: “I would just do my job. The satisfied customers…(are) the people who will bring you business.”