Reviews and the Problem of the Defensive Local Business Owner

You’re a local business owner who strongly identifies with your product or service and you hear negative feedback. What do you do?

Yelp counsels a “stop, drop and roll” approach to dealing with critical reviews. And many local SEOs and agencies have an array of advice on the subject. Among the recommendations:

–Ignore these reviews (unwisely)

–Write a response and give it to a friend to review before publishing anything

–Wait 24 hours before responding

–Respond to every positive and negative review — you’re writing for the larger audience — and express thanks for the feedback in your best Buddhist detachment voice

–If there’s a real problem reach out to the individual privately and try to resolve the matter

Among the things you’re not supposed to do is display overt hostility or defensiveness. But I recognize it’s very difficult for business owners not to get defensive when most work very hard and are sincere in their effort to deliver good service.

I’m fresh off an encounter with one such defensive business owner.

I was looking for someone to build a fence on my property. I went on Nextdoor to ask for a recommendation and peruse their listings. A couple of early responses recommended a particular local fence company. I checked it out on Yelp and it had largely positive reviews and so I contacted the company via Yelp’s request for quote system.

About 24 hours later the negative comments started coming in on Nextdoor — people who’d had dealings with the company and were unsatisfied (“I wouldn’t use them again”). There were multiple such responses, which are all pushed to me by Nextdoor.

I went back to the business and informed the owner about these concerns and negative comments (though not in specific detail). I said that while it gave me pause I’d be happy to have their estimator come out and take a look at the property.

The owner became agitated and defensive — this was all happening via Yelp in email — he said “I don’t recall any negative reviews of us on Nextdoor, but if that is your opinion, so be it . . . If you want to find another company, it’s a free market.”

This is essentially FU.

I went back and reiterated I would be happy to talk to the estimator and then (perhaps unwisely) I said I worked in digital media and suggested that it was better to investigate these issues than to dismiss them.

His final response to me was (FU): “It’s not a good fit” and he walked away. While the owner didn’t use expletives he was hostile and wasn’t really curious about what was being said about him. He also walked away from a job worth up to $10K potentially.

The upshot of this is that I now believe the critics were correct and I’m likely to relate this negative interaction when the business name comes up. If I were a jerk/crank I’d go on Yelp and write up my experience. But I won’t. I’m not angry.

Ironically, as a consequence, the business owner won’t know any of this, just as he was unaware of these dissatisfied customers on Nextdoor.

Word of mouth is like an iceberg (to the extent there are any left). Most of the activity is out of view of the business owner. Only a fraction of the public and customer base takes the time to write reviews. So it’s critical to take them seriously.

Word of mouth (online and off) remains the leading driver of business for SMBs. And while most customers will write positive reviews, for every negative or critical expression on Yelp there are others out there probably thinking the same thing.

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7 Responses to “Reviews and the Problem of the Defensive Local Business Owner”

  1. Nick says at

    It’s amazing that there are businesses who succeed with the types of attitude you describe. I also have experienced business like this and defensiveness and dismissive behavior is a one way stop to a failed business.

    You can only go on so long destroying relationships before business stops coming in altogether. Then people wonder why their business is failing when really it’s out there in plain site for everyone to see. And that is the problem, it’s out there for everyone to see but they’ve shut their ears and eyes to it all.

    Anyway, love the story. Definitely can relate.

  2. Greg Sterling says at

    Sure. You’re welcome.

  3. Guy Willett says at

    Thanks for an illuminating article on an issue I come up across a lot since I try to get small business owners to embrace reviews as both a way of promoting the great services they offer but also to understand where there may be room for improvement.
    To counterpoint the article and at the same time reflect on your points it’s revealing how many business owners are scared and consequently defensive of the impending negative reviews they may likely suffer. I do my level best to make them see it as a great opportunity for them to address the issues raised (after all for every negative review articulated there is normally many more that don’t bother to contact the owner of their dissatisfaction through these channels). Indeed, as you mention at the start of your article reaching out privately, first of all, can often result in a negative review being turned around (seen this on at least 2 occasions) or if this is no longer an option it’s a great opportunity to show your public audience how you’re prepared to actively address the issue with an offer or an acknowledgement how you’ve improved your service from what has been learnt along with an olive branch thanking them for their feedback.
    The corollary of this is the seeming complacency not to thank their clientele for positive reviews; as if this is just an expectation. It’s a plain courtesy to thank all for their feedback. Moreover, it’s a great opportunity to explain (in not too great detail) the efforts you undertake to make the offering of the standard that has been recognised.

  4. Greg Sterling says at

    On some level this is “human nature” and very difficult to change. People in larger organizations can take a different approach and may have a different attitude because they’re not so personally identified with the business/work.

  5. Larissa says at

    I agree with the commenter above that says it’s a “great opportunity to show your public audience how you’re prepared to actively address the issue with an offer or an acknowledgement how you’ve improved your service.”

    Recently in the media (in Spain) there have been a couple of business owners becoming online-famous on booking.com because they are not only aggressive to those who leave negative reviews, they have a sassy comeback for everyone. Now, while the media and commenters seemed to think the owners’ responses were hilarious, I think the effects of having a bad attitude towards negative reviews when you’re an owner can have very real effects on your business.

    Being in both the SaaS and SMB-service businesses we see a lot of reviews on Yelp and also on software review sites, and honestly I think that not only is it often evident when a negative review is unfair/super biased just by the text and tone of the reviewer, if the business comes out, replies to the commenter, gives context and addresses the issue, they have taken a correct approach which serves them well and can net them new customers.

  6. Justin Lewis says at

    Great write up Greg. The most difficult thing for me is when I see a business with 3 stars on Google, Yelp, Facebook, etc. and then when I go into the reviews.. they’re bogus or not related to the work. For example I’m working with a waterproofing company and one of the reviews posted on Google is 1 star and references a driver going over the speed limit. If we had to worry about these types of reviews almost every contractor in existence would have negative reviews. For the business owner it’s very difficult to not comment on these types of reviews, I’m just not certain if they should be flagged instead.

  7. Greg Sterling says at

    Fake reviews should definitely be reported/flagged.

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