Today’s consumers can quickly become online critics. They can log into Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google+, or Facebook and write a review of your business for all the world to see. Sometimes, you get a confidence-building five-star review, and you get up and give everyone in the office a high five. Sometimes, though, you get a bad review, with a single lonely star.

And it hurts. It feels like a punch in the gut. How can anyone say such things about your baby?

The thing is, you can’t please everyone. The quicker you realize that negative reviews are unavoidable, the better equipped you’ll be at handling situations in which you receive one. However, not all small business owners are smart and savvy when it comes to responding to criticism; they may even have a knee-jerk reaction that only ends up fueling the fire. Not everyone is aware, either, of the impact that reviews and review responses may have on their business reputation.

If you are on the receiving end of a negative review, here are five mistakes to avoid:

Mistake #1: Losing Your Temper

It’s natural and reasonable to get defensive when a customer brings up an unresolved complaint in his or her online review. You’ve shed copious amounts of blood, sweat, and tears for this venture! But regardless of whether the review is fair or not, you have to resist lashing out. Don’t let it get ugly. An angry response drives potential customers away and can cause long-term damage to your reputation.

Look what happened to Boners BBQ in Atlanta. Its owners weren’t happy about what customer and Yelper Stephanie S. said in her negative review, so they went on Facebook and issued a cringe-worthy response, complete with five-letter expletives and customer-shaming photos. Needless to say, the response created a social media backlash and drove away future customers who didn’t like how management could be so incredibly rude to its paying customers.

Mistake #2: Stifling Criticism Through Legal Action

A number of business owners have sued customers in an attempt to censor negative reviews and social media criticism. Last year, a hotel in Hudson, New York began to charge guests $500 for every bad review. Then, just a few weeks ago, a shades and blinds company in Chicago filed a libel lawsuit against a couple of review writers. These actions have caused a kind of Streisand effect, unintentionally generating publicity and inciting vigilant consumers to post more one-star reviews on these companies’ respective profile pages. Trust me: you don’t want that.

Mistake #3: Being Too Proud To Say “Sorry”

Some business owners simply refuse to apologize, but the truth is that negative reviews are often the result of customers feeling like their concerns went unheard, so they go online to vent. Saying sorry is therefore the least you can do. By owning up to your mistakes, you can convince people that you’re not a big bad company that can’t take criticism. Even in cases where the complaint isn’t legit, apologize anyway. Do your best to prevent the interaction from getting testy, and don’t feel like you have to have the last say on the matter.

Take a cue from the Grand del Mar, one of the top luxury hotels in San Diego, whose management is extremely savvy and patient with responding to bad reviews. “Thank you for taking the time to share your valuable review,” reads one of the hotel’s responses on TripAdvisor:

“The experiences you described are not characteristic of the level of service our colleagues strive to provide, and we apologize your stay was unsatisfactory. Your feedback was shared with our team, and we look forward to the opportunity to welcome you back and exceed your expectations.”

Take note, too, that the response was signed under the name of the company president.

Mistake #4: Ignoring the Conversation

Another mistake to avoid is acting unfazed and unaffected in the face of a bad review, to the point of completely ignoring the implications of a problematic customer experience. But those reviews aren’t going to go away, and their presence may influence the purchase decisions of your potential customers.

In order to minimize the impact of a negative review, you must reach out and engage with the reviewer—either publicly or privately—and provide resolution-driven responses. Show that you care. Be as quick as you can when addressing customer feedback. Leaving it until later can cost you the opportunity to positively change the conversation between you, the person who wrote the review, and the rest who will read it.

One standout example is this New Mexico food truck’s response to a one-star review. When a customer criticized her business on Yelp, Amy Black of the Supper Truck in Albuquerque attempted to reach out and say sorry. “But I never heard anything back,” she said. So she teamed up with her musician friends, wrote an “I’m sorry” song, and posted the music video on YouTube. “I was just thinking, ‘How can I win this person back?’” said Black. “And we try to be creative and have fun.” You don’t have to write a catchy song for a bad review, but you definitely have to engage and proactively find ways to address your customers’ feedback.

5. Offering Rewards or Gifts

You can’t buy your customer’s goodwill by offering gifts in exchange for a positive review or the removal of a negative review. Not only is this practice frowned upon by all major review sites; it might also alert regulators who are cracking down on businesses that “incentivize” reviews and effectively violate the FTC’s guidelines on the use of endorsements. If you’re hoping to reward or win over customers in some way, do so with brilliant service. You can never go wrong if you provide great customer experiences.

In the age of Yelp, reviews can make or break a business; but equally important is your ability to respond to these reviews and solve customers’ problems. Avoiding these common mistakes above can turn your reputation around and make it five-star worthy—ensuring nothing but high-fives all around.

Be sure to check out our other posts from Chris on managing your online reputation, “8 Tips and Tricks For Building a Winning Reputation” and “6 Keys to Successful Customer Engagement in a Multi-Screen, Omni-Channel World.”


Chris Campbell is the CEO of ReviewTrackers. He has helped tens of thousands of businesses hear, manage, and respond to what their customers are saying online.

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“It takes twenty years to build a reputation, and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

– Warren Buffet

Buffet’s quote perfectly describes the fragile nature of a business’ reputation in the modern world. In today’s mobile and social media age, consumer opinions can be shared and spread conveniently with a single mouse click or screen tap. An off day, an insufficiently trained employee, a late delivery, a politically incorrect tweet, or a small error can explode into a PR crisis—leading to scathing reviews, one-star ratings, nasty blog comments, and social media criticism.

As a small business owner, you may feel like you don’t have the time and money to invest in comprehensive reputation management solutions. Yet don’t think for one second you have no control over what customers are saying about you, because you do. Here are eight great tips and tricks to help any small business owner get started with building a winning business reputation.

1. Plant flags on your digital properties

Start with a website, but don’t stop there. Continue by securing your business name across the web and claiming your business page or profile on social networks, online forums, local business listings, community sites, local search networks, and online review sites. If you don’t have a listing, create one. This will allow you to listen in on and join online conversations about your business, wherever these conversations are taking place. A great tool I’d recommend for claiming your social media profiles and securing your brand name is KnowEm, while my company, ReviewTrackers, specializes in helping businesses listen and manage customer conversations on all major review sites.

2. Keep your business information up-to-date

On your digital properties, make sure your local business information is complete, accurate, and up-to-date. Your business name, phone number, and address are of paramount importance, but don’t forget to include other helpful information such as website URL, email address, operating hours, business category, and list of products and services, among others. At a time when 37 percent of businesses don’t even have the correct name on their listing (effectively losing a total of $10.3 billion in potential annual sales), paying attention to these details can mean the difference between gaining a customer or losing one to a competitor. Make the effort and spare your potential customers the frustration of having to look elsewhere.

3. Show your social media savvy

Social media serves as a great platform for engaging with existing and potential customers. Build a community of fans and followers on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, then keep them updated with news about your company or information about new products and services.

4. Listen and respond to online reviews

Online reviews and ratings of your business on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google+, Foursquare, and other community-based review sites can give you valuable insights into what and how customers really think. So listen in and identify any issues, concerns, and weaknesses reviews may be able to point out. Also, take the time to respond, even if it’s just a simple “thank you” or “I’m sorry”: this shows customers that you care about their feedback and that you consistently strive to make things right.

Check out the Palomar Chicago’s TripAdvisor page, for example, and observe how management responds to reviews posted by guests who didn’t necessarily have a positive experience. To someone who didn’t have a good night’s sleep at the hotel, front office manager Joseph Eames responded,

“Thank you for taking the time to review our property. We rely heavily on the feedback in forums like this to point out places we can improve upon. A basic component of a hotel stay is obviously a good night’s sleep. I’m very sorry to hear that this wasn’t your experience with us, and invite you to reach out to me directly to discuss the matter further.”

The response simple, straightforward, and effective, creating an opportunity for the business to positively change its conversation with a customer.

5. Create and share positive content

If your reputation is taking a hit—say, a bad Yelp review or a vicious critic’s blog post is showing in search engine results—you can minimize the negative impact by creating and sharing positive content. This can be in the form of blog posts, photos, videos, ebooks, newsletters, whitepapers, and even podcasts—digital assets that build your credibility, improve your visibility, and enhance your reputation.

6. Minimize jargon and marketing buzzwords

Today’s consumers are more proactive than ever, and they’re less trustful of corporate speak, sales pitches, marketing buzzwords, and promotional messages. That’s why it’s so important to make adjustments to the tone and language of your communications with customers. If you’re writing tweets, responding to reviews, or publishing a new blog post, choose words your customers understand and use. This allows you to humanize your business brand and engage more effectively with your audience.

7. Have a sense of humor

When it comes to building a winning reputation, one of the biggest challenges for a small business owner today is to cut through all the noise and stand out. You’ve got to give people a reason to notice you. Even if you’re an insurance agent or the marketing manager of a nondescript auto parts shop—even if the services you’re offering are not terribly exciting—you have to find ways to distinguish yourself from the competition. One such way is by making people laugh.

Whatever the form it takes—a funny tweet, an amusing anecdote, a meme-filled blog post—humor humanizes your business. (Check out, for example, Eat24’s Bacon Sriracha Unicorn Diaries.) It can soften the hearts of even your harshest critics and toughest reviewers. Humor is a universal language that can bridge the gap between you and the customers with whom you want to connect.

8. Be authentic

Authenticity can make you sexy and irresistible. These days, too many business owners try too hard to build up their reputation and generate five-star ratings across the board, even to the point of hiring writers in India or the Philippines to post fake reviews. But this isn’t sustainable. Focus your efforts instead on delivering excellent service and creating positive experiences for your customers. By doing so, the buzz will build itself around your business.

Key to all these tips is the belief that you have the ability to manage and influence what customers are saying about you. Don’t sit back, thinking it’s out of your control. Be proactive in finding creative ways to build and strengthen your reputation, as well as protect it in situations that could otherwise drive customers away.

Be sure to check out our other posts from Chris on managing your online reputation, “Avoid These 5 Mistakes When Responding To Negative Reviews” and “6 Keys to Successful Customer Engagement in a Multi-Screen, Omni-Channel World.”


Chris Campbell is the CEO of ReviewTrackers. He has helped tens of thousands of businesses hear, manage, and respond to what their customers are saying online.

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hmm...

Every receptionist has been met with a confused or flustered caller at one time or another. The hesitations and pauses can feel awkward and cause conversation to become strained. We’ve found hesitations like these are often teeny, tiny cries for help—the perfect opportunity to jump in and fulfill an unexpressed need.

In this month’s episode of the “Paging Dr. Ruby: The Video Series”, Dr. Ruby explains how to use these moments of hesitations to your advantage by offering to take the next step.

“Paging Dr. Ruby” is a monthly videocast dedicated to sharing tips on improving communication and making personal connections. You can view other episodes in the series on our blog, or subscribe to our YouTube channel to receive updates whenever a new video is uploaded.

How would you like your question to be featured on a future episode of Paging Dr. Ruby? To submit your question, share it in the comments below, tweet us @callruby, or send us an email.

If you found this article helpful, could you hit the Share/Save button below so others can benefit from it too? Thanks for sharing!

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As I perused the National Small Business Week hashtag last week (#NSBW15), I came across a tweet from Square that really struck me.

small is big

90% percent! I knew there had been a surge in small businesses in the last decade, but I had no idea the percentage was so high. As Square points out with their own hashtag, clearly small can (and does!) make a big impact.

The Changing Customer Landscape

Tell me if you’ve heard this one. A small, mom-and-pop store that’s been around for ages suddenly faces extinction when the big, bad box-store comes to town. Customers are lured away by the inventory, discounts, and sheer square footage of the chain store, leaving the family-owned business in the dust.

It’s a classic tale, but not one that holds up with today’s consumer. Studies have shown customers’ buying decisions are no longer driven solely by price. In fact, a 2010 study by Harris Interactive found 9 out of 10 Americans are willing to pay more to ensure a superior customer experience. Based on this information, it comes as less of a surprise that small businesses are on the rise. The battle for customers is no longer being fought with discounts and sales, but with human connections and quality service—classic strengths of small business.

It’s the Small Things That Count

If perception is everything, then small businesses are already winning on the customer service front. 80% of Americans agree that smaller businesses place a greater emphasis on customer service than large companies. Your customers are already coming to you with a higher level of trust than they would a large business, so it’s up to you to deliver.

Share Your Passion
After the homepage, the most commonly viewed page on a company’s site is the ‘About Us’ page. Potential customers want to know who they are doing business with, so give them the opportunity to connect with you as a individual. Use real photos of you and your office. Share why you got into your industry, and what about the field excites you. Be open and honest about your company’s mission and values. Giving customers the opportunity to get to know you starts the relationship building even before the first email or call.

Focus on Relationships
Small businesses have a distinct advantage over large companies in that they are better able to build one-on-one relationships with their customers. Remember, loyal customers are worth up to 10 times as much as their first purchase, so taking the time to send a personalized card for unique occasions (not just birthdays), or spending a few minutes asking about their recent vacation, pays off in the long run. Add an area in client files for special information and update this area periodically. Knowing a client is an avid runner, or that they have a dog named Clementine, gives you a jumping off point for connecting with that customer on a personal level.

Pay Attention to the Details
I love the company that boards my dog. A day or two into her stay, they will text me a picture of her hanging out in the play area, just to let me know she’s doing okay. On special holidays, they personalize things like ornaments or bandannas for both me and my dog. Even their receipts are personalized, with a little story from her visit. I could board her cheaper elsewhere, but it’s these little things that keep me coming back. Consider the details of your business you may have overlooked. Everything from your hold music and business cards, to your invoices and email signature presents an opportunity to provide a unique customer experience.

National Small Business week may be over, but the power small businesses possess only continues to grow. Customers already believe you are better equipped to provide excellent service, so now it’s up to you to rise to the occasion. Keep up the good work and remember, there’s nothing “small” about what you do!

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Michael Folling, Marketing Manager

Dream Big. Start Small.” That’s the motto of the 2015 National Small Business Week, and we are celebrating our clients who live that motto every day.

ActivityRez has been a Ruby client for more than three years, and we’ve seen them grow a great deal in that time. We chatted with Marketing Manager Michael Folling about ActivityRez’s work helping small businesses in the tourism industry. Continue reading “Client Spotlight: ActivityRez”

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celebration

Being an “Ambassador of First Impressions” is a tough job. You must be articulate, professional, decisive and, most importantly, utterly delightful. Our receptionists are highly trained in the art of human interaction and enjoy going above and beyond for our clients. It is through their hard work and dedication that Ruby has become a leader in delivering exceptional customer experiences, so it’s important to us they feel valued and appreciated for the meaningful work they do.

Last week we announced we would be increasing our starting wage for receptionists to $15 per hour. Additionally, receptionists will now receive regular wage bumps based on their time with Ruby, increasing to $16 per hour after one year and upwards of $19 per hour after four years. The announcement, which was delivered at our quarterly staff meeting by CEO Jill Nelson, has been met with widespread enthusiasm—not only from Ruby staff, but from the community as well. We are very thankful for the outpouring of support we have had from our clients and fellow businesses.

Our new wage structure joins many other programs we have in place that seek to incent, inspire, and empower employees each and every day. From our annual Happiness Journal challenge and “Five at Five Sabbaticals,” to our WOW Station and in-house fitness programs, we are always looking for ways to practice our values of Fostering Happiness and Creating Community within our own walls, so our staff is well-prepared to do the same for our clients.

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*Ruby is delighted to offer a money-back guarantee to first time users of both our virtual receptionist service and our chat service. To cancel your service and obtain a full refund for the cancelled service (less any multi-service discount), please notify us of the service you wish to cancel either within 21 days of your purchase of that service or before your usage exceeds 500 receptionist minutes/50 billable chats, as applicable, whichever occurs sooner.