Time: A Business Owner’s Best Weapon Against Negative Yelp Reviews

By Todd Bacile, Ph.D. | October 14, 2014

Negative Yelp Reviews

Negative Yelp reviews are a concern for business owners. The cause for worry is due to various studies illustrating that negative online reviews can decrease consumers’ purchase intent and can decrease revenue by sizable amounts.Hate us on Yelp

My research on social media complaints and the impact of consumer-generated comments directly relates to Yelp. Negative Yelp reviews came up in a discussion at an industry conference where I was the keynote speaker discussing social media’s impact on business.

“What can we do?,” asked a small business owner, who was concerned that the negative comments would impact her business. Her concern is legitimate.

The Problem of Negative Reviews

Negative reviews generally have a greater impact on a person’s perception of a business versus positive reviews. This negativity-bias can be traced to economics’ and psychology’s theory of loss aversion, where a loss (i.e., something negative) is a more powerful piece of decision-making criteria versus a gain (i.e., something positive).

In the context of online reviews, positive comments are not nearly as memorable or impressionable as negative comments and complaints. Yet, there may be a useful strategy to combat negative reviews that every business owner has access to: time.

Temporal Cues & Negative Reviews

A study recently published in the Journal of Marketing Research highlighted the value of temporal contiguity cues in online reviews. The inclusion of temporal cues, such as a review written on the day of product consumption (e.g., comments including “today” or “we just went to this place”) had a profound effect.

In reviews which included temporal cues, consumers perceived the value of positive reviews to be stronger, while the value of negative reviews became weaker. That’s right, even a negative review with temporal cues did not become more impressionable, meaning the power of a negativity-bias was diminished.

The study, written by Zoey Chen and Nicholas Lurie, analyzed over 65,000 Yelp reviews across numerous experiments to arrive at the final conclusions. Read the full study for the complete details.

Using Time as a Review Strategy

Theoretically speaking, the study is fascinating. In a managerial context, here’s an operational strategy to benefit from the findings of the study: ask for reviews – be it positive or negative – immediately! Create marketing communications or retail signage promoting the importance of posting a review “today”.

If it fits within your business model, provide incentives to consumers, such as offering a freebie item or discount for “posting your positive or negative review and mentioning you came in today.” If you have front-line service workers be sure a quick line is communicated to customers (e.g., “We would love a review – please explicitly say you were in here today!”)

If you’ve exhausted your efforts as to how to get negative reviews removed, the findings from the study and the suggested strategy above may cause your business to not suffer as much from negative Yelp reviews.

This is a unique spin on the old adage, “Time heals all wounds.”

Dr. Todd Bacile (@toddbacile) is a marketing professor at Loyola University New Orleans, a marketing consultant, and a professional keynote speaker who features presentations on social media marketing, search engine marketing, online complaints, online reputation management, and customer service issues at corporate and industry conferences. He holds a Ph.D. in marketing from Florida State University. Social Media Marketing Magazine ranks him as one of the Top 100 Marketing Professors on Twitter. Have a question or comment? Post it here and you will receive a response.


Social Media Complaints: An Example of the Tip of the Iceberg Effect

By Todd Bacile, Ph.D. | July 31, 2014

Tip of the Iceberg EffectSocial media complaints are a new challenge to firms. The connected-consumer now has a platform to efficiently disseminate an unfavorable message about a company or its products to the masses.

Social media complaints produce what I refer to as the Tip of the Iceberg Effect. You may be wondering, ‘What is this effect?’ An example which happened to me this week will nicely illustrate it.

Poor Customer Service

To briefly summarize, I had a bad experience with a car I rented from Enterprise and National Car Rental. Soon after driving away with my rental car I discovered an issue. It reeked. A heavy smoker had used the vehicle. Plus, there was a sticky substance on the steering wheel. It should have been cleaned better. The time was 1 AM and with small children in the car I decided to resolve the issue in the morning.

A summary of the situation the next morning: phone support was great. They said I could swap the vehicle at any location. No need to go back 45 minutes to the airport where I picked it up. I went to a closer Enterprise location, where a rep agreed to swap the vehicle (“we have plenty of cars for you to choose”). However, his computer told him he couldn’t swap vehicles due to a technicality.

I called phone support back, who then contacted the location’s rep five minutes later to make them swap the vehicle. Now another rep at the location insisted they had no vehicles to swap. “All of our vehicles are reserved,” he said proudly. I felt bamboozled.

I referred to Enterprise’s policy to request a car be brought to my location; and was told that would not be possible. Phone support gave me two choices: drive 10 miles to another location to swap my full size car for a compact or drive back to the airport to **try** to get another vehicle. Like I was trying at that moment with no success. Right.

In the end my wife spent three hours cleaning the smelly, sticky vehicle. Hooray, we’re on vacation!

Social Media Complaints

As a consumer who spent a lot of money, only to receive poor service, I was upset and disappointed. In my opinion, the company was not willing to resolve the issue for me in a fair manner. Thus, I had experienced a service failure. Left without another option, I took my complaint to social media to tell others.

A single tweet to my followers, as well as the Twitter handles of the two rental companies I was having an issue with started the ball rolling. At the time I posted my tweet I had about 1,300 followers. That is 1,300 people who may potentially read about my poor service encounter in their timelines.

Would they all read it? No chance. But, some would. And some did.

My single complaint tweet soon produced 21 retweets and/or modified retweets. A quick calculation of the total number of followers of these 21 people: 13,263. That is 13,263 people who potentially would be exposed to my complaint in their Twitter timelines. There were a few other responses or retweets of responses from various people, which added to the overall reach with an additional 4,252 followers exposed to the tweet.

Altogether, 17,515 people were exposed to some of the details associated with my poor service encounter. That’s a lot. What can I say, other than I have a certain degree of “Klout“.

Tip of the Iceberg Effect

A single complaint tweeted and then retweeted by 21 people. In sheer numbers of consumers in a target market, that is a very small number. However, there was an underlying effect of word-of-mouth communication being disseminated. My complaint and the 21 retweets resulted in a possible audience of up to 17,500+ consumers.

This illustration resembles the physical properties of an iceberg, which often has 90% or more of its structure residing underwater. Moreover, when you view an iceberg peeking out of the water, you are only seeing a small portion of it. Less noticeable to plain sight is a larger structure quietly lurking below.

Tip of the Iceberg EffectSocial media complaints also exhibit characteristics of an iceberg. If a company sees a single complaint and a small number of follow-up social actions by others — retweets, shares, likes, comments, or +1’s — what is noticeable in plain sight may seem like a small number of consumers. However, just as the majority of an iceberg is out of plain sight, the number of followers who are exposed to these follow-up social actions may be immense.

This is word-of-mouth 2.0.

Proactive and Reactive Strategies

The best strategy to avoid social media’s tip of the iceberg effect is to proactively resolve a problem. This means correcting a problem when a consumer first voices before wide exposure. How? Perform a service right the first time, make it easy for consumers to complain, and make the recovery a hassle free experience. If a product can’t be replaced, there are other options (e.g., sincere apologies, showing genuine empathy, or offering a future benefit as compensation).

However, not all companies have the resources to proactively correct a service failure. If not, a reactive strategy may be necessary. A resolution can still be completed to satisfy a complainant, but now the world is exposed to poor service details.

In my case, the rental company chose the reactive route. However, by the time it reached out to me via social media — and four days later via a telephone call to my phone — the retweets and the audience exposure was already in motion. The delay in a resolution also gave me time to become more upset.

The takeaway: fix problems as soon as they occur. Proactive strategies will save your business a lot of negative word-of-mouth. If you must use a reactive strategy to resolve a complaint, try to resolve the issue quickly. Use tools such as Radian6 to quickly find complaints and then use real-time engagement to attempt a resolution. However, negative word-of-mouth has already begun: the number of consumers exposed to a complaint — and the size of the proverbial iceberg — is growing. It is still worth your time to try to resolve the issue to minimize the iceberg.

Dr. Todd Bacile (@toddbacile) is a marketing professor at Loyola University New Orleans, a marketing consultant, and a professional speaker with presentations focusing on social media marketing, search engine marketing, online complaints, and online reputation management at corporate and industry conferences. He holds a Ph.D. in marketing from Florida State University. Social Media Marketing Magazine ranks him as one of the Top 100 Marketing Professors on Twitter. Have a question or comment? Post it here and you will receive a response.

Sears: An SST Queuing System Failure

By Todd Bacile | June 29, 2012

SearsThe economics of customer waiting is important to any service firm. For many consumers there is an economic cost associated with waiting: people value their time and waiting often is perceived as wasted time. Firms realize that waiting presents an initial negative perception of a consumer’s service encounter. Successful service managers attempt to offset the possibility of waiting by forecasting demand and managing capacity. However, nobody is perfect and waiting for service is a fact of life for most consumers.

Firms manage waiting by using queuing systems. Multiple forms of queue systems exist, such as waiting in a single file line at a bank, waiting in your choice of multiple lines at a grocery store, or choosing a number at a deli counter. An alternative queue management system is to use self-service technology (SST). These are often seen as stand alone kiosks that customers use to enter information to complete a transaction.

Really successful companies take waiting a step further and attempt to conceal the wait. The word “conceal” can be associated with a negative connotation, but in this sense I am using “conceal” in a positive way. Firms that conceal a wait do so in a manner that a customer is entertained, involved, or distracted by another activity so as to not notice how long they are waiting. A classic example is Disney’s theme parks: while patrons wait in long lines at the theme park, waiting customers watch animated characters and displays that are strategically positioned around those waiting in lines. In this manner, waiting is not lost time. Customers have something to focus on during their wait.

Sears retail stores uses a queuing system along with a strategy to conceal a wait, branded as Ready in 5 Guaranteed. The system is easy to use and a great idea — if Sears would not have set an initial expectation that it was not able to meet. You see, Sears has a large sign prominently displayed next to its kiosk (and also on its website) stating that 100% of its service encounters are completed within 5 minutes when using the system. A customer enters their purchase information into the kiosk, which then notifies warehouse workers to bring the appliance up front to the customer. Al the while, a large screen TV displays a running timer next to the customer’s name.

Sears has a great idea — and it worked initially. The person I brought with me discussed for a few minutes how wonderful the system is — and we were entertained / distracted from focusing on the wasted time spent waiting. This is a novel way for the customer to see a light at the end of the tunnel. It didn’t quite work out that way, though. Sears stopped the counter just shy of 5 minutes and then re-started a new counter from 0:00. Watch the 1-minute video to view my experience. Sears: you have the right idea, but you need to work on front-line employees correctly executing your strategy.

Todd Bacile is a marketing doctoral candidate and instructor for Electronic Marketing and Services Marketing in the College of Business at Florida State University. Please visit his website for more information regarding his classes and research within e-Marketing and services marketing topics. You can contact him on Twitter @toddbacile

Klout: A Service Failure Episode

By Todd Bacile | May 13, 2012


Many Klout lovers and Klout haters have surfaced recently as the online social influence metric has gained popularity in the press. I for one happen to like Klout, and similar social popularity scoring engines. In today’s age Klout gives marketers access to a new type of information emerging from the social web. Having said all that, today Klout let me down and this post is a brief description of the event. As I write this I feel confident in saying I am not the only person Klout has failed in this manner.

This morning while on a brisk walk I received an e-mail from Klout: I had earned a Klout Perk. Companies are using these “perks” to offer free swag to influential consumers, in the hopes that after a free trial we (the influential consumers) will write, tweet, blog, and tell our masses of followers how much we enjoyed the product. This makes great business sense: go after the opinion leaders with some capacity to influence and let organic word-of-mouth reach the masses instead of paid advertising. Today’s email from Klout notified me that I qualified to receive a free 5-pack of an energy drink called EBoost.

I clicked the link from my e-mail message to go directly to my Klout Perks page. And this is where the fail occurred. The free perk I had qualified for, that Klout took the time to contact me via my e-mail only minutes before, was no longer available. Apparently, only so many freebie EBOOST perks were allocated by Klout – and that limit had already been reached. A couple of things I must clarify here. I feel that Klout failed me for two reasons: they contacted me via e-mail setting an expectation and within only a few minutes (i.e. less than one hour) after sending the email, the offer was no longer valid (at least for me). Now, I have seen many perks in the past that I was qualified to receive, yet were no longer available. But, none of these upset me because the offer was a few days old – meaning several influential Klout users had ample time to request the freebie – and Klout had not e-mailed me. The fail occurred because of the direct contact and the brief time frame.

This is classic services management 101 stuff. This semester I am teaching Service Operations Management at Florida State University. And a scenario like this is covered in an early chapter for the undergrads to understand how innovative services must be managed properly to avoid service failure situations. If you logically think about what occurred today with my Klout encounter, it is nearly identical to the following situation. While walking down the street a restaurant owner tells me “Hi Todd! Come on in and try this free sample.” Only, when I come in a few minutes later the owner says “Hey, sorry we ran out”, with no other apologies, rain checks, or attempts to make me avoid feeling like a meaningless number.

Klout is sitting on a mountain of data. As their site states they analyze 2.7 billion pieces of content on the social web per day. To frame this in a technology service delivery scenario, Klout could easily run the numbers to assess how many people qualify for a particular perk and how many people they choose to directly contact before working with a company like EBOOST. Klout and EBOOST can then decide how many freebies to initially give out. In today’s technology rich environment this is service delivery 101 stuff, and like I said, by the end of this week my undergrads, most of which have no business experience, will understand how to recognize such potential pitfalls in the service delivery process. Klout, I love you and am not trying to trash you. But try to work on the underlying details before setting high initial expectations that cannot be met for myself and other similar consumers. Has anyone else experienced an issue like this?  If so please post a comment below and /or RT this post.

Todd Bacile is a marketing doctoral candidate and instructor for Electronic Marketing and Services Marketing in the College of Business at Florida State University. He has published and presented numerous marketing studies in the areas of social media, mobile marketing, and services marketing at national and regional marketing conferences. When not working, he loves to cook BBQ on his smoker and always enjoys a good baseball trivia question. You can contact him on Twitter @toddbacile