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.

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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.

Social Media Complaints and Dysfunctional Consumers

By Dr. Todd Bacile | July 17, 2013

Social Media ComplaintsSynopsis: consumers who are choosing to use social media to complain to brands about legitimate issues are being met in some instances by fellow consumers exhibiting dysfunctional behavior, such as casting insults to a complainant while defending a brand. This is creating new challenges for brands from a customer service perspective.

Social Media Complaints

Social media are conduits for consumers to share complaints and seek resolution with brands. Even a brand’s most desired customers may post a complaint to a brand’s Facebook page, Twitter feed, or Google+ page. This is positive for firms attempting to resolve complaints, as research shows consumers who receive a complaint resolution have a higher probability of repeat business versus consumers who do not receive a resolution. For the brands that ignore or delete  social media complaints, watch out for the fall out!

Social media complaint resolution is an extension of traditional service support now entering virtual social media pages owned by brands. A company’s social media page is a virtual service setting, where consumers have expectations of a brand’s attentiveness to comments and complaints. Companies are realizing social media complaints must be addressed. Timeliness is a factor, too, as many consumers believe a firm should respond to social media complaints within an hour.

However, the presence of dysfunctional consumers is creating new challenges for firms in social media complaint resolution.

Dysfunctional Consumers

Dysfunctional consumers are individuals who exhibit some form of misbehavior that negatively affects other consumers, employees, or a brand. Examples include people in a service setting acting rudely, using vulgar or abusive language, making unreasonable demands, or even illegal acts such as theft or physical assault. Basically, any violation of acceptable norms of behavior in a business setting. Why should brands care? Dysfunctional consumers negatively affect other consumers’ satisfaction with a brand, future purchase intent, and brand loyalty.

Dysfunctional consumers are entering social media complaint and resolution scenarios. Occasionally, a dysfunctional consumer may interject in another consumer’s complaint posted to a brand. A typical example is a response from a dysfunctional consumer that defends a brand while insulting or degrading the complainant. Below is an actual screenshot (redacted for anonymity) from my research:

Social media complaint with dysfunctional consumer response

I interviewed a social media marketing company’s executive manager. He was asked how he deals with situations where “Consumer A” complains to the brand and “Consumer B” insults “Consumer A” in the thread. “We represent the brand and only reply to the complainant. We don’t do anything with other people who comment or respond, even when they border on insults. Unless it’s extremely offensive, we let consumer interactions work itself out.”

Stimulated by his response, I proceeded to collect data from several brands’ Facebook wall posts over several weeks. Thousands of consumer posted wall posts were content analyzed. Hundreds of posts were categorized as complaints. Several complaints had dysfunctional consumer responses that insulted the complainant, while defending the brand. Guess how many times a brand addressed a dysfunctional consumer insulting the complaining consumer? Zero!

Dysfunction and Complaints: A New Challenge

Findings from my research suggest brands are mishandling these complaining interactions. Brands are adapting traditional in-person complaint resolution tactics as if a dyadic conversation is occurring. Within the traditional complaint dyad there is a brand communicating with a single complainant, while all other consumers are uninvolved. However, social media complaints are one-to-many (or many-to-many) conversations instead of the one-to-one dyad brands are familiar with.

When dysfunctional consumer responses enter a complaint thread, companies should not only respond to the complaint in a favorable manner, but also address the dysfunctional response (i.e. ‘We appreciate your comments, but please maintain a polite atmosphere on our Facebook page’). This is how traditional in-person service settings operate. Service managers in in-person settings have a responsibility to maintain a peaceful atmosphere by attending to consumer misbehavior. Social media should be no different as consumers consider these interactions to be virtual service encounters in a brand’s environment.

Todd Bacile (@toddbacile) is a Marketing Professor at Loyola University New Orleans. Social Media Marketing Magazine ranks him as one of the Top 100 Marketing Professors on Twitter. The content posted here is a small portion of larger social media complaint studies he is currently conducting. Questions or comments regarding social media complaints are welcome.