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When customers threaten to post negative Yelp reviews

It can be upsetting when a customer threatens to post a negative review, but there are ways of handling any form of extortion when demands are made in order to prevent that negative review.

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The state of online reviews

It is a common behavior for brands to pay for positive online reviews or offer discounts and free goodies, and the same often goes for consumers removing negative comments. Many online review sites have taken extensive steps to attempt to secure valid, untainted reviews so consumers have unfiltered opinions about goods and services, but the system is not perfect, it is subject to offline behavior as well.

According to CBS Sacramento, a restaurant says a customer claimed he got food poisoning from the venue, sought a refund, learned there are no refunds, but was offered a refund in the form of a gift card that could be used at any local restaurant.

In response, the man allegedly threatened to post a horrible review of the restaurant on Yelp unless the restaurant coughed up a $100 gift card. “I’ll be doing a scathing review on you on Yelp… and I’ll report you to the health department. But if you give me a $100 gift card, then I won’t do it.”

The restaurant owner refers to the demand as “flat-out extortion,” and refused to budge. The customer has not received his demanded gift card, nor has he posted the negative review. “I hope this inspires other retail establishments and restaurants to push back on extortion,” he said.

How other small businesses can combat threats

Everyone now knows that they have a voice online and that it is relevant – after all, people trust strangers online as equally as they do their own family members now, and particularly trust online reviews over a brand’s voice. This is empowering and in rare events, the new empowerment has caused people to attempt to abuse their voice in exchange for a payoff.

Public relations expert, and founder of Silver Strategic Communications, Bob Silver said, “This sort of thing is inevitable for any business that engages consumers and encourages social interaction through peer reviews and user generated content. People are going to be people and pricks are going to be pricks.”

Silver added, “These guys handled exactly the right way. Proactively called the bluff of the unhappy customer, made the story public on their own terms and by doing so, set the public perception by being open and willing to engage in the discussion. Everyone’s going to be a critic these days and face it, you’re never going to make everyone happy. So do your best to participate in the public conversation openly, honestly and without being defensive. It may be painful at times, but you’ll benefit in the long run.”

An alternative response

Some will tell you that the customer is always right and that appeasement is the proper route, but Silver asserts that engaging in discussion is the most beneficial in the long run, even though it is difficult.

Christopher Barger, SVP of Global Social Media, Voce Communications/Porter Novelli, and author of The Social Media Strategist suggests three steps.

Barger said, “First, some preventative maintenance: have a presence on relevant networks. Interact with reviewers, both those who love you and those who are negative. Make sure the community gets to know you and trust you. You’ll have a hedge against manufactured negativity if you’ve earned the trust of the community.”

“Second,” he added, “also preventative maintenance: Develop your own “owned” presence online. Make it a blog or something outside of Facebook’s walled garden, something that will show up in search. You need a place to tell your story in your own words. But you can’t just start it up when you have a problem, you have to be out there before there is an issue.”

“Third: When faced with an extortion situation like this, I’d fight fire with fire,” Barger said. “Tell the story of what’s happening to you on your blog. You might well even name names to make sure that everyone who reads (including other small business owners in your field) knows who this person and what they’re about and what they tried to do. Make sure that you include a line in the post telling readers to feel free to share the link or the story. Tell the story or post the link within Yelp or whatever the network is. Be proactive and make the reviewer’s conduct the story, rather than letting them set the story arc and define the situation for you. This is especially something I would do if I had an email or IM or something in writing that could prove my side of the story.”

The risk and reward of being proactive

Barger notes, “Yes, you’ll risk people thinking that you’re picking on a customer or using a bully pulpit. But I’ve found that most bloggers and online reviewers have an innate sense of fairness, and this kind of a story will disappoint and anger them as much as it does you. Additionally, in my experience, bloggers and reviewers realize that brand bullying, when it happens, paints the entire online community by association, gives them all a bad name, and lessens the likelihood that businesses will be willing to work with anyone online or reach out to any of them in the future.”

“Many of them will quickly shun or disown the bad apple out of their own self-interest,” Barger added. “And whether the person ends up posting or not, you will have cast enough doubt on their story by going out first that the bite of their negative review might be lessened.”

Marti Trewe reports on business and technology news, chasing his passion for helping entrepreneurs and small businesses to stay well informed in the fast paced 140-character world. Marti rarely sleeps and thrives on reader news tips, especially about startups and big moves in leadership.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Frugyl

    May 31, 2012 at 7:21 am

    Yikes!

  2. OwnerListens

    May 31, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    The best way for businesses owners to protect their online reputation and combat these problems with Yelp is to use OwnerListens.com. OwnerListens is an alternative to Yelp that businesses can offer their customers. Customers use OwnerListens to send feedback directly and privately to the owner/manger. The owner/manager can then respond and address the issue in real-time and prevent negative reviews from ever being posted online. Over time, this leads to a higher overall rating on Yelp; the best part is OwnerListens is completely free. Sign up at https://ownerlistens.com

  3. Sarah

    December 27, 2017 at 10:01 am

    If given the situation, the negative review is unwarranted, how ethical is it to leave a negative review in return? At my company, we worked exclusively with small business owners. If a negative review is unfounded, I think it only fair that if they don’t remove it, that we leave a review of our interaction for them as well. Technically, it’s not against review rules considering we’ve had a business interaction. Thoughts?

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Business News

Bay Area co-living startup strands hundreds of renters at dire time

(BUSINESS NEWS) They’re blaming COVID for failing as a co-living space, but it looks like trouble was well established even before now.

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Person packed a bag and walking away from co-living space.

Over the last few years, “co-living” startups have become increasingly common in tech-rich cities like San Francisco. These companies lease large houses, then rent individual bedrooms for as much as $2,000 per month in hopes of attracting the young professionals who make up the tech industry. Many offer food, cleaning services, group activities, and hotel-quality accommodations to do so.

But the true value in co-living companies lies in their role as a third party: Smoothing over relations, providing hassle free income to homeowners and improved accountability to tenants… in theory, anyway. The reality has proved the opposite can just as easily be true.

In a September company email, Bay Area co-living startup HubHaus released a statement that claimed they were “unable to pay October rent” on their leased properties. Hubhaus also claimed to have “no funds available to pay any amounts that may be owed landlords, tenants, trade creditors, or contractors.”

This left hundreds of SF Bay Area renters scrambling to arrange shelter with little notice, with the start of a second major COVID-19 outbreak on the horizon.

HubHaus exhibited plenty of red flags leading up to this revelation. Employees complained of insufficient or late payment. The company stopped paying utilities during the spring, and they quietly discontinued cleaning services while tenants continued to pay for them.

Businesses like HubHaus charge prices that could rent a private home in most of the rest of the country, in exchange for a room in a house of 10 or more people. PodShare is a similar example: Another Bay Area-based co-living startup, whose offerings include “$1,200 bunk beds” in a shared, hostel-like environment.

As a former Bay Area resident, it’s hard not to be angry about these stories. But they have been the unfortunate reality since long before the pandemic. Many urbanites across the country cannot afford to opt out of a shared living situation, and these business models only exacerbate the race to the bottom of city living standards.

HubHaus capitalized on this situation and took advantage of their tenants, who were simply looking for an affordable place to live in a market where that’s increasingly hard to find.

They’ve tried to place the blame for their failure on COVID-19 — but all signs seem to indicate that they had it coming.

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Business News

Las Vegas’ largest dispensary gets massive Infinity Wall expansion

(BUSINESS NEWS) Las Vegas’s largest dispensary is getting a big, expensive makeover, thriving while other brick-and-mortar shops are struggling.

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Planet 13, Las Vegas's largest dispensary, set to get a huge expansion.

Have you ever heard of an Infinity Wall? If I were you, I’d check it out right now because it’s utterly mesmerizing.

An 80-foot version of this wall is just one of the new features that Planet 13 (or The Company) announced it will be implementing in Las Vegas’ largest dispensary, The SuperStore, this past Monday. In addition to the futuristic entertainment feature (I honestly can’t get over that thing), they will be doubling the sales floor and expanding the dispensary to ~23,000 sq. ft. For reference, the entire Planet 13 SuperStore complex is 112,000 sq.ft.

Why expand an already massive dispensary during a pandemic, when most brick and mortar stores are suffering? Well, according to Larry Scheffler, Co-CEO of Planet 13, The Superstore is actually thriving beyond belief.

“We are achieving record sales even with Las Vegas at ~50% tourist occupancy. As Las Vegas returns to normal and this industry continues to grow, we anticipate that this will be first of many expansions we will undertake to keep up with demand.”

The expansion adds 40 points of sale to uphold the outstanding customer service reputation Planet 13 has. If you do have to wait, you have a state-of-the-art entertainment system to enjoy. It’s win-win for any and all visitors.

The CapEx cost of the expansion between is $1.5 – $2.5 million. The project is expected come to completion by the end of Q1 2021.

Las Vegas has become a sort of cannabis mecca. After all, it’s home to MJBizCon, the industry’s largest networking event attended by thousands from around the world. And the popularity and overall acceptance makes it an easy choice for any cannabis aficionados. The SuperStore, like most things in Las Vegas, is huge, glamorous, and caters to tourists.

I have no doubt that when the city bounces back from the pandemic, this new-and-improved dispensary will be a must-visit destination.

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Business News

The future of work from home will be a hybrid, says Google CEO

(BUSINESS NEWS) Google is looking to adapt a more flexible, long-term hybrid work model for their employees, which includes partially working from home and partially being on-site.

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Work from home woman at a laptop.

Google, the world’s largest search engine company (yes I know they do other things), is positing that the corporate office will look completely different post-COVID-19.

In September Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai said that the organization was making changes to its offices that would better support employees in the future. This includes “reconfiguring” office spaces to accommodate “on-sites”, days when employees who regularly work from home will come into the workplace. The move comes after Google was one of the first major tech companies to announce that employees could possibly work from home through next summer.

“I see the future as definitely being more flexible,” Pichai said during a video interview for Time 100, “We firmly believe that in-person, being together, having that sense of community, is super important for whenever you have to solve hard problems, you have to create something new,” he said. “So we don’t see that changing, so we don’t think the future is just 100% remote or something.”

It was reported that Google’s decision to work remotely into mid-2021 was originally in part to help employees whose children might be learning remotely during the coronavirus pandemic. Pichai said that several factors went into the decision, stating that improving productivity was a major concern.

“Early on as this started, I realized it was going to be a period of tremendous uncertainty, so we wanted to lean in and give certainty where we could,” Pichai said. “The reason we made the decision to do work from home until mid of next year is we realized people were trying hard to plan… and it was affecting productivity.”

Pichai also mentioned that the decision would help the firm embrace the reality that remote working wasn’t going anywhere once things returned to normal. A recent survey at Google found that 62% of employees felt they only need to be in the office on occasion, while 20% felt they didn’t need to be in the office whatsoever. While the work from home trend had already been growing over the past several years, the pandemic accelerated that movement greatly.

With housing costs surging in the San Francisco area, where Google headquarters resides, many employees have been forced to move outside of the city to afford a mortgage. This caused many to commute long hours into the office, something Pichai realized was a problem.

“It’s always made me wonder, when I see people commuting two hours and away from their families and friends, on a Friday, you realize they can’t have plans,” Pichai said. “So I think we can do better.”

It’s too early to tell whether or not Pichai’s vision of a “hybrid model” will be adopted by other companies when the pandemic ends. One thing is for certain though—work will never be what is pre-COVID-19.

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