halloween reputation

Spooky Review Strategies & Halloween Reputation Management Horror Stories

Check out some terrifying reputation horror stories and our Halloween webinar replay: The Fear of Asking for Online Reviews.
Reading Time: 9 minutes

Are you scared to ask for reviews?

If so, you’re not alone. There are plenty of business owners who would rather face down an entire graveyard full of zombies, armed with nothing more than a toothbrush.

This Halloween, our own Garrett Sussman joined forces with Greg Gifford (@GregGifford on twitter) and Claire Carlile of Claire Carlile Marketing (@ClaireCarlile on twitter) to drive a stake through the heart of review management fears. It was a fantastic webinar with a little bit of Halloween fun thrown in.

Too busy putting the finishing touches on your costume to watch the whole thing? 

Here’s the recap!

The importance of reviews as we move into 2020

Reviews are more important than ever. They’re the first thing customers and potential customers look at to help them make a decision about whether to use your products or services. They also can be the reason that someone choose your competitor. 

Consumers will dig through your reviews before making their decision, and have come to rely on them as part of their decision-making process.

Reviews might be slightly more important in industries that have had them on their radar for a period of time already: home services professionals, restaurants, hotels, and sellers of big ticket items like cars and RVs. They all live and die by their reviews. Retail stores, maybe not as much, but reviews definitely still matter.

Why are business owners so scared to ask for reviews?

What Gifford and Carlile have both heard from their clients is that business owners are often afraid to ask, because they don’t want to hear anything negative about their business.

This is especially true for small and medium sized businesses where the owner may have invested a ton of personal emotion, time, and effort into the running of the business. They’ve made sacrifices. For many, their business is like a child.

Negative feedback can be hard to take!

Feedback from trolls, whose primary goal is to get an emotional rise out of you, can be even harder.  Especially if they haven’t even been to your business.

At the same time, if you’re giving good customer service and treating people right, your reputation isn’t going to suffer for one or two bad reviews. If you give great customer service, there should be no harm in asking: you’ll get more great reviews than bad ones!

If you’ve had a lot of genuine bad reviews in the past, you might have a few reasons to fear. The strategy here is to truly be self-reflective. Use those reviews to evaluate your existing business processes and change those processes for the better. Improve your own business before diving in with a review strategy to earn great reviews.

A seemingly random interlude: fish tacos

When asked how he helps his local business clients overcome the fear of asking for reviews, Gifford explained:

“I educate them with a fish taco example. If I go to a restaurant and get some fish tacos, and there’s a bandaid in that fish taco, I’m going to leave a bad review.”

Gifford, it should be noted, went out of his way to be somewhat spooky himself, all webinar long, in various hilarious ways.

Bandaids in fish tacos count, Greg!

“If I get the best fish taco I’ve ever had? I may or may not leave the review. So if I’m sitting there, clearly enjoying a taco, and the waiter walks by, sees that I’m really enjoying my meal, then that’s an ideal time to say hey, I see you’re really enjoying your meal. And if I say, yeah, these are some of the best fish tacos I’ve ever had, and he says, well hey, since you’re enjoying them do you mind leaving a review…well, at that point I’m going to feel kind of obligated, since I just got finished telling you how great they were.”

It’s all about tapping into human nature and understanding the internal forces in the human brain that drive action. Most consider themselves people of their word. Even if it’s a subconscious promise, when you make a micro commitment like that, you’re more likely to follow through on it. That’s what is happening here in Greg’s hypothetical.

The intersection between reviews and Local SEO

When you’re looking at your position in Google My Business, it becomes clear that reviews are a foundational factor in where you rank

Businesses with higher reviews appear higher in search results, so if you want to get seen, you’ve got to excel at generating them.

Someone with some reviews, is more than likely going to appear in a local pack than someone with no reviews. But when someone adds ‘best‘ to their search term, the quality of reviews are going to significantly impact whether your business appears in that local pack.

If you’ve been trying to get all that “best plumber near me” traffic, take heed. Customers are searching for the term, but what ranks for the term are the results with the best review profiles.

So for the love of everything beautiful, stop writing web pages with phrases like, “We’re the best plumbers near me!” hoping to rank for that term in search. Yes, people are actually doing this. Start focusing on your review strategy instead.

The risk of the PR blowout

Remember the dentist who killed Cecil the lion?

Well, so does everyone else.

Five years later, perfect strangers are still leaving awful reviews on his profile.

It’s no secret that a negative news story can go viral, prompting people across the country to try to punish you for your perceived misdeed by leaving as many bad reviews as possible.

What do you do if it happens to you?

Roll with it, and understand many of those reviews will get taken down after the event is done, and that in the age of the Internet stories most spread like wildfire but die just as quickly.

Maybe don’t kill any lions, though.

cecil the lion killer dentist reviews

It’s no secret that a negative news story can go viral, prompting people across the country to try to punish you for your perceived misdeed by leaving as many bad reviews as possible.

What do you do if it happens to you?

Roll with it, and understand many of those reviews will get taken down after the event is done, and that in the age of the Internet stories most spread like wildfire but die just as quickly.

Maybe don’t kill any lions, though.

So when is the right time to ask for a review?

“It depends.”

Gifford is a big advocate of the face-to-face ask at the point where you know customers are at their happiest. He also suggests follow-up, either with a business card or follow-up review request emails.

Carlile emphasized that you need to do a lot of testing to discover what works well for your unique business.

“There’s a time and a place,” she says. “If your patient has just had reconstructive tooth surgery, you maybe don’t want to ask as they’re walking out of the exam room.”

Gifford also suggests creating an easy, simplified site for gathering reviews, with a domain like yourbizhere.com/reviews. When the key to earning the review is removing friction, a funnel landing page makes it much easier for you to tell customers exactly where to go.

Finally, both Gifford and Carlile noted that if you’re trying to get your reviews to rank for certain keywords you can achieve that through an “enhanced ask” technique where you give reviewers some ideas on what they might write about.

The perils and pitfalls of employee-based strategies

Incentivizing employees can help you get more reviews, but there are two serious potential pitfalls.

  1. Employees may sometimes create fake reviews just to get the incentive, especially if the incentive is cash-based. This will eventually backfire on your business, as savvy consumers will start to spot the fakes. This can cause consumers to lose any trust they ever had in your business.
  2. You can oversaturate the asks. If every single person the customer comes into contact with ends the interaction with “please leave us a review,” customers might start to feel as though you care more about the reviews than about serving and helping them.

If you’re going to build incentives into your strategy, you’ll want to account for these problems.

Asking customers to edit a negative review

Carlile implores you to focus on fixing customer problems first, because it’s the right thing to do. If you happen to realize a customer who was previously upset with you is now extremely happy with you, then you might have an opening that will allow you to ask them to update the review.

Do not ask everyone who leaves you a negative review. You should respond graciously to negative reviews rather than seeking to get all of them removed or edited.

It's time to face your fears! What's the worst that can happen?

Now for the promised horror stories. Some of these come directly from people who were involved. Others are examples from the internet with cautionary tales attached.

Horror Story #1: The joyriding purple possible drug eater

This one came from Greg Gifford in the webinar.

He was working with an Audi dealer in California and a guy took his car in for service. The man happened to have a dash cam that turned on automatically whenever the car came on.

One of the service techs took the car for a joy ride, and was doing 70 through 35 zones, which was bad enough. At one point, the tech pulls over, and ducked out of the camera’s view. The sounds the camera picked up on sounded a lot like someone snorting cocaine.

In no time flat, this Audi dealership started receiving a slew of punitive bad reviews from people in other cities. The video went viral to sites like Maxim, and the Huffington Post. 

This is a horror story with a happy ending though: Gifford went back after all the news site pages weren’t getting any more hits, and asked them to link back to his client, thus generating lots of high authority links. He was also successful at getting most of those punitive fake negative reviews removed.

Horror Story #2: The curse of the mistaken reviewer

This one comes from Bryan Clayton, CEO of GreenPal, which he described as Uber for lawn care. 

“When we launched our new office in Nashville, we were unlucky in that we got a negative review right off the bat. The reviewer never actually even used our service. They had us confused with another service when they left the review.”

This was a Yelp review, and Clayton appealed to them. Yelp refused to take the review down. They tried reaching out to the reviewer to get them to correct it, and the person never responded.

“We were distraught. It’s very difficult to overcome the cold start when launching a new market, and negative reviews, with no positive reviews, can be almost impossible to overcome.”

Clayton developed a talk trigger strategy. Whenever they got a new customer they asked if they had any pets so the lawn vendors would know to be careful when entering the lawn. They also asked for the pet’s names.

They then used the information to send a personalized gift to each customer’s pet, addressed to them. They got personal thank-you notes…and 27 new positive reviews on their Nashville office’s Yelp page. 

Horror Story #3: The howling spirit of radiator repair

This is a story about a business owner whose response was way scarier than the review he received. Here’s the original review:

Bad review - awful owner response

And here’s the owner’s response. This is an exercise in how NOT to respond to a review.

really bad owner response to a negative review

I know this is going to come as a giant shock, but this business is permanently closed now. They say on dark nights, you can still hear the wailing and gnashing of the teeth of former customers.*

*Nobody says this.

Horror Story #4: The invisible contractor

This horror story is an example of a maxim you just can’t ever forget. You do not get to have a 5-star review profile if you consistently give 1-star service.

1 star service review on google

These reviews were so bad that I almost thought it they were fakes, until I started checking profiles.

I also looked at the rest of the reviews. All the bad ones did look real to me, all the good ones did look fake. I’m no Jason Brown, but that profile gave me the shivers.

For one thing, the contractor responded. Badly. Not as badly as Radiator Guy, but “it’s not our problem” is a pretty lousy response to put out there.

No review strategy in the world can save this guy.

Horror Story #5: The devil went down to the Cheesecake Factory

This is just a bit of levity to close with, something I stumbled upon that helps us remember one great and powerful truth: some reviews just aren’t meant to be taken seriously.

cheesecake factory is evil review

Some people are just a few slices shy of a full cheesecake, and there’s nothing you can do about them except laugh.