March 2009 Issue
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Recommendation

Grace Under Fire

by Cynthia Fazekas

Defending your business takes skill.

Spring usually brings a flurry of activity in the tearooms. In almost every way this is a very good thing, but it will also mean an increase in reviews of your business on reviewer sites such as TeaMap and the like. Most of the time reviews are positive things with the occasional constructive criticism, but good-natured overall. But every now and then someone will really rip your business in a very public way. When someone negatively comments about something you are passionate about it can really sting. It can be very difficult to deal with but there are ways to effectively do so. And we can break down how this hits you emotionally and help you get past the outrage, heartbreak and dismay you might feel faced with someone leaving your establishment less than happy.

Many successful business owners usually have their hand in everything from decor to desserts when it comes to their tearoom or shop. There is quite a bit of control in how things are presented, brewed, baked and served. The one thing a shop owner really cannot control is the customer. Each person that walks through your door is a variable, a mystery and an opportunity. If things go awry during their visit, there may be nothing you can do about it. They also may not say a word to you about their discontent but post it (sometimes vehemently) elsewhere when you no longer have the chance to save the moment. It's okay. It happens to all businesses everywhere. What you can control now is your reaction to the review.

The greatest fear of a business owner when they get an unflattering public review is that it will drive away potential clients and ultimately be the ruin of their business. In today's age of everything under the sun from underwear to exercise equipment being reviewed on e-commerce sites like amazon.com, people are a bit savvier to the extremes of human experience. They understand that the reviewer could have had unreasonable expectations or even just been in a foul mood on the day of their visit and/or review, and will look at what the average reviews for each shop. The average gives a better idea of what they can expect when they visit. Extreme reviews on both ends of the good-bad spectrum are generally regarded as anomalies.

The first reaction many shop owners have is that what the reviewer is saying is untrue. That might be the case in a literal way but perspective is everything. You may think you or your server was perfectly courteous but the customer may have felt your or they were curt or even rude. Certainly the reviewer may have a bit of a dramatic reaction and make it sound worse than it was but you also must account for differences of opinion. In a busy moment a person who is handling a lot of things at once can sometimes be perceived as being less than friendly. The words that the customer may use are likely not to be words you would choose. Rude vs. matter-of-fact is a very good example. Whenever there is an interpersonal exchange you will find more than one point of view.

Keep the customer's perspective in mind when you react to a review. Expect that they might see a situation differently than you do and be open. In each review is a gift of sorts, and opportunity to learn. Try to get past the emotional part of your reaction. Process that you feel angry or frustrated and let it go. Once you have acknowledged your own emotions you can calm down and take a more intellectual approach. Some review site will allow you to respond. This is where is gets crucial as other potential customers will pay attention to how well you handle yourself.

Acknowledge the negative review and say you are sorry that their expectations were not met and for any misunderstanding. Welcome them to return, as their experience was not typical. Never debate the accuracy of their review - this might be perceived as being argumentative if not carefully worded. It can also make it seem as thought you do not accept criticism well.

Also you can thank them for their review (yes, even if you hate it) and for the opportunity to improve. Invite them on their next visit to feel free to also inform you in person if anything is amiss so you can correct it right away. This should persuade future customers to do the same. If they have the opportunity to vent their dissatisfaction in person they may be less likely to do so on the Internet.

In doing so you will appear open, responsive and a concerned shop owner. Anyone who may have been leery because of the negative post should feel confident that you truly value your customers.