How to prevent negative online reviews

Let’s face it — angry, dissatisfied customers like to write angry, scathing, hurtful reviews. While business owners don’t like them, they’ve begun to accept that these negative reviews are a part of life. You take the good with the bad with these review sites, right? Not necessarily. Understanding WHY customers are motivated to write negative reviews can help you prevent them.

Dan Ariely is a professor, researcher, and author. According to Ariely, his books Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality “are my attempt to take my research findings and describe them in non academic terms so that more people will learn about this type of research, discover the excitement of behavioral economics, and possibly use some of the insights to enrich their own lives.” In his book The Upside of Irrationality, Ariely explores many behaviors specifically connected to consumer motivations. In chapter five (“The Case for Revenge”), he uncovers some great morsels of information that can help us understand our own unhappy customers. Here’s a quick YouTube video of the author introducing this idea of revenge and how he measured the behavior.

What’s important to understand here is that unhappy customers will indeed seek some sort of revenge. In fact, they will spend a great deal of effort working to get revenge if they are wronged. And it’s no wonder. According to Ariely’s book, the same areas of the brain that are stimulated when the person is exacting revenge are stimulated when the person is experiencing something pleasurable. So in essence, we find the act of getting revenge pleasurable. Warped? Perhaps, but it’s not all that surprising considering some of the nastier divorces we’ve all witnessed. If you’re worried about what this may mean to your business, have faith. There’s reason to believe there’s something we can do to prevent unhappy customers from seeking revenge.

In another study, Ariely tested the effect an apology has on a person’s tendency to want to seek revenge. I won’t give away all the details of the study here (you’ll have to read the book for that), but just know that when irritated people were told “sorry,” the desire to seek revenge was completely neutralized. In fact, the apology essentially erased the irritability. Think about that for just a minute. Imagine if we were to erase the unhappiness or irritability that our customers were feeling? Wouldn’t we want to do that? Now, smaller irritations are no doubt easier to erase than major irritations, but this is still powerful information. Just a small little word — sorry — can be so effective and vital to the growth of your business.



In addition, we need to keep a check on our own desire for revenge when we feel a customer has wronged us. I’ve even had a business owner suggest we start a Better Customer Bureau where businesses can rate customers on how easy they were to work with, how fast they paid, etc. Perhaps this was his way of wanting to exact revenge on a customer whom he felt had wronged him. Nonetheless, we need to recognize our own tendencies to seek revenge when irritated and be the bigger person in the situation. The movie Love Story gave us the great line “love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Unfortunately, this idea doesn’t hold water in business. If you use the word regularly, you know it works. If you don’t, you might want to give it a try.

Kimberly Hazen is the regional director for the southwest region of the Wisconsin Better Business Bureau. In her role, she works to advance marketplace trust between buyers and sellers and to promote informed buying decisions.

Click here to sign up for the free IB ezine — your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.