crushedboxOne day last week, my Mom had had it.

“I’m going to tear them apart,” she told me over the phone. “You’re going to help me. Right?”

Mom was in her new home in Bellevue, where she’d spent a long, draining day handling a cross-country move from hell. “I wonder what is not broken,” she posted under a photo of one of the several crushed boxes movers had stacked — five days late — in her new place.

I hadn’t told Mom I’d help her tear anyone apart. I’d told her I’d help her write her very first negative online review.

There are a lot of worthless rants out there, and I suspect, as a rule, anything published out of anger. But Mom’s experience made me consider the negative review — tamed and careful, of course — as the great truth teller. The last weapon of the powerless consumer. A cold blunt instrument of justice.

Mom was beside herself as she heard, in the week leading up to the move, that despite her having agreed to pay an extra $1,000 to guarantee a July 29 delivery, her things wouldn’t arrive until the next day, then the next day, then the next. When they did arrive, things were missing, and her dismissive, short-tempered driver disappeared for hours during the move, refused to build any of the furniture movers had disassembled at her old place, forced her to rent on her own dime a U-Haul truck to get her things off the enormous trailer and onto her street and demanded she pay $150 in cash for “extra labor” or he would take her things to Tacoma.

The only thing that’s made her feel better is the knowledge that she can, by publicly sharing her story, strike back.

Days later I was riding on the back of an old fire truck in Estes Park, Colorado, disappointed. My husband and I had paid $15 each for this fire truck tour of the beautiful mountain town and had heard next to no actual information. Tour guides typically sit with tourists on the bed of the truck, but ours spent the ride chatting up the driver in the passenger seat, leaving us paying customers to guess at what we were passing as we squinted into the wind. “Hope you had fun,” the guide said as we stepped off. Would I speak my mind in front of three little kids in plastic firefighter hats? I cursed under my breath and left.

Monica Guzman
Monica Guzman

Mom thinks me an expert in all things digital, but the truth is, I’m as new to writing negative online reviews as she is. For the first time in a long time, riding home from that waste of a tour, I thought I might pull up Yelp and actually, finally, do it.

But something was stopping me. It’s powerful, this weapon, and I don’t want to misuse it. Sitting at my laptop a couple days later, I asked on Facebook if anyone had ever written negative online reviews at least in part to get back at a business.

Some people had and were glad they did. Others hadn’t and were glad they didn’t.

Technologist Jody Fisher’s answer hit home.

Always regretted it, mostly because the review likely lives on beyond the bad service, which was probably corrected because: 1. It was an off night; 2. The offending employee quit or was fired; 3. The business rectified the issue. Result: I stopped writing negative reviews.

“The review lives on beyond the bad service.” So if your issue is addressed, the damage your review does could far outweigh the crime. I hadn’t thought that hard about that.

As if on cue, my husband forwarded me an email from the company that runs the fire truck tours. It was a link to an online comment card. “Your chance…” he wrote.

Calmly, reasonably, I let it out. I used words like “terrible” and “useless,” erased them, and stuck to the facts. The tour guide didn’t ride with us. I learned much less than I expected to. I was left disappointed. The form asked for my tour guide’s name. Reading over my comments to make sure I was only telling the truth, I gave it.

The next day, we got an email from the company’s guest services manager.

Thank you so much for your comments on your recent Fire Engine Tour. The tour guides are suppose to be sitting in the back of the trucks with everyone talking to them and pointing out things. …

I apologize that this did not happen and I have refunded both your tickets for the total of $30. Again, thank you for bringing this to our attention and I encourage you to come back for more tours in the future as this is not the type of experience we give.

And there it was: resolution.

The company that handled my Mom’s move has given her little in the way of apology, humility, or even the easiest and most important thing — a sense that they care. It’s not like they haven’t had the opportunity. She’s talked to them several times.

I have little doubt that Mom’s negative review is coming. I’ll help her stick to the facts, but I’m not going to get in the way of her resolving, however she can, that withering sense of injustice.

It’s too bad the moving company gave her no better way.

Mónica Guzmán is a freelance journalist, speaker and award-winning digital life columnist for GeekWire. You can find her tweeting away @moniguzman, subscribe to her public Facebook posts at facebook.com/moniguzman or reach her via email. See this archive of her weekly GeekWire columns.

Comments

  • http://www.extendedresults.com/ Patrick Husting

    The review systems need to provide the business owner with an opportunity to respond too. Most review systems don’t do that. An example would be the app marketplace. A lot of the time your competitors will leave negative reviews and you can’t comment back on how bogus they are. :o)

    • Owen

      I don’t read app marketplace reviews for that very reason. And I really appreciate it when I see Best Buy- and Yelp-listed businesses responding with respect and constructive feedback to negative reviews.

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      When I read Jody’s comment, I thought about a site called SeeClickFix. It lets people report civic infrastructure issues like potholes (most famously) and when the pothole is fixed, civic orgs can go in and mark the issue “resolved.” Couldn’t this be integrated into business review sites?

      • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

        The BBB basically has that on their website.. Not an app but does have that measured response.

  • A

    I remember going to a well known restaurant in Madison Park, bringing a group of 10 people to celebrate, knowing that I’d have a phenomenal brunch. And while the food was delicious, the service was severely lacking. Long waits, food in one end was brought and they finished before anyone in the other side had food, coffee wasn’t refilled, some orders were wrong.

    I was furious, particularly since it was my suggestion.

    I almost let it out on yelp. But i didn’t. I decided to contact the restaurant directly, and tell them that while the food was superb, the service that day sucked. I told them specifics, not just that “it was lacking”.

    A day later, I get a personal apology and $300 GC to the restaurant.

    Which I’ve frequented often past the bad day.

    I think that’s a way better way to handle it. I’ve since left glowing reviews on social media, mostly because, like the commenter says, that might have just been a bad day. Yet writing a negative review will definitely live on in infamy.

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      Nice. Considering the amount of damage restaurants can suffer with a negative online review, you have to wonder if they’re more forthcoming with refunds when contacted privately – a “thank you” note for not publishing more widely, if you will …

  • http://www.puzzazz.com/ Roy Leban

    We had a problem earlier this week. We got a bunch of bad reviews for a problem that was resolved in less than a day and even before some of the bad reviews got posted, and for which we took an extremely proactive and transparent approach in notifying customers. Every non-anonymous person we dealt with (both existing customers and new ones) praised us for how we handled the situation, even though many were frustrated, as were we, with the problem. But it will still take time for good reviews to balance out the new negative ones.

    There’s a class of people who love the idea of negative, even spiteful reviews, and I find a lot of these people are anonymous. I don’t understand it. It’s almost like they forget that there are real people at companies trying to deliver great products and services — like the guest services manager at your tour company. Glad you gave the tour company a chance and glad they came through.

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      “There’s a class of people who love the idea of negative, even spiteful reviews, and I find a lot of these people are anonymous.” –> This is one group of people I just don’t get. I have a hard time playing bad guys in computer games, let alone real life.

      • Robert

        Although there is no doubt the internet is a wonderful thing, it has given a voice to a number of vindictive, unhappy people who would rather tear down the accomplishments of others rather than improve their own lives. Every yin has a yang.

    • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

      I’m curious and I mean this as a real question and am not looking to stir up trouble.

      What was it that allowed the problem to arise in the first place and how can your future customers feel confident that this problem (or one like it won’t arise again)?

      I’m not asking you to give the specifics of your situation. Rather I raise the question because I think the fact that it arose at all is material and so the negative reviews, which a snapshot in time, can still be fair.

      From my point of view, even if you did the great thing that you did to fix the problem, the fact still is that people had a problem in the first place. And no matter how good a business is at customer service recovery after a problem it doesn’t erase the fact that there was a problem in the first place and that’s something I would want to know.

      Now, the fair thing is if the business makes it right, the review be updated to include that. I’ve actually mused about a two part rating system for things like this: one part that rates the experience and one part that rates the recovery when the experience is bad. Because I’ve found a bad recovery makes the overall experience MUCH worse, a good recovery can balance it out, and in very rare circumstances and excellent recovery can make the overall experience better than a simple good one would have been.

      But, you know, this is rather idealistic on several levels, I freely admit.

      • http://www.puzzazz.com/ Roy Leban

        We had a problem with a release. We don’t know how we missed it. We don’t know how Apple missed it. It was pretty blatant. In the old pre-App Store days, we would have had the fix out in under an hour. Because of Apple’s review process, it took 18 hours, and we were lucky it was so quick.

        We were proactive in telling customers — sending out a special newsletter, and posting on Facebook and Twitter.

        With regard to the questions you asked, it appears that all but one of the 1-star reviews came from people who were not previous customers, probably deleted the app immediately, and we will never see again. They were drive-by shooters. In your proposed rating system change, they would never respond to part two. Actual customers sent us email or contacted us via our web site. Those actual customers were happy with how we dealt with it and some sent us kudos for the way we dealt with a difficult situation.

        • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

          Ah thank you. I’d thought you had a restaurant for some reason.

          Yeah, like I say, my system is rather idealistic.

          Thanks!

  • JeffMirisola

    While I try to temper my negative reviews with positives from the experience, I still believe that negative reviews have their place along side positive reviews. They can show a trend or an anomaly, and whether the establishment has gotten better (or worse). Granted, there are those reviews based solely on some sort of vendetta, but one would think they’d show up as the aforementioned anomaly.
    For a business not to take social media into account is simply shortsighted. They should be aware that the possibility is there that someone may flame them, deserved or not, and should be ready willing to respond as needed.

  • Guest

    Your mom seems to have dealt with a common practice in the moving business. From two friends that have had similar instances, neither got a full refund or much if anything in the way of an apology. One had to take steps to have the police force the driver to hand over his items and then he had to record what was broken and missing, then file that in the police report.

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      I’m going to pass on your comment. Honestly I think my parents have a case to make some serious claims on damage to their property.

  • mazamorac

    I hope your mother doesn’t hold back on her specific, negative review.

    The facts: 1) the packages were as crushed as the photo shows, 2) the driver held her belongings for a $150 ransom, 3) the delivery and assembly conditions weren’t clear from the start, 4) they missed a $1K premium delivery by *five* days.

    That is definitely *not* the result of an “off day,” it’s clearly a result of a *chain* of deficient business practices and people. This won’t be fixed with a gentle chiding; people should be steered clear of these bozos.

    If it were me, I’d give them the bad review and then go after them for the documented damages, extra expenses (I hope your mom got a receipt for the “extra labor”), non-delivered services (early delivery), and collection expenses.

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      Passing this on. Thanks.

  • Caolan

    I saw write the bad review and don’t worry about whether it lives on. Coming from the service sector of the tech industry, this is what keeps managers and directors moving forward: memories and lessons from customers who had bad experiences, voice them, which then caused the company to lose money. If a company doesn’t lose money due to a bad event, they’ll never care and keep on doing it. Like a dog that never gets disciplined they will never learn.

  • Carl Setzer

    As you did with the tour company, I try to resolve issues within “official channels”. Depending on the resolution, that might actually prompt me to write a positive review. I am fine with bad things happening. The mark of a good business is what they’ll do to resolve the problem.

    As for your mom, I lean towards you going nuclear. Besides the negative review, you might consider consulting your local media colleague, “Get Jesse”. This company has failed on multiple counts.

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      Thanks, Carl. I’ll pass on the Get Jesse idea. The driver was subcontracted by the moving company, which sort of threw up its hands when issues came up with the delivery. Disappointing to say the least.

  • http://www.blockbeta.com Robbin Block

    Positive or negative, a well-written review should be balanced and truthful. All positive can be just as bad as all negative. And for it truly to be a “review”, it should be written by someone with knowledge of the industry, product or service. If it’s just a customer, then it’s a testimonial for better or worse. Unfortunately, social sites don’t make that distinction, which leaves it up to the reader to vet out what’s real and long lasting, and up to the business to deal with it. Yes, the Zagat’s of the world serve a purpose.

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      That makes me think of Quora, which gets a lot of its value from precisely labeling people’s expertise when they answer a question.

      • http://www.blockbeta.com Robbin Block

        Of course, that’s self-defined expertise. The issue with social media providing a compass is that everyone can voice an opinion, no matter what their cred. Determining whether they’re a trusted source of information is up to the reader. In some ways it’s nice to have easy access to more information, but what we have now is a glut, making it more difficult and time consuming to work through it all. I’m being very selective about what I read, and I wonder if that’s what everyone else is doing — which ultimately defeats the purpose of some of these sites.

  • http://123socialmedia.com barryhurd

    I am neck deep in the reputation and review side of things having been a part of several start-ups and technologies around the idea.

    Based on my experience I think you logically fall into the same type of hope that there is resolution beyond the an almost immortal type of digital slander. My personal hope is that every business has that chance to get better and not be entirely drilled into the ground for the rest of eternity by the all-mighty search engine.

    I’ve personally spoken to hundreds of business owners on this topic and watch an active database of ‘reputation clients’ that includes thousands of individuals and business brands.

    Some of the reviews hurting those businesses are entirely deserved.

    Some of them are simply negative and cowardly people ranting from behind the anonymous safety of a keyboard.

    Some of them are completely false (and some of those are placed by competitors)

    As someone with more digital exposure at your fingertips I think you did the right thing. Reviews should (in a perfect world) be morally and ethically justified. They should also hopefully be constructive criticisms and not unyielding complaints.

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      Generally we tend to talk more about the responsibilities businesses have than those that customers have. Truth is, reviews really are a powerful weapon. People should use them with care.

  • guest

    I find negative reviews extremely illuminating. For products, the specific issues are very helpful in understanding the limitations. For a service, they help me get a sense of the quality of service. In addition, if there is an owner/manager response, we get to see how they deal with criticism. Frankly, the glowing reviews are of less use to me because it’s hard to tell if they are shills or truly happy customers. I think I’m pretty good at separating the constructive negative from the incendiary venting. And, a few negative reviews won’t cause me to reject the product or service.

  • http://geekwire.com Todd Bishop

    In certain cases it’s extremely important to give negative reviews when you’ve had a bad experience.

    A couple years ago I got locked out of the house and chose a specific locksmith on my google search app because he appeared to be local. After he drove up in an unmarked car and quoted me an outrageous price. I looked him up on yelp, saw from the reviews that he was a scam artist, and told him to leave. Found the next locksmith based on positive yelp reviews and he was great … and about 20% of the price.

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      Curious: When you told him to leave, did he ask why? Did you end up citing the reviews?

  • Egan Fo

    I love the power off writing comments about good and bad experiences. The trouble is bad experience stick with us and compel us to share our negative experiences. We’re not as inclined to share positive reviews. Online reviews in my mind seem to be rather black or white, making it hard for a consumer to make informed decisions.

    The guy with the locksmith story is a great example of how it can work for the consumer. I like how you handled it with your trip to Colorado. That was just right using the company provided suggestion form.

    I do also see how it could be very challenging for a business to clear the air of a negative review. It’s not easy to respond to a specific customer complaint in a public forum such as Yelp. Great discussion!

  • Nancy

    Filing a complaint in Washington State against a moving company.

    http://www.utc.wa.gov/regulatedIndustries/transportation/householdGoods/Pages/default.aspx

  • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

    There’s two other angles to this that you didn’t cover that I think are relevant.

    One that I’m mindful of is lawsuits: some businesses are suing reviewers.

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2012/12/09/166815629/bad-meal-to-yelp-or-not-to-yelp

    The other are the ongoing claims that Yelp will “fix” your negative review problem if you pay enough:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/14/kelly-calandro-yelp-verace-restaurant_n_1885576.html

    So I am dubious of online reviews (plus the problem of astroturfing….friends of the business making slanted reviews). And I am wary of calling out really egregious behavior meaning I don’t really do reviews.

    Typically if I get bad service I do the old fashioned thing: I don’t complain (not my job to fix someone else’s business), I don’t go back and I tell everyone who may care. And if its something really problematic then I’ll take the fight to the managers or owners until they fix it. And if they don’t I’ll look at the BBB, the media or a lawsuit.

    I agree with Get Jesse as a suggestion. For your mother I would get a lawyer too. And start filing paperwork with the state Attorney General.

  • Thiago

    Even so, the business lives on just as the bad review does. Can it hurt them? Yes. But because they want to avoid it, they are more aware of their practices. They hire better. Customer service is more attentive. Destructive reviews are often overblown, but a bad review can have a positive influence. Thiago | http://www.ablesecuritylocksmiths.com

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