Consumer Complaints: Why They Matter, and How to Avoid Them

A business owner can work for years to cultivate a positive reputation, and then see it all come crashing down in a matter of seconds. That may sound like a slight exaggeration, but in the age of mobile phones, Google searches, and Yelp reviews, it’s really anything but. More than ever, consumers are turning to the Internet to find reviews or customer complaints before making any major purchase — and if the first thing they see is a negative BBB listing or a slam from another consumer, that could be all it takes for the business’ reputation to be sunk.
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Online reputation, of course, is no laughing matter. Consider the ramifications of a single one-star pan on a site like Yelp. A consumer, conducting a Google search, may not find any information about your business but that negative review. Meanwhile, the search engine might display a five-star rave from your closest competition. Which company do you think is going to thrive — and which do you think is going to lose profits at an astounding rate?

The bad news for business owners is that online complaints and negative reviews can be disastrous, now more than ever — and that those complaints and reviews can come from anywhere. They may be from seriously unhappy customers, for sure, but they could also be planted by disgruntled employees, or even from a rival company.

The good news is that any business owner can take action to curb the effects of these negative reviews. Here are a few basic tips for doing just that.

Knowledge is Power

The whole process begins with online reputation monitoring — because if you don’t know what people are saying about your brand on the Web, how can you possibly respond appropriately? Monitoring is the crucial first step, letting you know where you stand on the Web. Conducting an assessment of your brand’s online image is something you should do regularly.

Manually searching on Google and other search engines is vital, but it’s also helpful to create news alerts, letting you know of any new listings or blog entries that appear and mention your company. Also make sure you’re continually keeping tabs on the major review sites, including Yelp and, if applicable, TripAdvisor, Angie’s List, and so on.

Getting Out There

In addition to monitoring your brand’s reputation, you can also take action to defend it. A basic rule of thumb is that for a consumer complaint or bad review to have any kind of adverse effect, it has to actually be visible to online search engine users. If it’s not right there on page one, it’s not going to be an issue. Protecting yourself, then, means making sure online reviews cannot break through the first page or so of search engine results.

This you can do by, essentially, creating high volumes of positive content about your company. Think of it as a wall, one that you build piece by piece with online content, and which keeps negative reviews out of your way. Create as much content as you can on social media sites and web pages. Also make sure that you snatch up exact-match domains — that is, YourBrand.com, .org, and so on — and that you populate those pages with content.

In addition to erecting a defensive wall, however, content creation also enables you to get out in front of potential PR issues or complaints. It allows you to, in effect, shape and control the story. Any time anything at your company happens — even if it’s not entirely positive — you should think seriously about issuing a press release or a blog, putting your spin on the story and making it clear that you’re the only who controls your online reputation.

Reviews Happen

At the end of the day, of course, there is nothing that any business owner can do to prevent people from writing reviews on a site like Yelp. Erecting that defensive wall of positive content will help you maintain control, but sometimes, a review might appear that really causes problems. The question then becomes one of appropriate response.

Responding to a positive review, or even constructive feedback, is always recommended. Respond as promptly and as politely as possible. This goes a long way toward building a positive online image for your brand, and it encourages others to leave good reviews.

As for unreasonable and flat-out negative reviews, though, a hasty response can be ruinous to your brand. In fact, any response at all can harm your reputation, because it only draws attention to the negative review in question.

That, of course, is counterproductive. The goal of any business owner should be to suppress online complaints, and make them as close to invisible as possible. That means focusing your efforts on building up positive content, and using that content to drown out the negatives.

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