A Simple Way To Keep Bad Reviews Offline

Earlier this week I caught a post from Entrepreneur.com about cleaning up your online reputation. Curious if there’d be any good tips, I decided to give it a read. But there weren’t any tips. Instead, the article introduced me to a site called Skweal.

Hmm.

If you haven’t heard of it, Skweal is a feedback platform designed to grab user complaints before they go viral or grow to damage someone’s online reputation by keeping them offline. To leave a comment or complaint, businesses are to direct customers to visit Skweal on their smartphones where they can pick the business out from a list and post a private message. Someone on the Skweal team will then pass that customer message off to the right person at the business. To aid this process, Skweal would obviously like for businesses to register with the site, but even if they don’t, Skweal says they’ll do their best to track down an email/Twitter account/SMS. Founder Tyler Crowley also “joked” that if they can’t track down contact info for your business, they’ll just hand over the complaints to your competitor.

Ha! Funny, right? Yeah, Tyler, Seth Godin called. He wants his old social media blackmail strategy back.

But sketchiness aside, I couldn’t help but wonder if business owners really need Skweal. It seems to me they already have the exact same functionality.

Skweal = Your Web site.

Last year I was interviewed by a wedding magazine about how bridal shops could protect their online reputation. One of the tips I mentioned was giving your customers a place on your Web site to leave comments and complaints. That seems pretty logical to me. If you don’t want angry customers to head to Twitter, to their blog, to Yelp or to another public (and search-able) place to say bad things about you, then give them somewhere else to go. Create a form or an area on your Web site that serves as a dedicated place for people to leave customer feedback and then promote the heck out of it. Make sure customers know THIS is where you’d like them to go with complaints and where they’ll get the quickest response and/or resolution.

Will every angry and disgruntled customer head there first? No, probably not. But folks who really want to be heard and who want action will. And when they do head there, thank them. Because they didn’t just run to the nearest social media site. They came to you first. This gives you a fantastic opportunity to solve their issues, overwhelm them with killer customer service, and to change their experience. So don’t be an idiot and let the complaint sit there. Make it so they’re redirected to your phone or email and ACT on the complaints as soon as they come in.

Realize that you don’t need Skweal or any other site to act as the middleman between you and your customers. If social media has taught us anything, it’s that. What you do need to do is to give your customers an outlet to air their grievances. Because that’s all they really want to do. If you don’t want them to get loud on Twitter, give them somewhere else to go and promote it to all hell so that everyone knows, this is where your ears are and how they should get in touch with you.

Just my two cents.

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About the Author

Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.

Get social with Lisa at Twitter

33 thoughts on “A Simple Way To Keep Bad Reviews Offline

  1. We do something that may seem absolutely crazy. We call our clients on a daily basis.

    We don’t call every client every day, but we rotate through and checkup on as many people as we can, with regularity. There’s no sales pitch either, no push for repeat visits, no phony bologna. In the years I’ve been in business, I’ve found a personal phone call (from me or staff (or both) goes a long long way.

    I’ll get around to doing the web thing someday. :)

    • Like…with the phone? That IS crazy! :)

      That’s a great approach. It also opens up that personal relationship where people know if they have an issue, that they can call you, too, instead of heading to Twitter to write nasty things about you.

      I took both of my cats to the vet earlier this week. It was my first time at that particular vet and I was really impressed with how great and accommodating they were to me and my animals. The following day they followed up to see how my experience was and if everything went smoothly. It did, but I know that had it not, that phone call would have been a great way for us to resolve that issue before things got worse.

      • My dentist’s office sends an email the next day, asking for feedback on the appointment. I like that, it’s unusual. And seems pretty hip for a dentist.

  2. Good advice here — it’s critical that businesses understand while you can’t stop someone from posting a negative comment (and shouldn’t try, a review is what it is) you can be the aggregator of those comments. This gives you two distinct advantages: first by encouraging lots of reviews you get a balance — happy with unhappy, great with not good. Second, and even more important to those people with bad things to say, you are able to easily listen, monitor & respond.

    The biggest advantage of having people review your product / service is transparent opinions for prospects and insights for you. But these only help if you use them right and are actively driving people to contribute – put an insert into packages, tell all your customers to write a review and don’t fixate on the negative or avoiding it, but instead realize that there’s a lot of value in honesty and that if you do have a good service, the rule of averages is your defense, not moderation or suppression.

    • Great comment, Tyler. And you’re 100 percent right. There’s definitely a lot to learn from reviews, and you should be soliciting them. Both to learn from and to showcase for other customers looking to learn more about other people’s experience.

      What really struck me about the Entrepreneur.com piece was that people didn’t seem to realize you could use YOUR OWN WEB SITE to do what this “service” is essentially trying to aggregate for you. Why would I need a third-party to connect me to my customers and their complaints? Why wouldn’t I just set that up myself?

  3. John Shehata takes this a step further in his presentations @ Local U — he suggests creating a page with ‘Complaints about ______’ in the title tag, so that it’ll rank for your business name. Let the customer rant and rave DIRECTLY TO YOU, before they go on Yelp, Citysearch, etc. and blast you publicly. That way you have the opportunity to fix things yourself & make things right for that customer before they get out of hand.

  4. @David…spot-on !!!

    gee, lemmee see if I can remember how to tell googlebot NOT to index or rank those “Complaints about______ ” pages….hmm…lets’see….maybe a robot.txt file…or a META….or….

    :-)

    Jim

  5. Sounds like the owner of Skweal probably would have liked it if you used his platform instead of blogging about it. The service sounds like just another “service” in the gimcrack tsunami that’s swelling up. If a company TRULY cared about their customers their reputation would never be at steak and they wouldn’t need stuff like this to try and sweep it under the rug.

    • +1 for the crack in the first sentence.
      +5 for the use of “gimcrack”
      +10 for noticing that if a company really CARED they wouldn’t need a service like this to “hide” negative reviews.

      Combined score: +16

      • A personal best! I’ve read the replies the owner has made, and I’m still firmly in your camp. I also happen to believe that bad reviews are just as helpful as good reviews. I get to know far more about the product / company than I do just through “I love this widget” reviews. Plus, if you take negative reviews out the entire review process becomes completely pointless.

  6. Lisa,

    Happy to hear the article caught your attention, however you’re missing 90% of the picture, there is much more to the equation than you’ve considered.

    Here’s a few examples…

    Adding an email form to most websites won’t help as the vast majority of retailer websites aren’t optimized for mobile.

    Email forms don’t provide a retailer with rich analytics showing which locations and which shifts are having problems.

    Email forms don’t send customizable auto-generated responses tailored to the customers feedback within minutes.

    Email forms don’t allow for sending and tracking vouchers to see when a customer returns to make good on the experience.

    Email forms don’t pull social media data about customers so you can see how influential each customer is.

    Email forms don’t show how many times this customer has complained at other locations, or how often they give feedback, or how valuable their feedback is on average.

    Email forms don’t allow for easy tailorable template responses approved by the owners.

    For all these reason and many more email forms don’t keep employees and staff on their toes to give great service like Skweal does.

    Make sense? And did I mention it’s free for most businesses?

    Additionally, customers prefer a standardized way to do things at every location, not a fragmented solution at each business like they have now, this is why customers are turning to places like twitter and yelp.

    Lastly, I completely agree with your point that retailers shouldn’t let middlemen get between them and their customers, which is why Skweal is built to allow direct communication in both directions, oddly you seem to imply the opposite.

    I welcome you to give Skweal a try, it really only takes seconds.

    • Believe it or not, I did read everything on the Skweal Web site and as much as I could find online before I wrote, what I consider, to be a very logical argument. And while I was interested in the analytical information I saw on the site, I still think sites are much better served creating a page on their site that allows them to do the same thing, without getting a third-party site involved.

      I understand what you’re trying to pitch here, but I think something as simple as this is much more effective:

      http://www.trackur.com/heres-how-you-prevent-99-of-all-online-reputation-crises

      I don’t want to send customers a customized template when they send a complaint or have a service attempt to determine their influence (I know the influence of my customers better than you do), I want them to be able to contact me, for me to be notified immediately, and to act on it. I feel like I do that better on my own.

      [Thanks to Andy Beal for sharing the link]

    • Dear Skweal

      You’re trying to create an industry niche where there is no valid need or reason for one. The vast majority of customers are going to complain directly to the company directly or they’re going to go public. I guarantee you if I want to complain and I’m re-routed to a site called Skweal, I’m going to get even more ticked off and complain about how annoying it was and how insulting it was to my intelligence. Because your “service” is a blatant slap in the face of an unhappy customer.

        • “We don’t want to hear your complaint directly, go Skweal instead”

          Yeah, that right there is definitely going to calm my buyer’s remorse.

          1. Why would I want to talk to this third party who I have never heard of before?
          2. Skweal? Really? As in “Squeal like a pig”?
          3. If I am going to use a third party channel it will be Twitter or Facebook, where I whine all the time anyway ;)

          Or not.

      • Alan

        That is exactly what I was thinking. Did Skweal not think and envision the process through of when a customer has a complaint? The customer does not want to be sent to some middle man who cannot solve the problem. They want to go directly to the company and have the problem solved. People complain when they do contact the company directly and are switched 5x and have to explain the problem over and over. They want answers and not told that Skweal will try and track down the business. Defies logic to me.

    • @Skweal “Email forms don’t send customizable auto-generated responses tailored to the customers feedback within minutes.” Why can’t someone create a form with an auto-generated, customized, tailored to customer feedback within minutes on their own site? I can do this right now and I am NOT an email genius by any means.

      Dear Entrepreneurs, Create stuff that people need; do not create junk and then try to push it off on people. Thank you, Customers

  7. I’ve seen several companies in the past that say things like “we can’t let users post feedback on our website, they might post something negative” and then a few weeks later say things like “how do we control what people are saying about us online”

    Eventually, they realize the two arguments conflict with each other, but it can take a lot of guidance and prodding to steer some companies in that direction.

  8. Thinking a little on it and about social media outlets’ yen to capitalize on whatever data we feed it (look how far Facebook has come in a year with Sponsored Stories or Twitter with its “You Should Follow” algorithms), it almost seems like encouraging customers to voice their complaints via a third party is a recipe for disaster. Why would you want all those negative endorsements to be hosted on a platform that you, as a brand reputation manager, have no control over?

    Sure social media’s great, but at some point, you have to draw a line–especially when it comes to brand management.

    • Why would you want all those negative endorsements to be hosted on a platform that you, as a brand reputation manager, have no control over?

      ding ding ding! ;)

  9. From the customer standpoint it may be easier to use a service like Skweal if you have a lot of complaining to do across the web. From a company standpoint, however, I would rather contact my customers personally to hear their concerns, and I’d rather have their complaints on my website. I don’t want to put the power in the hands of a third party when it comes to my online reputation.

    BTW, with respect to determining customers’ level of influence… It’s best to treat every customer as though they are the biggest customer you’ve had. This process is tried and true and has served me well for many years. I can’t trust a third party to provide the same level of service.

  10. Great advice in a funny wrapper.

    And, it tracks with good advice I’ve seen John Shehata give in presentations which he just just repeated on his blog: http://www.john-shehata.com/complaints-reviews-smb/

    It’s a great strategy for the SMB to own the conversation.

    Also, the name sucks “Skweal” – it’s annoying. It doesn’t speak to a well-reasoned entrée to discussion, it sounds like a stuck pig. Much like “Yelp” sounds like somebody stepped on your toe.

    These are not names that speak to dialog. They’re names which speak to long-winded complainers.

  11. I would think that when someone has a bad experience, they are going to go where they are comfortable to complain. Their facebook page, Twitter feed etc. I think the SKWEAL model (correct me if I am wrong) requires that one go to them to complain. Why WOULDN’T I go to the business website that pissed me off in the first place? The other consideration ( from my perspective living WAY UP in northern British Columbia, Canada -currently -32) is that we are presented with dozens of complaint websites. What would make SKWEAL unique?

    Timing is everything and my worry is that people want instant relief. I get spam, seconds later I am emailing support or a company rep. And want it dealt with now.

    SKWEAL responses about what Email forms can do or not do…alot of that can be monitored with the proper coding and some backend technology. Not everyone has it…but we need to always look at things from the perspective of the upset client.

    Lastly, the comment about knowing how many complaints come in or if the client uses a discount coupon to track if the come back – All I would care about is the fact they are pissed and what can I do. Many “disgruntled” clients will phone 100 times or send dozens of letters. Also, I know a few people who would exploit the free coupon opportunity just so they could get a discount. Heck, my own kids tell me their friends at school go back to Macdonalds in the drive thru and ask for missing food… and they get it…even if they didn’t go thru the drive thru at all. Ripe for abuse.

    Not convinced we need a SKWEAL site…

  12. While what Tyler said about passing the info on to competitors may have been in jest, that is an important thing to take into consideration. It could happen. And you’d never know. Business owners don’t know if Skweal has scruples or not. No one does. If you use Skweal, you have no control. And that’s the point.

    What if their platform fails? What if they misidentify a business and send complaints to the wrong one? What if, what if, what if…just too many what ifs to put someone else in control of something so vitally important to your business.

    • So I might go even further. Let’s say you find yourself at Skweal, expecting a response and none ever comes.

      You might decide to Yelp even louder and more obnoxiously :)

      Misidentifying the business would be awful, but completely ignoring the complaint could tick off someone prone to squealing even further.

  13. “Adding an email form to most websites won’t help as the vast majority of retailer websites aren’t optimized for mobile.”

    How is this a valid argument for the service? You’re going to enable businesses to continue to not optimize their sites for mobile, and continue to annoy their mobile-connected customers? Not helpful. There are a lot of things many businesses still need to do to be kickass in the customer service department. Adding a middle man isn’t one of them.

    The other thing that comes to my mind is, if I go to a brick-and-mortar store and have a bad experience, I want to talk to someone right then, and have the issue fixed right then. Would it make sense for them to tell me to walk across the street to their complaint service’s location? Some other business that’s not related and doesn’t even have the same brand name? Who are they? Why do I want to talk to them? That would just piss me off even more. Fix it now, fix it where I am, and don’t make it any more complicated than it has to be–or doesn’t have to be.

    P.S. The service’s name and its spelling are like nails on a chalkboard. But maybe that’s just me.

  14. A Simple Way To Keep Bad Reviews Offline…

    Focus on customer service. If a business is thinking of signing up for online reputation management there is already a flaw in their logic.

    Customers are intelligent enough to realize complaints posted to skweal will not make it into the mainstream public web. They will continue to yelp, tweet and use other review sites.

    You make some valid points. Keep up the good work Lisa.

  15. I really find the whole business model rather quite confusing. Today, most websites have all sorts of methods you can use contact a business. Like Skweal said, consumers like standardization. Contact pages are already pretty much standard, so why try to convince people to change their habits? In my experience, it’s easier to work with consumers and their habits than to try to push them sideways down the path you want them to go.

    Companies who don’t have a contact page aren’t any more likely to use a service like Skweal. Why? Because if they were interested in feedback, they’d provide some method of doing so, even if it was calling each customer personally.

    The argument about a mobile site doesn’t cut it for me either. If I was on a mobile, it’s not hard to tweet the company or do a search and get their email address. Chances are, if your order is screwed up, or someone didn’t provide the service they promised, you likely aren’t going to know until you’re at home or work anyway.

    I’m not completely sure why you’d need analytics to show you the locations and shifts having issues. If you’re dealing with the problem adequately, you should be asking the customer directly or it will already be recorded when the purchase was made.

    For most companies, the information collected by their shopping carts is more than adequate, especially when combined with a good CRM program. Even tracking customers after the problem has been resolved can be done with a good CRM program, or a to-do list and a phone call. I’m sure they’d appreciate it much more after a bad experience.

    As a consumer, I hate auto-generated or template messages, and if I’m already irritated or pissed off, the last thing I want is another one. (Press ’1′ for English, Press ’2′ or French…If you want to speak with a customer service representative, press ’986′…”). I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels this way.

    The single biggest reasons customers complain is because they want to be heard. They want to know that what they say matters and the issue will be dealt with. They’ll go wherever they have to in order to satisfy that need. So, I’m confused as to how tailored, automated responses satisfy this need?

    The entire thought about finding out how influential a customer is just terrifies me. So, what? If that person doesn’t have a Klout of 79 and 90K followers on Twitter, they don’t deserve your attention? Truly, I am puzzled.

    We’ve seen Twitterpeeps, small bloggers, etc with very few followers or influence go viral on several occasions. The United Breaks Guitar guy? Whoever heard of him before the video? The whole fiasco with Cooksource Magazine? How would measuring influence have predicted that Monica Gaudio would get that sort of reaction from her tweets and blog post? It simply happened in the right place, at the right time.

    Any good company worth its salt will make a record of customer’s complaints and feedback. As previously mentioned, it’s priceless information when improving products/services, creating marketing strategies, or to justify the value of your product/service. I’m still not seeing any value here, aside from the fact that Skweal would have a huge database of companies, customers, and complaints. Imagine what you could do with that kind of information…

    So yeah, I will still recommend my clients use their own systems, and make it as easy as possible for customers to complain in a way they know they’ll be heard.

  16. From the brand name to the whole model, they seem to be focussed on companies that 1. Are bad at customer service and 2. Want to not suffer for it and they have missed the customer side of the story altogether.

    Those companies are perfect for selling their product to as they are likely to fall for such shortcuts. The pitch matches the thinking here. On the other hand, the good companies will focus on improving customer service.

  17. Oh. what you said!!
    I just blogged about the very same thing the very same day as you (but published yesterday) on Spin Sucks. I see it the same way. and only added that it’s going to be tough sell because those that want to, just love to air their complaints publicly. And will do so the second anyone gives them the opportunity.
    :)

  18. And I suppose that’s why 24/7 support tickets, forums and hotline are very vital for big-brands. It’s definitely a good place to moderate upcoming issues regarding a business’ products/services.

    I think with Skweal, there are higher chances for certain issues to escalate and leak. It’s way better to control these complaints yourself rather than having a middleman. Given that complaints should always direct first to the provider.

  19. I think wherever possible companies should be responsible for their own online reputation. There are many different channels they can promote to get people to complain to them directly and while not everybody will do this, it’s not too difficult or time consuming to have someone monitor mentions of your company name on Twitter for example.

    If a customer does complain on Twitter and you pick up in it quickly, it can actually do your reputation a lot of good as people will see your company as one that really cares about customer service and sorting out problems.

    There are a number of things businesses can do to keep on top of their online reputation – some of which are mentioned in a blog post of mine ORM Tips

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