Jane Smith and her husband, John, proprietors of Arizona-based XYZ Remodeling*, thought they were nearing the end of a contract with a particularly demanding remodeling customer. During the final walk-through with the client’s wife, John gave her the final bill, and they agreed on a punch list. The wife paid part of the bill during the walk-through and offered to overnight the final payment.
Two weeks later, the punch list was complete, but the final payment had not been made. Instead, Jane and John received an email from their client stating he would only pay a lesser amount because of what he termed“deductions.” The remodelers asked for a face-to-face meeting with him to better understand his concerns, but the only response from the client was a scathing review on a nationally recognized consumer-watchdog organization’s website.
“What I found most horrifying about this situation is that anybody can go onto any site and say anything they please,” Jane says. “The rants can be full of misstatements and there’s no verification for accuracy.”
According to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, Washington, D.C., an unsatisfied customer will tell nine to 15 people about his problem. Approximately 13 percent of unsatisfied customers will tell more than 20 people about their grievance. Remodelers have long understood word-of-mouth can make or break their businesses. However, the cyber world adds a new dimension to maintaining customer satisfaction because unhappy customers tend to be bolder about their negative feedback. And the opportunity for prospective customers to stumble across a negative online review is exponentially greater thanks to the intrinsic capabilities of search engines. However, by proactively managing their online reputations, remodelers can ensure the negative doesn’t outweigh the positive.
Dealing with Negative Reviews
Carol Flammer, MIRM, managing partner of Atlanta-based mRELEVANCE, a firm that focuses on Internet marketing, social media and public relations, and author of Social Media For Home Builders 2.0: It’s Easier Than You Think, says the first step is to avoid negative reviews before they happen. A simple system of checks and balances throughout a project can help alleviate issues as they arise. Flammer also recommends surveying customers after a project to help identify problems in processes that remodelers otherwise wouldn’t know exist.
However, despite a remodeler’s best efforts, being in business increases the chances of encountering negative reviews. When one occurs, Flammer says it’s important to take a deep breath and avoid lashing out at the reviewer. “We always recommend to our clients not to freak out or panic; don’t hit delete; don’t retaliate,” she says. “Take a moment to determine the best course of action, but don’t let too much time pass.”
She adds people don’t expect to go to a review site and see only stellar reviews. “If you go to a review site to look up a restaurant, you’re going to see a couple good reviews, a couple bad ones and a bunch in the middle, and you’re going to make your own decision,” Flammer says. “If you go to a review site and you see 10 glowing reviews, like most people, you will probably think somebody stacked the ballot box. Of course, you don’t want 10 negative reviews either, but it’s not the end of the world to have a few negative reviews or one really unhappy customer blowing you up.”
Andy Wells, co-owner of Normandy Remodeling, Hinsdale, Ill., admits to having had a few bad reviews—some of which he thinks may have been posted by his competition. No matter who his team thinks is posting the reviews, Wells says it’s important to take your time and craft a thoughtful response. “Our marketing department knows immediately when something is posted, good or bad,” he says. “We respond quickly, openly and honestly to negative reviews. If you think it was posted wrongly or by your competition, react to it as if it’s real. You’re the only person who has a suspicion that someone is doing this underhandedly; the rest of the world would never know that, so you have to react to the review professionally.”