In the Face of Ruinous Online Reviews, Businesses Today Are Turning the Tables

Curtailing Anonymity

In recent years, Airbnb has also taken additional measures to curtail anonymity within its community, which likely resulted in disastrous situations like this, where a young woman’s apartment was “burglarized, vandalized and thoroughly trashed” by a guest trolling the site under the guise of a pseudonym.

The company introduced Verified ID last April, a feature that encourages users to link their online identities (Google, Facebook and LinkedIn) with offline data, including personal information or a scanned photo ID.

While Fertik believes that anonymity encourages free speech without repercussion, he argues that, generally, consumers give more credence to online reviews that they perceive to be attached to an actual person.

Related: Airbnb Could Be Joining the $10 Billion Valuation Club

“People appreciate the idea that you’re attaching your name to your commentary,” he said. “It gives it more oomph.”

And because reviews are crucial to the livelihoods of businesses, it’s not a question of “fighting back” against negative comments, Fertik says, so much as enhancing the positive.

One way in which businesses can change the conversation, he suggests, is by actively collecting their own reviews from satisfied customers.

“Some Customers Need to Be Fired.”

While some businesses are merely evaluating their consumers, others are giving them the boot.

Restaurant reservation coordinator OpenTable, for instance, has a penalty system in place for untoward diners: patrons who flake on reservations four times over the course of a year without cancelling in advance will have their accounts swiftly deactivated.

“Some customers,” Fertik acknowledges, “need to be fired.” However, he maintains that this practice should be “an absolute last resort reserved for particularly abusive outliers.”

In one scenario, however, an OpenTable user complained about getting sacked prematurely.

Related: When Bad Online Reviews Cost Business

Her account was suspended without warning, she said, because she arrived early on several occasions -- or perhaps because she was seated immediately without checking in.

Tiffany Fox, senior director of corporate communications at OpenTable, explained that the no-show policy exists on top of reminders that are sent to patrons 36 or 24 hours in advance of their reservations -- which can be cancelled or modified instantly.

In the event of an error as described above, Fox says that consumers are welcome to dispute their no-shows, and that attendance can usually be verified via credit card receipts or, in the event of cash payment, by reaching out to the restaurant directly. 

Nevertheless, the Yelp suit, as well as the shifting way in which companies like Airbnb, Uber and OpenTable are assessing their users, shows that today it’s businesses -- not consumers -- who are increasingly seeking the final word.

Related: How to Deal With the Customer Who Isn't Right

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