Reviewbusters Review RESPONSE Service

    To break through
    information overload,
    use a simple message

    Our Response Principles

    Americans are in information overload. One study says we average nearly 10 hours a day consuming media (the lowest we found), while another says 15-1/2 hours a day (Institute for Communication Technology Management of USC's Marshall School of Business).

    Americans simply don't have a lot of mental bandwidth to spare.

    So if you have something to say, and hope to break through in our over-communicated world, you need a simple message. Simple but powerful. Then you need to reinforce it with evidence, examples, analogies, and restatement.

    Usually, you need a single message.

    Immediately after someone reads an article, or watches a news report or debate, they'll remember 3, maybe 4 pieces of information, at best. A week later, they'll be lucky to remember just one—a single takeaway. Professional communicators know this well. You see it in political campaigns.

    When we train an executive or official for media interviews, we find the single core message they want to get across (what we intend to become the theme of the journalist's story), and then figure out 3 to 4 supporting messages, and show them how to build bridges from the journalist's questions to their messages. This applies to any kind of communications. If you're creating an investor presentation or annual report, for example, it's more effective to focus on a single investible idea—the most powerful one you have—rather than shotgun everything you can think of. If you're pitching a movie idea to Hollywood executives, you keep it simple, e.g., Jaws on a spaceship (Alien).

    What Matters in Reviews
    Now let's look at this concept in terms of the mob-sourced review sites. What exactly will consumers remember when they read a negative review? That's what we evaluate and respond to: What are the one to two takeaways that we need to counter and neutralize?

    Concerning local service businesses, consumers are likely to be impacted by and remember two kinds of topline information:

  • A message about a category, or two, of the customer experience that most concerns them, such as a service element, parking, cost, sanitary condition, e.g., it takes forever to be seated, parking is a nightmare, over-the-top expensive, filthy, unhygienic dental office. (Note: for products, it's about the important features, e.g., is that computer power supply really quiet or is it loud?)

  • A general impression about how the business operates, such as professionalism, competence, honesty, care for the customer, e.g., sleazy business practices, an inept contractor that makes mistakes and takes forever to finish the job.

  • It's critical to counter and neutralize negative reviews concerning both kinds of information.

    With the first, the category experience, people don't really care that Suzie Q. had a bad experience parking. But they care if they perceive a pervasive parking problem with your establishment, because they don't want to fall victim. That's an important distinction: We don't have to contradict Suzie's experience—we can even acknowledge it and apologize—but we damn well need to convince readers that her experience is an exception and not the rule.

    Now if Suzie Q states incorrect factual information (e,g, "there's only 3 parking spaces for customers"), it needs to be corrected. If she's unreasonable or clearly trying to hurt you rather than be helpful to other consumers, and chopping away at you with multiple problem issues, then we must discredit her.

    And that's what we must do, as well, when any reviewer attacks how your business operates. We must torpedo the reviewer's credibility.

    It's All About Credibility
    In all cases where we respond, we rarely engage in point-by-point, allegation-by-allegation rebuttals. Doing so is too confusing for the reader and makes you sound defensive. It does not produce a positive takeaway. This is illustrated in nearly all of our case studies.

    Again, we live in an over-communicated world and people's bandwidth is limited. So when we engage with a response, readers are going to make their topline judgment, and come away with a single topline message or impression. This is going to be based on who is more credible.

    To win hearts and minds, you need to win the credibility battle. With attack reviews, credibility becomes a zero-sum game: you gain what you take away from your adversary. If you don't respond, the reader's takeaway will be negative for you.

    Other Principles
    Following is a short list of principles, from our point of view, concerning effective response communications, especially winning the battle for credibility. (A much fuller list will be provided in our upcoming book on the subject—sign up in the left-side column to receive advance notice and a 50-percent discount when it's ready).

    The best way to understand these principles is to read our Case Studies and see how they work in actual responses.

  • Write to your composite customer. When your response will be published to the public, that's who you're writing to—not the reviewer. If you communicate with the reviewer, it'll be a private communication (and beware that anything you write privately might get published publicly, e.g., in a follow-up review). In writing a public response, you're not writing to everyone in the world, but only to those you hope will become customers. So don't worry about offending miserable people you don't want as customers. Imagine your typical or composite customer. This will shape the tone and sophistication level of the response.

  • Use a consistent voice that reflects the brand identity. Every business is different. For many small businesses, this means that the response should reflect the business owner's communication style or public personality.

  • Stay above the fray. Don't let them see you sweat. This is a matter of tone. You can't let readers see defensiveness. It's not that you cannot let any emotion come through. You just can't come across as defensive because that signals guilt. Minor frustration is okay, and may be desirable at times. In our Scambrat case study, the tone of this response is strong, even harsh, but it does not wallow in defensiveness or flash anger. It stays above the fray.

  • Use specificity to promote credibility. Reviewers instinctively understand that specificity promotes credibility, and attack reviews are usually peppered with details. In responding, we also want to use specifics, though not in the sense of trying to rebut a reviewer's many individual allegations, which would create confusion and sound defensive. Taking our Scambrat case study again, here is a good example of a reviewer's use of details, as well as our own. We break out the money that ScamBrat wants refunded to show what a deadbeat he is, i.e., "the $342.71 fee for his 11-day rental of our Kia Forte, as well as $133 for two parking tickets". And we provide details of fuel surcharge in general, without being sucked in trying to justify ScamBrat's specific allegations regarding fuel.

  • Tell a story, if possible. Storytelling is effective, and credible. Our inept contractor case study makes use of the story-telling format in the response, as way to more effectively discredit attack reviews by a husband and wife. Reviewers often use this strategy, as well. The reviewer in our good dentist vs. evil dentist case study uses the strategy brilliantly, creating a parable that echoes popular mythology, in writing a devastating review.

  • Use Epiphany. It's best to not spell out everything, but say enough to lead readers to connect the dots so they believe they figured it out. That creates an epiphany. It's the "aha" moment. Epiphanies are powerful and credible and play into the reader's ego. In general, we want the entire response to create a kind of epiphany about who is credible (hopefully our client) and who is not (the reviewer).

  • Take the opportunity to deliver key marketing messages. It's opportunistic to exploit a negative review to deliver marketing messages. It also gives ammunition in the battle for credibility. On one side you have a successful contractor who's built more than $60 million worth of home improvements for customers in this market over 30 years. On the other side you have some anonymous gutter snipe trying to tell people this is a terribly inept company that they shouldn't do business with.

  • If something factual needs to be corrected, then correct it. For example, We have parking for 15 cars in the back, not 3. It's easily accessed through the ally, and is rarely full.

  • Don't ingratiate with a customer-is-always-right attitude. At least not in writing in public forums. Doing so gives price shoppers, miserable people and predators the impression that you can be threatened, bullied and blackmailed. If you believe the customer is always right, then you've already given up.

  • The obvious use-a-fork-and-knife-not-your-hands stuff that you read in blogs and columns on responding to reviews, e.g., no canned corporate responses, don't use profanity or threaten.