Online referrals are starting to make an impact on local businesses, but not in the way we all expected them to. A few years ago, the buzz within the online marketing community was that social networks would become a referral engine for people to ask advice through. Facebook even attempted to create a new type of social search engine to capture that referral service. Google also struggled with the idea that the internet would become a big referral engine, and they tried to capture a piece of it through Google+.
While Facebook and Google were competing, Yelp focused on building their platform around business information and online reviews, and they did a good job at it. Eventually, Google and Facebook started to realize that focusing on reviews was the real referral engine, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel to create a new referral engine that no one wanted to use.
Online reviews are a type of "user generated content" that's taking over how the internet works. With smartphones in our pockets, every one of us has the power to snap and upload photos and videos to social networks and photo sharing services. Each social network has a way to tag a business or an event while leaving a comment, review, or uploading a photo.
This user generated content is the information that we, as consumers, want to see when evaluating local businesses.
Instead of competing against Facebook's social network and Yelp's review system, Google seems to be heading back towards doing what they do best: collecting and aggregating information for us to get to. I usually start this weekly website blog post with search phrases like "jewelry stores in [anytown] USA" to find my review candidates. I've noticed subtle and progressive changes to the way they display business information in the results I get every week, and they are now important enough to talk about.
Jewelers West Jordan, UT
I began my search this week with the phrase "jewelers West Jordan, UT" and was shown these local results:
It wasn't until I saw these results that I realized I had turned into a review snob. My first thought to seeing the 4.2 rating on Gines Fine Jewelers was "I'd never shop at a place with less than a 4.6 rating." Then I noticed the 1.7 rating for Fred Meyer Jewelers and thought "Wow, that's pretty low even for a chain store."
Fred Meyer Jewelers Google Reviews
Curiosity got the better of me and I had to find out why that Fred Meyer store has such a low rating. Clicking on the entry for Fred Meyer brought me to this screen:
(click to enlarge)
There's a link for "3 Google reviews" near the top of the store information. Clicking that brings up these reviews:
Google sorts the reviews by the "Most helpful," which, in many cases, means the worst reviews will appear first. This store location doesn't have any good reviews, so it really doesn't matter what order they are in.
The first upset customer says that the store was too busy to help them to have a few links removed from a watch band. As a business owner, I understand that some of these reviews are written by people who are having bad days, and I also understand that employees can also have bad days and say something in the wrong tone of voice. For me, I would ignore this particular review.
On the other hand, I find the second review a little disturbing. The review mentions the store manager by name and accuses him of making inappropriate comments about her breasts. Notice that this is not an anonymous review and I have to assume it has been quite damaging to the store's business.
As a chain store, the district manager should pay attention to the reviews of their area. As user generated content, Google knows that businesses need to reply to these reviews, and they give you that power. In this situation if I were the district manager, I would have apologized to the first reviewer and asked for a second chance, or invited them to the next closest Fred Meyer store for better service. For the second reviewer, I would have investigated the claim and posted a reply detailing disciplinary action I took against the store manager that made those inappropriate comments.
Masseys Jewelers Google Reviews
I decided to look for a few more bad reviews around the West Jordan area and came across Masseys Jewelers, shown here:
The review summary area shows they have a few low ratings. I'll read those before deciding to shop there.
When clicking the reviews, Google brought this one up first, citing it as the most helpful:
This 1-star review claims that the jeweler switched diamonds out of their ring when they brought it in to be cleaned; further claiming that the jeweler screamed profanities at them. Within the jewelry industry, we all know that this is a common fear that customers have. Clean gemstones look a lot different than dirty gemstones and many people believe that the stones were swapped. As a jeweler, you can solve this problem by photographing the jewelry in front of the customer when they drop it off.
I was glad to see a reply to this negative review, and the reply brings up another problem that often plagues online review systems. The jeweler apologizes for the bad experience, but also says that they have no record of the reviewer. Over the years, I've had a few experiences with customers who called claiming bad service only to find out that they were not even my customer. Did the reviewer mistakenly leave a review on the wrong business profile? The other possibility is that this is a bogus review and a nefarious effort by someone to tarnish the Masseys Jewelers reputation.
This review and reply was posted about a year ago, but I can't help wonder if there was ever a resolution. I would like to see the jeweler go back and post an update to the response.
The second bad review I found on Masseys account was from about 2 years ago:
This customer is complaining about a ring that's losing stones, accusing the store of selling a faulty setting. Whenever I see a review like this one, I feel that the customer has provided insights into how customer service must be improved during the sales process. I will assume the ring setting was not faulty, but instead, delicate and potentially susceptible to the prongs moving. Maybe it was a softer metal that needed more attention. Both of these scenarios needs to be better explained, and perhaps even presented in writing to the customer before the purchase. Many jewelers I know also mandate a 6 month routine prong check otherwise the warranty is void.
The review also mentions a 2 week turn around for tightening the stones. Depending on the process, and how busy the store is at that time of year, I can understand that turnaround time. However, it seems like the jeweler didn't take the time to educate their customer on why the turnaround took that long.
The reply from the jeweler seems rude to me. Instead of writing a reply and resolution specific to the upset customer, their reply seems matter-of-fact and uncaring. They also use the word "clearly" in their reply. As a blog writer, I've learned that I cannot use words like "obviously" and "clearly" because what is obviously clear to me is certainly not obviously clear to everyone else in the world. It's condescending.
Here's the specific quote from the reply:
"Although our warranty covers a vast majority of issues (such as diamond loss and stone tightening), it does not cover wear-related repairs (such as adding gold to worn prongs). These are clearly the responsibility of the owner."
When I reread the original review, I have to wonder if this customer was told that their gold ring would wear, and that worn prongs are their responsibility. I'm assuming that level of customer pre-sales service was not provided, which means this situation was not clear at all.
When replying to online reviews, never belittle the customer when you feel they should know something. Always take the opportunity to educate, and do so politely.
This next bad review I found was from 3 years ago:
This review details rude service and a lack of expertise in customer service. The business coach in me wonders if the same sales person mentioned in this review is the same person that sold the "faulty setting" mentioned in the previous review. This could be an indicator that the sales staff needs better training.
On the other hand, the internet savvy consumer in me looks at this review and recognizes the similarity in the bad service from 3 years ago and 2 years ago. I also noticed that several 5-star reviews were posted about 2 years ago as well. Again, the internet savvy consumer in me thinks that Masseys asked their favorite customers and friends to post good reviews to offset the 2 bad ones.
Bottom line, I probably would not shop at Masseys, and if I did, I would ask lots of questions and be very critical of the customer service they gave me.
Getting and Replying to Reviews
There's no time like today to ask for customer reviews. Don't wait until someone posts a bad review for you to ask customers for good reviews. Ask your customers to leave reviews on Facebook, Yelp, or Google; whichever service they like best. Reviews are more impressive when they are sporadic over time, rather than all in the same month.
When replying to the online reviews, never attack the customer or outright claim that they are wrong. Always use the opportunity to correctly educate the reviewer and future readers. Offer a solution of some type, even if it is to say you fired/disciplined/reeducated an employee.
You should reply to every review that's posted to Facebook, Yelp, and Google, even the good ones. In the above examples with Masseys Jewelers, they only replied to two of the bad reviews. Perhaps they didn't think it was necessary to reply to the older bad review, but they should have. It doesn't matter how old the reviews are, you should reply to all of them so potential customer can see that you care.
The Referral Engine
In addition to the built-in Google reviews, Google is now aggregating the reviews it finds on Facebook, Yelp, and other reputable review sites. On occasion, the search results will show the average rating from those other sites.
In the past, when you needed a referral, you would ask a family member, a friend, or a trusted person. Today, Google is becoming the trusted source that's collecting opinions from people we don't know. Google is the most popular search engine, and we all use it in one way or another every day. Instead of building a completely new search engine for business referrals, this aggregated business information is turning Google into the referral engine that we are using.
If you haven't realized it yet, it's time to log into your Google account and reply to all the reviews people have left. You should also start asking more of your customers to leave reviews. One bad review could tip your average rating down a lot. It will take many more great reviews to bring that average back up again.
Remember, reply to every review, even the good ones.
That's it for this week; I'll see you next time...
FTC Notice: I randomly choose this website and won't be telling the retailer jeweler that I'm giving them these flop fix ideas. Unless someone else tells them, they will only find out about this Nugget if they use Google Alerts or examine their Google Analytics and Google Search Console. I'm not doing this to solicit business from them, but rather as an educational exercise for everyone. This #FridayFlopFix is completely impartial and all my comments are based on previous experience in my website design and marketing agency, and from my personal research data.