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Reviews and Reciprocation: How Small Business Owners Are Playing Nice Online

In my book, Sell Local, Think Global, I spent an entire chapter talking about the power of online reviews.  Since the book’s publication, this process has only become more charged, not less so.  The thing is: these days, it’s not just consumers doing the reviewing.  On sites like Uber and Airbnb, your driver or host can rate you right back.


Although every business today is in the uncomfortable position of being open to being reviewed on Yelp, it seems that the scales of justice are tipping back in the favor of small business owners.  Apparently, there’s only so long you can hide being a jerk–no matter which side you’re on.  Consistent bad behavior will quickly turn the Internet shame machine on you.  These days, if you treat someone badly, that person can record you and “report” you to the masses.

I’ve had my own recent experience with this process.  I am a new Airbnb host for a vacation property in a ski town.  I’ve done a lot of work getting the place up to snuff for guests and was excited to put the condo “on the market.”  Unfortunately, one of my very first guests gave me more than I’d bargained for.  


There were a lot of issues, but really it boils down to three:

  1. Upon exit, the guest was four hours late checking out.
  2. After the guest departed, my housekeeper reported that a mess had been left in the kitchen and that three plates were missing.
  3. Probably used to being able to phone the front desk at all hours, the guest text messaged me after hours (11:45 p.m.) with the following perceived emergency:  the wi-fi password, which is clearly written in the detailed instruction booklet, room labels, and online information.

As you can imagine, when it came time to leave my host’s review (of the guest), I was quite torn.  First off, I didn’t want to be a jerk.  Second, however, I felt a responsibility to let other hosts know what they were getting into by renting to this guy.  Finally, I wondered if I could actually leave a guest an honest (albeit low) review without fear of retaliation.  


I thought about it a lot, entered an honest review of the guest, and then went through Airbnb’s formal resolution system to get reimbursed for the missing plates.  As you may have guessed, the guest was incensed.  He was very upset by my review, and emailed me and Airbnb to say so.

The whole process was uncomfortable and a bit unsettling, but it got me thinking.  In terms of the big picture, I’m fascinated by the fact that this is the first time that people aren’t really anonymous shoppers anymore.  At last, the review system goes both ways.  For small business owners that means that you have a lot more power in the social sphere than you used to.

When you respond openly to a complaint or honestly review a shopper, you becoming an active part of the process.  Potential customers will read your words and take them seriously.  In essence, no matter how you’re responding, you’re answering the question “why choose you?”  And, so, there is something very brave about facing the uncomfortableness of writing a review at all.

The change is here.  It cannot be stopped.  Time to gather up your gumption.  There is a way to make the process a winning one; it just takes some moxie.  Take it from me, the first one is the hardest!

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