A Reputation to Maintain
Updated: Apr 28, 2020
(Mis)adventures in Ebay ...
Some truly mind-numbing TV scheduling over the festive season prompted a complete viewing of the first three seasons of The Affair on DVD. As usual, I offered the boxset up for sale on Ebay straight afterward. The auction proceeded to plan, bids nudging towards the price I’d paid a few months previously. Everything was looking good.
Then, a couple of hours before the auction was due to close, the leading bidder messaged me saying he wanted to withdraw his bid. A relative had bought it for him. Distinctly unimpressed, I nevertheless faced a dilemma; by bidding, he’d committed to buy. By rights, I could message him back, ‘Sorry, but you placed the bid so it’s yours unless someone outbids you,’ but I realised he’d probably add a low rating to my otherwise spotless seller feedback tally.
The next highest bid was quite a bit lower, but I figured there might be a few ‘watchers’ waiting to place last minute bids. Muttering into my keyboard, I responded, ‘Okay, I’ve cancelled your bid’.
A couple of hours later, the auction closed without further bids. I shrugged, remembering Granny’s sage advice about not counting chickens, and awaited payment.
The following day, the new highest bidder messaged me. She’d bought the boxset elsewhere once she’d been outbid. I was back to my dilemma: enforce the sale, and risk a bad review, or let it drop.
The online reviewer is not always right
All of this got me thinking about the power of online reviews – particularly the bad ones. Almost every online commerce platform includes product reviews. Online vendors see them as a useful way to boost sales. The public has a healthy degree of scepticism about official sales patter, so feedback from real life end users might just be the persuading factor.
I usually check product reviews before buying online, and I almost always scan Trip Advisor before booking accommodation. And I’m not alone; according to one study, 84% of us trust online reviews.
But should we? Part of the problem is that the ease of writing online reviews means everyone can be a critic now. I’m not suggesting every critical review is unwarranted but, unfortunately, not everyone approaches review writing in a rational frame of mind. I’ve read reviews supposedly about a product that turned out to be about another aspect of the transaction. ‘I’m giving this toaster one out of five because the courier left it with a neighbour I don’t speak to,’ and the like. Anyone reading such reviews might well disregard them but, if you just check the star ratings, you’d get a skewed overall view of the product.
I recently read an online rant about the absence of a full English breakfast at a very traditional, boutique hotel in rural Spain. You can imagine the hotel manager’s frustration that this particular rock-bottom star rating knocked the hotel’s average score down a few points.
The old adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity suddenly doesn’t look so wise.
Then there are those keyboard warriors who simply like to complain and could, to quote a friend of mine, ‘start a fight in an empty room’. It’s easy to be brave from the safety of your own home.
And fake reviews – both positive and negative – are apparently quite a common tactic in literary circles.
There also seems to be a growing sport of achieving internet notoriety through viral transmission of surreal or hilarious reviews (WARNING: Adult Content).
A personal favourite from Amazon is, ‘The only problem is that the bubble wrap doesn’t pop very well. I thought I would have a lot of fun with it.’
I’m not sure if that was a deliberate bid for infamy or not.
Tackling the critical review
Not all online outlets offer a right of reply to bad reviews, though you could ask the platform to put up your response. But what’s the right (and wrong) way to respond to bad reviews (justified or not) where you have the option? Here are some tips to bear in mind:
Don’t ignore a bad review. That’s likely to give the impression you couldn’t care less or, worse, that the complained-of issue is commonplace. You also risk provoking the reviewer to a further, even harsher review.
Instead, acknowledge the problem and apologise, genuinely. Personalise your response, giving your name and job role, to ensure it doesn’t sound like you’ve picked it off a menu of stock excuses.
Explain what happened, but don’t be tempted to belittle the complaint, get defensive or shift any blame onto the customer. Take a deep breath and count to ten, rather than dashing off an angry, knee-jerk reaction.
If you need to check out the facts, say that you are looking into the matter and will respond once you’ve done so. If you can take the issue ‘offline’, so much the better.
Use the opportunity to present the positives of your product or service, e.g. ‘I am very disappointed that your toaster was delivered to an inappropriate address. We work closely with our couriers to improve the delivery of our toasters, which is why we offer the option of a designated time slot.’
If you feel like you’re being trolled, offer to resolve the issue if the customer contacts you directly. They probably won’t, but it shows willing and avoids an online war of words.
Never be tempted to submit fake reviews to try and bury the bad ones. It’s likely your customers will see through them and give the bad ones more credence.
Being positive about the whole bad review experience, don’t forget that it can be an opportunity for a review of your business operation and genuinely improve what you do. Make sure you publicise the fact that you’ve done so.
And, of course, the services of a professional copywriter can prove invaluable in dealing with customer complaints effectively and painlessly.
All’s well that ends well
So what happened with my DVD boxset? Eventually, I decided I had some sympathy for my second top bidder. I cancelled her bid, re-listed a new auction and got an acceptable sale.
And, if you haven’t seen it, I can recommend The Affair, provided you don’t watch it with any ageing / prudish relatives.
Just don’t bid for it unless you’re committed to buying!