Entrepreneurs Are People Too: The Emotional Cost of Online Reviewing

Don't you dare stare, you better move
Don't ever compare
Me to the rest that'll all get sliced and diced
Competition's payin' the price
I'm gonna knock you out
Mama said knock you out

L.L. Cool J. 


A few days I ago, I had 3 different entrepreneurs message me in a matter of hours, stressed due to recent negative online reviews. This is not an uncommon occurrence in the world of self employment, but doesn't negate how truly upsetting it is. One of the entrepreneurs stuck out. The angry client had threatened her with violence and she was understandably scared to death. I advised her to call the police. 

I wish I could say this was the first time I had heard of this, but it isn't. Physical and even death threats to small business owners are all too common, especially in the era of keyboard warriors and social media. There's no surface repercussion or face to face confrontations anymore, no real liability. 

I'm here today to remind you that there is. That there's a real human, livelihood and feelings behind each small businesses page you see on Facebook. 

When I had my business I had the Facebook Pages app with push notifications linked to my phone. I could be hanging with my grandparents, on a date with my partner, meeting a friend's new baby then suddenly, *ping* new review notification. My heart in my throat, chest tightening, I'd make up an excuse and dash to the lavatory, desperate to see if I'd done good or bad. If it was good, a sigh of relief and back to the company. It it was bad, the universe had taken a crap on my day. My visit was ruined, my mind swimming with the hatefulness, anger on my mind, distracting me, making me doubt my work and robbing me of my free time and peace. 

Let's get one thing straight- I'm not against thoughtful, responsible, constructive criticism- it's good for all of us and helps us grow. That's fine. 

I'm against “worst service ever no stars!”. (- actual review from a “journalist” and his equally charming wife who verbally abused my former staff and I over a weekend online, on Facebook and on the phone, outraged at the news that yes, the order 24 hours ahead of time ordering policy applied to them too).  

I'm against emailing the owner with threats of violence to them, their family and staff because you feel you were slighted and weren't satisfied with just a refund.

I'm against folks who give no chance for service recovery by complaining in person immediately, or sending a polite yet constructive email to the owner first, giving them a chance to fix the issue. 

I'm against saying a business owner is stuck up on her review page because she wears 6 inch pumps while she runs her restaurant. 

I'm against looking up a business owner's personal social media pages and harassing, judging and mocking their lifestyle on it. 

I'm against rating a local independent theatre zero stars and encouraging others to do so on their review pages just because you don't agree with a documentary they're showing that week. 

Everything I have listed above has happened to actual entrepreneurs and it's despicable. Small business owners have made one of the ultimate sacrifices- emotionally, financially, socially, and it's time we show them the respect they deserve. Giving someone an angry, irrational online review without offering them a shot to make it right first is akin to whipping a brick through the business’ front window. It's petty, cowardly and offers temporary relief for the writer- no one else. 

So here are 5 tips to handle an awful online review as a small business owner.

1. The Chill Zone

You've gotten a horrible, possibly personally insulting review. What is the first thing you do? Turn the phone off. Close the laptop. Don't look at or post on any kind of social media for 12 hours minimum. You're pissed. They insulted your baby! I get it, you have the right to be mad. But the best thing you can do is stay offline while you're fired up.  Everyone copes differently, so make a coping strategy for yourself to decompress after this bucket of water in the face. Things I like include running whilst blasting some angry music, a glass of wine with friends (ONE glass. Ok, maybe 2) calling a friend or family member and venting, journaling, or watching dance moms. (Don't judge!)  While doing said strategy, think about how you can resolve this situation in a tasteful manner, what you'd like to get across as the business and how you'd feel in the client's shoes.

      2. Volley It Back

Picture customer service like a volleyball court. Customer bounces ball onto your court “I had a terrible experience last night at your resto. The food was cold and the waiter was slow”. As the owner, volley it back- publicly “I'm so sorry to hear that. At Chez Mandi we do our best to provide impeccable service. May I offer you a free meal on us?” Customer, spikes ball, “No way I'm eating at your crappy restaurant ever again”. Owner, holds ball, then gently hits back, “I'm sorry you are so unhappy. Please let me know what we can do to make this situation better”. At this point, one of 2 things will happen- the client will drop the ball and walk off the court. That's okay too. Or, the client will say “hey a nice bottle for me and my guest next time would be great”. Let them choose their service recovery path (within reason obviously), it will lead to greater satisfaction and that crappy review being taken down or retracted. 

3.  It's Escalating

You've offered service recovery volleyball and it's not working. They even popped the dang ball! They've gone on the full online assault, trolling you with irrational rambling dramatic reviews on your pages and every online review site they can get their hands on. You're devastated. Here's what you can do. If it's a written review with a star rating, you can delete it on your Facebook page. You can ban the person from your pages, if you have exhausted every resource to appease them and they are still being reckless. Take care and caution in your bans, banning anyone who remotely disagrees with you (besides from keeping great feedback from you) will make you known as an unapproachable “gaslighter”. You don't wanna be that. Stay approachable and open to feedback. Have they posted on your google reviews? If you've received threats from the client (first thing, call the cops!) , send along screenshots or proof and most help desks will take them down. When I had my shop, I got a review from one of my online bullies calling me a fatass taken down that way. 

4. Don't Be That Guy

You're still fired up from all this online harassment understandably. Backed into a corner, you lash back, baring your teeth. The coliseum of social media surrounds you and you and the client go head to head in a fight to the death combat. The worst thing you can do is start a public fight with a customer on your page. Folks love drama, and you don't need more negative attention. When things begin to escalate, you can either ban the person, or just leave it. Do not engage. Treat it like a screaming toddler, once the attention is removed, the screaming will stop. 

5. Check Yourself

It's over now but you're a bit down. That's normal. Think about when you read online reviews of other businesses- when there's an unbalanced or rambly one, you probably scan it and move on, right? It's because you can tell it's just an  angry ranty review and not authentic. The same thing will probably happen when people see the hostile review on your page. So don't sweat it too much. 
Now is also a good time to review or write a service recovery policy so your staff and you are on the same page when it comes to client satisfaction, and will make it easier for you to follow up on feedback. Also, is your social media policy up to date and signed by all employees? This is a document that enforces social media behaviour regarding your establishment by staff online. A good example of why you need one? An overzealous staff member who took it upon themselves to reply to each and every nasty review on their place of employments Facebook page. Not nicely. This happened. If you don't know where to start in writing one, I love love love Adidas’ social media policy. It's found easily online and is a great example of what your policy should look like. 

The takeaways from all this? 

The Proprietor:

You should have at least one day a week offline. No emails, no calls, no notifications. Go out and do something not business related and leave the phone at home. Are you rolling your eyes at this? I have news for you- self care is not a luxury item, it's a necessity. If you ignore it, you'll end up losing your business due to burnout like I did. And trust me, you don't want that.

Turn off the push notifications. You can check on the daily if you wish but a negative review alert popping up on your phone in the middle of dinner service will help no one, and just make you miserable. It can wait. Focus on the in- person, paying clientele in your business right now. 

Be open to constructive feedback. I recently heard a proprietor complaining about her page being trolled. I went to look myself.  A client mentioning a long wait time is not “trolling” your business. I found the client comment polite and constructive. It stings, but growing and evolving stings. Take the feedback from the client and apply it. It's the best thing you can do for your business. 

If it's getting you down, read your positive reviews and feedback that's been posted. There's probably way more good than bad. Don't let a few negative ones bring you down. 
I encourage all entrepreneurs to seek and see a psychotherapist, to unpack the unique stresses and challenges we face. I personally love talking it out with mine. 

The Consumer:

Think before you go wild posting angry reviews online. Reach out to the owner/manager first privately and give them a chance to fix the issue.

Be specific in your feedback. Just saying “awful service” helps no one. Saying “meal was lovely, but came before our cocktails and took over an hour” gives the proprietor something tangible to work on and discuss with staff. 

What would you like to get out of this? An apology? A comped meal or drinks? Word, accept and respond accordingly. 

Think about what you'd like to accomplish by posting an angry review online. It's probably just to make yourself feel better. Be ready to own that, and understand the damage you are inflicting if you decide to go forward. 

Behind each small business is a person with a dream. We are not perfect and not untouchable. Feedback and suggestions are great, and we deserve respectful input. However, in the era of social media, and the new system of online reviews the human element of business is left behind. I implore you to put a face and a person to the business you're about to go off on. Would you speak that way to another human being? 

If the answer is no, you need to reconsider your post. 


Mandi Lunan