As online reviews become an increasingly common tool to help consumers make everyday decisions, from where to eat to which roofer to hire, it's important to keep a few basic guidelines in mind.
I've been in the consumer-review business for almost 20 years. Here are my top three rules for consumers to consider before sharing a business or service provider experience with the world:
Be honest. You have the right to write truthfully about your experiences. But that right isn't protected if you fabricate information.
Be fair and objective. State your experience as it happened, without exaggeration or unfounded conclusions.
Be polite. For instance, it's one thing to say that a painter showed up late and did sloppy work. It's quite another to call the painter a crook.
Ideally, reviews serve a greater purpose than documenting one person's experience. They help consumers make better decisions about spending money on home and other services, and they can - if approached properly - help companies fine-tune business practices to better serve customers. But the reality is that people have always discussed their experiences with companies and service providers. Online reviews simply amplify that practice.
Smart business owners pay attention to their online reviews and work to make things right when consumers aren't happy. Here are my top three rules for how businesses should respond to negative reviews:
Be thoughtful. Don't react in the heat of emotion. A tactless, angry or defensive response could hurt your business more than a single review.
Be aware. Don't ignore negative feedback. A thoughtful response that shows you've looked into the problem can increase consumer confidence.
Be open. A single bad review every now and again isn't the end of the world. But a pattern of negative feedback tells you something is wrong and needs attention.
How a business owner responds to reviews, particularly negative ones, tells a prospective customer a lot. I wouldn't hire someone who's dismissive of a negative experience, but I would consider a company that works to resolve a problem. I'm even more impressed when a business takes time to respond with thanks to positive reviews.
(Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie's List, a resource for local consumer reviews on everything from home repair to health care. Follow her on Twitter @Angie_Hicks.)