A cosmetic surgery company, Lifestyle Lift, that told its employees to post fake positive consumer reviews on the Web, has been fined $300,000 for fraud.
Wow…that’s attention getting.
This disturbing news item provides a great springboard to talk about the explosive new world of online consumer spa reviews – and assure that the spa and wellness industry doesn’t get mixed up with the kind of snake-oil tactics adopted by some in the cosmetic surgery industry, such as Lifestyle Lift’s duplicitous scheme. The company’s actions, of course, underscore just how critical establishing positive online reviews are for all industries today, and open up discussions about what should actually constitute a positive, productive consumer review strategy.
SpaFinder.com has been online for a decade, attracting on average 15,000 new consumers looking for spas every day. We encourage reviews and find that these opinions from spa-goers and the Spa Deals section are two of the most popular areas of our website.
While most of the reviews posted at Spafinder.com are legitimate and give helpful feedback, we have had our share of challenges: the occasional bogus review from a spa itself, a disgruntled employee ranting on, competitors trying to undermine each other, or a consumer trying to get compensation or a free service. We found that providing a platform for spas to respond to reviews worked to solve most of the problems. Once we added that functionality, the conversations were more open, and the reader benefited by understanding both sides of a complaint.
The spa industry needs to welcome consumer reviews – not only because they’re here to stay and your spa is going to be reviewed on the Web whether you like it or not – but because consumer reviews have such a powerful impact on consumer decisions today. More than three in four consumers researching online now turn to consumer reviews to find and choose services and products. In fact, the research firm Compete found that consumer-generated content directly influences $10 billion a year in online travel purchases.
People (like you and me) value this unvarnished information from real-world consumers, and it’s becoming an increasingly important factor in the arsenal of information we use when we select a spa. Sure, editorial reviews, recommendations from friends, awards won, are all key, but online reviews are exploding and becoming increasingly part of the decision-making mix.
Here are some tips to help not only turn the occasional ‘bad and the ugly’ around – but that can help your spa create a higher volume of positive reviews that will get your phone ringing.
1. Monitor/Be Aware: If you haven’t done this, you should: try a simple Google search of your spa and look at the places your business has been reviewed. You’ll see what powerful traction reviews have in search, placing high in the results at the Googles. Monitor the major sites where your spa may be reviewed: Spafinder.com, Yelp, Citysearch, Google Local, TripAdvisor, Yahoo!, Insider Pages, etc.
2. Respond to Negative Reviews Graciously and Honestly: Most sites allow businesses to respond to reviews directly. And, if not, simply post a response. It shows people you care about customer service. After all, we’re IN the service business, and we know how to be gentle with people, to apologize when we’re wrong, to correct a situation that needs correcting. Even with a maddeningly negative review, respond neutrally, fairly and honestly – be transparent. “Amping up” with a reviewer no matter how irritating they are is never a good idea. Whenever I read a “defensive” response to a review in the spa industry, I generally conclude that the reviewer was probably at least partially correct.
3. Interject a sense of humor: Sometimes it is better to say something funny than to stick with the seriousness of a situation.
4. Never Post a Fake Review: Never post a bad comment about a competitor or a fake glowing review. And don’t have your customers post reviews physically from your spa’s computers: if your reviews are generated from your own internal network/IP address, you could suffer serious blacklisting. You can even block the consumer review sites at your spa’s computers, if you feel you need to be double safe.
5. Review Readers Are Smart – Give Them Credit: Don’t worry that consumers will be bamboozled by one negative review – or even several. Nor are they going to be won over by some over-the-top post of adulation. If anything, a combination of good reviews and an occasional negative comment makes your overall online reputation more believable. That’s life – a balance of the positive and negatives.
6. Encourage Happy Customers to Review You: Getting a higher volume of your satisfied customers to post happy reviews at sites like Spafinder.com not only balances out any negative reviews, it’s the best kind of high-impact exposure for your spa. You can occasionally and tactfully explain to your best customers the importance of this new online world, and how helpful it would be if they shared their experiences. Present it lightly, stressing how much you value their honest assessments and opinion. Or you can leave cards in your reception area as take-aways: explaining that they can share their experiences at sites like SpaFinder, to help others benefit from their knowledge. Never pressure them, or offer review bribes, it doesn’t work.
7. Fix the problem: Not only do you want to respond to negative reviews online, you ultimately want to fix the problem cited. Report back about the actions you took to address their problem: customers are often able to edit their reviews, or, of course, post a new one. And if you’ve taken them seriously, and satisfied them, they’re likely to do so. Consider this free feedback and consulting advice, to improve your business overall.
8. Your Best Defense is a Great Offense: If you’re truly delivering superior service, terrific results and establishing trusted relationships with your clientele, you’re far less likely to be vulnerable to a few bad reviews.
Spas that get educated about the customer review realities, and implement a basic strategy, soon realize that this brave new world is less something to fear, but is actually an incredible marketing opportunity. There have never been so many places for your customers to virally promote your business. And a positive review presence is a surefire way to drive significant new business. You’re probably getting the calls already…but you’ll get more…with customers reporting they found you through an online review – or even asking for specific therapists by NAME!
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