Imagine what life would be like if you were under constant scrutiny. Imagine living in a world in which people are always watching you, waiting to pounce on your first mistake.

What would your days feel like if you knew people would publicly complain about your work if it wasn’t 100-percent perfect every time?

What would it be like to wake up knowing that the people you meet today are going to rate you on a 5-star scale?

Welcome to the world of small business owners in the Bellingham community and across the United States.

Have consumers taken the power of online reviews too far?

Marketing experts say roughly 88 percent of shoppers make buying decisions based on the reviews of others. Reviews are powerful. But are consumers abusing that power and unjustly punishing small businesses? Maybe so.

This article is in support of hard-working individuals who run large and small businesses in our community. It’s for small business owners whose hearts skip a beat on a Sunday night when their phones buzz to tell them that someone left a review for their business.

Walk a mile in their shoes.

Companies in our community receive negative reviews every day, and the unjust ones are actually quite painful.

One Bellingham restaurant owner recently shared what it feels like to be on the receiving end of negative reviews. He personally waited on a couple in his restaurant, preparing their meal and serving their plates. He checked in during the meal, chatting and conversing with them as they were eating. He asked them how the food was, and they said they loved it.

image-for-review-articleHe thought all was well; he was proud of the food and the level of service he’d delivered. Then, moments after the couple left his restaurant, his phone buzzed. A new review was left for his restaurant online—2 stars, from the people he had just served.

His heart sank. He was deflated, and he spent the rest of that evening second-guessing what went wrong. That one negative review left a scar he could not shake off that entire night.

Imagine what it would feel like to be that business owner.

The problem with the online review system.

If consumers were to shift their mindsets, there could be real solutions to the few things wrong with the way people can rate and review local businesses.

  1. Personal preferences. Let’s use restaurants for example. For every person who loves Thai food, there are probably an equal number who don’t. For every person who loves fried food, there are probably an equal number who don’t. It’s called personal preference, and personal preferences are not worthy of a negative review.
    • Solution: If you don’t usually like spicy food, don’t go to a BBQ restaurant and then publicly complain that the food was too spicy. Or, if you have to go to that restaurant — for a family gathering, maybe — share your personal preferences with servers who can help you choose menu items that fit your preferences.
  1. Fake accounts. On some online review platforms, reviewers can set up fake accounts so the public can’t see their name when it’s tied to a complaint about a business. They say they want to be able to provide feedback without the business, or any of their own friends and family, knowing it was really them.
    • Solution: Online review platforms need to fix this; all reviewers should be required to verify that they are a real person, not a competitor or someone who wants to hide behind a fake name. Those who are not willing to publicly use their real names and profile photos with the feedback they’re leaving should not be leaving any reviews — positive or negative — online.
  1. The entitlement factor. Some customers have of an unrealistic sense of entitlement. They expect special treatment or deep discounts if they are not 100-percent happy with a business 100-percent of the time.
    • Solution: Before you leave a negative review, remember that companies are run by people, and people are not robots. Perfection 100-percent of the time is just not possible. Consider whether you would want to be held to that standard every day. Would you want your friends or family to be on the receiving end of what you’re about to write? If you answered ‘no’ to either of those questions, don’t leave a negative review.
  1. Just want free stuff. Some consumers say they complain or write negative reviews because they are hoping for free stuff from a company.
    • Solution: This is wrong on so many levels; it may even be considered a form of bribery or stealing. Please consider whether you have really, truly been wronged so badly that you need compensation. Having to wait 15 minutes for a table, being placed on hold for a few minutes or being served fries that are not an optimal temperature do not constitute being wronged. Nor do those things warrant the need to get something for free just because you feel you can. If the business gives you a deep discount or gives you products for free, it does impact the financial health of that business. Consider whether it is really that important for you to be compensated, or whether you can show grace and forgiveness in the situation and just let it go.

If you must leave a negative review, try to be constructive. Businesses do appreciate constructive feedback.
Take a deep breath and think about how you’d like to receive criticism when you make a mistake.

Before you leave another negative review for a business online, please remember to put yourself in their shoes, and consider whether you would want to be held to the same standards every day. Not every less-than-perfect experience is worthy of a negative review.

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