When Karen & Chad Attack: Recovering from Yelp-Bombing and Bad Reviews

Haters gonna hate. If it seems like people are complaining about customer service more than ever, it’s because they are. 

The National Customer Rage Survey (NCRS) is conducted by the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University and has been a curious prickle in the American marketplace for almost 50 years. And this year, 74% of 1,000 surveyed customers reported a product or service problem in the past 12 months. That’s a more than 50% increase from when the survey was first conducted, long before likes, stars, and amorphous smiley faces came to dominate online retail and service sectors.

Three years have passed since the pandemic forced consumers inside and fundamentally changed how many companies do business, and the percentage of angry Karens and Chads then was 66%; still pretty high.

How do we account for this? And what can businesses do when a customer with a gripe – no matter how small or how merited – is determined to torpedo their reputation?

“Revenge reviews are the result of a combination of factors,” said Mac Steer, owner and director at Simify, to The Food Institute

“For one thing, consumers tend to be more sensitive to bad service during periods of hardship,” Steer added. “Since the pandemic, there is also a heightened sense of urgency to complain, because we all know that there are fewer and fewer chances for it.”

Having the time, energy, and heels-dug-in wherewithal to go over the top and scorch a company on Yelp or Google Reviews, however, takes another level of entitled guerrilla commitment. In an age of inflation, supply chain disruptions, war in Europe, and threats of a global recession, age of hardship might be a pretty good description of life in 2023 for businesses large and small.

I Don’t Have to Tell You Things Are Bad—Everybody Knows Things Are Bad

It’s no secret that people feel emboldened by the political aspects of the pandemic,” said Michael Nova, founder of Rise Up Eight and director of Nova Custom Label Printing, which services many restaurants and retail companies. “People feel more of a need to speak out nowadays and at the same time, a sense of entitlement from some people has crept into our daily lives.”

Per the NCRS, the volume of consumers who decided to settle a score online through pestering or public shaming of a company has tripled since 2020, reversing a previous downward trend from before the pandemic.

“It’s the idea that if you as a company don’t really seem to care, well then I’m going to take to the streets,” said Scott Broetzmann, president of Customer Care Measurement & Consulting, in The Wall Street Journal.

“Taking it to the streets” has never been so easy; the streets are digital, largely free and accessible. 

There’s something foul in the state of online reviews; in the same year Yelp bombing and NCRS scores attained new heights (or lows?), the American Customer Satisfaction Index, which assesses customer satisfaction with more than 400 companies on a scale of 0 to 100, plummeted to 73.1 from 77 just one year ago, the single latest decline in the 28-year-history of the index.

In other words, people are mad as hell, and they’re not gonna take it anymore. And they’re more vociferous about it than ever. 

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“The world is a business, Mr. Beale,” Ned Beatty decrees in Network, “You have meddled with the primal forces of nature!”

Here’s how to atone.

The Atomic, Subatomic, and Galactic Forces of Nature

Thankfully, the secret to defusing the Yelp bombs and malicious reviews is more common sense than common savagery. Address them, ignore them, and move on.

“It’s important to note that in general, people care more about how the company responds to a negative review than the actual details of the negative review,” Nova continued. “Does the company take responsibility and respond in a professional manner? Or does the company take a defensive response that is disrespectful to the reviewer?”

Most professionals agree on a few common tenets to get by in a market subsumed by entitled consumers.

  • Be proactive – if you don’t already have a social media team or professional, ensure you have a policy for how to handle customer issues and complaints. Follow through and be consistent. 
  • Be transparent – tell the truth about what went wrong and what steps you can take (or can’t take, which is often the case with third parties, vendors, suppliers, and more). 
  • Above all, try to make your customers happy – Follow up and provide a path to resolve the issue for when cooler heads prevail. Most people just want to be heard and acknowledged.

“If someone sees through your efforts to make amends, that’s probably a good sign they’ll stick around anyway,” Steer added.

Ebb and Flow, Tidal Gravity, Ecological Balance

Case in point: several months ago, the CEO of the Graza olive oil company, Andrew Benin, woke up and with neither hesitation nor hubris wrote a simple email and sent it to the 35,544 people who had ordered his product with one goal in mind: to apologize.

Benin apologized and explained why so many orders had arrived late and badly packaged. Using plain language, he assessed customers’ complaints, tried to explain what went wrong with as much information as he had, and simply made himself available to his clientele in the most appropriate and efficient way he could. He offered all customers a promo code for $4.43 off their next order, which he insisted was the most his small startup of five employees could afford.

“Smart companies can use bad PR as a promotional opportunity,” said Karen Green, author of Buyer-ology. At worst, she said, companies can learn from negative feedback – angry consumers may, in fact, have a point. At best, businesses can benefit (even profit) from a thoughtful, simple response. In fact, details from a study by Harvard Business Review reveals that businesses that consistently respond to reviews see increased ratings with more and better reviews.

Companies can even invest in online reputation management software. 

“Many online reputation management software solutions help track and respond to reviews,” said Joe Kevens, founder and editor-in-chief of B2B Saas Reviews.

“Companies can also monitor the main sites where they get reviews and respond directly to the reviewer. Companies who respond to reviewers show the customer they care and it has been shown to encourage other customers also to post reviews.”

It’s often more important to be talked about, then, than to worry about what’s being said. And when you don’t like what’s being said, it’s time to implement a solutions response and try to see the customer in the way they want to be seen. 

“All necessities provided…all anxieties tranquilized,” was how Beatty put it once more in Network. In business, that line could never actually apply – Network is a satire, after all – but it’s a pleasant thought. Then again, Chad and Karen have always been mad as hell. Now they just have more outlets to vent. 

How you respond simply makes all the difference.