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The “Dictatorship” of Reviews

I was discussing the other day with a friend about the effects of customer reviews in general. Either on a physical location such as a cafe, a restaurant or a venue in general, or on an online product, service, etc.

To begin with, customer feedback and evaluation of a product or a service, is indeed a step towards an online democracy of sorts. It’s a really cool and useful feature of online platforms designed to support this kind of user-customer feedback. And it’s really useful for all of us. Actually, it has been a life-saver for many of us in more than one occasion, when we did not spend money on a product or service, based on informed input from other users that saved us money, time, effort, etc.

But what happens with the reviews themselves? Who protects the individual or the company offering a service from (a) potentially planted reviews from rivals, or (b) from the occasional biased review that may as well stem from someone having a bad day, looking for someone to blame.

It has happened to me more than once, in our family business page, to come across such reviews. Reviews that were planted from the friends of a previous employee that was fired, or reviews that were clearly based on an external factor to our business, such as a strike in Athens, or the bad mood of someone, etc. It has actually happened to us that a customer gave a negative review, cause the place was too hard to find!

Of course, someone could say that the customers that read the reviews can assess themselves whether or not a review is fair. And also, that amongst hundreds of reviews, the intentional or unfair ones, will actually be balanced out by the honest ones. Well, this is true and then it may also not be in some cases. And even if it’s true, who protects the business owner or service provider from the psychological side-effects of reading such a review? Up until now it’s up to anyone of us to manage such crises on their own, trying to put them into perspective and also taking the time to address any unfair review.

All the above considered, it still seems to me that this review system that’s in place, could use of some improvements. For the time being, it seems too one sided for my taste. It seems that anyone with a social media account, lost in the anonymity of the crowd, can actually say whatever they like. And this is actually far from the democratic notion of the review system or the fact that this is meant to be a mechanism that drives improvement on the product/service side.

For the time being, it seems that in many cases, it acts as a medium for someone to outburst their negative feelings about anything, towards a specific direction. So, what can we do to fix this? Not a lot, I think, but still I am wondering if a reviewer can also be reviewed back, rather than just be replied to. For example, when someone goes on Google Plus, or Trip Advisor or Facebook, downrating or reviewing negatively every single restaurant they eat in, what’s the effect on them?

For now, there’s no effect whatsoever. But there should be one. I mean, when you rate places similarly to a majority of people, you’re probably a fair reviewer. When you continuously review differently, then maybe, just maybe you should not be taken into consideration, or maybe (cause the previous suggestion was not as democratic as my intentions are) you could have a score or an indication of credibility on your reviews.

Similarly, it seems to me that there has to be a reward for the people that really invest the time to provide an accurate account of their experience in using a product or a service, in comparison to the ones that just slap on a one-star rating and a phrase like “did not like it at all”. How’s that for a constructive review? I assure you, it happens all the time. Take a look at online shops you use, that may support customer reviews. How many are actually constructive rather than dismissive or downright mean?

My personal opinion (which is actually the only type of opinion that someone can have, but anyway), is that there should be a mechanism that rewards and certifies the reviewers with a system that is transparent and clear. And when someone feels like badmouthing a service or a product once every two years cause he/she had a bad day, then they should be allowed to do this. But anyone who reads the review should also know that this user, only reviewed two things the past year, both of them negatively and judge them for this as well.

And to go a bit further, maybe reviews should be a bit harder to give (amount of text needed, or similar prerequisites), so that actually only people that really want to provide them should do so. Nevertheless, until we reach the fantasy land of mature and constructive reviews all over, the only thing you can do to protect yourself and your work, is to address the negative ones, in a calm, constructive way, putting things into the perspective some reviewers neglect to provide.

I don’t know what your experience is with this, and maybe I am just mumbling for a personal pain here, but if you take a moment to put yourself in the shoes of those people that own products or services you rate, maybe you can appreciate your role as a reviewer a bit more. And maybe your next review won’t be given as lightheartedly as the previous one, or it will be given in a more constructive and sensitive way. Don’t forget that there’s also a person on the other end of your review, reading and taking in what you have to say…

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