beer, craft beer

Review Management: An Opportunity or Threat

It’s rare to see anyone without some sort of social media profile. It’s now central to our daily routine. We’re able to express ourselves to an audience of strangers around the world in an instant. Businesses can connect with consumers without them even taking a step inside. It has never been easier to reach an audience. The potential to grow a brand or business is far easier than ever before, but so is the potential for damage.  Most have utilized these platforms to expand their reach and promote themselves beyond their wildest dreams; others have destroyed their work through carelessness and poor judgment.

The craft beer industry is full of opinionated people. It’s par for the course with anyone in the food or beverage industry. Social media allows consumers to document their experiences and share to friends and complete strangers. With the decline of beer-centric forums, the vast amount of the craft beer community is now sharing their experiences through social media. Opinions are no longer constrained to niche audiences; it has spread to the general public. Critiques for beers and breweries are now easily accessible, with search engines and social media platforms adjusting their algorithms to give significant weight to customer reviews. Consumers look for reviews to validate their decisions; whether it’s visiting a restaurant or making a purchase, reviews are gold for a business.

Every business owner should understand, it is impossible to make everyone happy. You can’t please all tastes or provide service instantaneously to all customers. Many variables exist in the overall experience of a customer.  People are picky and as much as we would hope that customers would take into account the circumstances of their visits, this is simply not the case. We’ve all seen that person in a long line that makes a big deal out of waiting despite the staff moving quickly to help move the line along. While we may not like it, these people also have the privilege to voice their frustrations on public forums.

In this industry you’re bound to get an unfavorable review. I tell this to all of my clients; there’s simply no way to control all aspects of a customer’s experience. What can be controlled is the response to criticism.  The opportunity to connect with a customer and potentially alleviate a bad situation seems like a thing most would jump at. A chance to deescalate an angry customer and possibly win them back by just being empathetic sounds like a no-brainer right?

Oh you’d be surprised.

The first week of 2018 featured two incidents in which brewery personnel harassed a customer for leaving an unfavorable review. These breweries spewed hateful and damaging allegations towards patrons that voiced their opinions. In one case a brewery resorted to homophobic slurs in retaliation to a critical review on Facebook. In another, a full staff went on the offensive and laid out damaging character accusations towards the individual that left the critique. In 72 hours we saw two breweries alienate its customer base due to their inability to respond professionally to criticism.

The beer community has become tight knit. It may disagree on most things, but it will always come together to combat horrible business practices in our industry. We may love craft beer but this community has no qualms in destroying the reputation of breweries that we find cancerous to the community we hold dear.

I understand the thought process; the majority of owners have taken a risk to build their breweries. Owners have every right to be protective of their businesses. To some, a negative review is an attack on their livelihood. Responding emotionally to a complete stranger is easy if you feel you’re being attacked. What many fail to understand is the importance of a calm and tactful response.  I, like many other customers look at some of the critical reviews first. It’s fairly easy to pump your average review score through the help of friends or family. To many, critiques hold more value and the response to said critiques can be the make or break in ones choice to visit. A simple empathetic response to a negative review can sway the opinion of a potential customer.

It has become more apparent that many businesses in this industry are under the assumption that being labeled a craft brewery makes you ineligible to critiques from consumers. You may be investing your livelihood on your business but guess what, so is every other small business. Unfortunately, many breweries have developed a pompous attitude towards its offerings as though they are a gift to the industry. Many of these breweries completely discount criticism and assume that they are experts at all things related to their business. Customer reviews present a free opportunity for growth through the insight of a consumer with no ties to your business. It could provide everything from an insight in the tastes of your consumer base, possible issues in the quality of your beers, or even problems with staffing that may have gone unnoticed. Embrace criticism and utilize it as a tool to develop your business.

I stress to my clients the importance of responding to reviews. Done right it exists as a tool to promote yourself in a positive light, regardless of the type of review. I’ve seen customers change their reviews due to a positive interaction in response to the negative review. In the majority of situations where customer’s temperament remains unchanged, an empathetic response lets a potential customer know that the business cares enough to be mature and bite their tongue to criticism, warranted or not.  Take a second to step back and cool off before making the mistake to make an emotionally charged response. It’s not a good look for the public to see a business berate their customers on its social media page. If you find yourself not able to do that, hire a professional to manage your reviews. Review management is marketing in itself and you are harming your business if you are not responding appropriately. Don’t be the next thread on Beertrader ISO:FT. It’s simple, don’t be a jerk.

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