Business owners deal with digital reputations

Experts stress businesses to monitor web reputations

Andy Kamai (left) of Gurnee looks at the menu Wednesday while Arielle Nelson writes down his order at Epic Deli in Johnsburg. Kamai has never written an online review but frequents Yelp to look at other people’s reviews.
Andy Kamai (left) of Gurnee looks at the menu Wednesday while Arielle Nelson writes down his order at Epic Deli in Johnsburg. Kamai has never written an online review but frequents Yelp to look at other people’s reviews.

Online reviews: Love ’em or hate ’em, experts say they’re here to stay, so businesses better learn to live with ‘em.

As consumer-review websites such as Yelp, Trip­Advisor, Angie’s List, or Urbanspoon gain traction, some small business owners are saying that a reputation that took decades to build can be undone with a few taps of a keyboard.

Local online reviews range anywhere from the stomach churning: “A defective toilet which flushed the toilet water all over me and my face.”

To the downright mean: “The waitstaff is clueless.” “The hostesses are weird.”

To the overly descriptive: The food looked like “a pile of two inch black worms and tasted about the same.”

To the simply stated: “You suck.”

Experts say there has never been a more important time for businesses to manage their online reputations. Consumers often first turn to online reviews before deciding where to shop, what to buy and where to dine. In other words, customers are willing to trust the reviews of complete strangers.

For years, Dominick Tortorice was blissfully unaware that a negative review was posted about his business. Every time someone searched State Road Auto Repair in Island Lake, a review blasting Tortorice for bad customer service came up alongside his phone number and hours of operation.

Turns out, the reviewer wasn’t even a legitimate customer. It was the vengeful wife of a fired employee.

Tortorice later hired online reputation manager Bobbi Baehne at McHenry-based Think Big Go Local to clean up his online reputation. He can never shed the negative review, but now he’s asking happy customers to write them, too. With four reviews on Yelp, he has a 4-star rating.

“It means everything to make sure you have a good reputation,” Tortorice said. “In every business, someone has a mix-up, or a screw-up. What makes you different is how you handle it.”

Negative reviews should always be responded to in a professional manner, Baehne said. It’s important not to be accusatory or defensive with reviewers. It show customers that they’ve been heard and that they are cared about.

“The next person that reads that review is the one that matters,” Baehne said. “You may have upset that one person, but what about the next 150 that read that review over the next few months?”

Shortly after opening Epic Deli in Johnsburg, owner Tyler Wildey offered a sandwich challenge daring customers to finish a roast beef sandwich topped with habanero pickles and brutally hot horseradish sauce. It was a dish Wildey called “inedible.”

A customer sauntered in one day and opted to try to conquer the beast. Like others before him, he tried and failed.

This customer then took to an online review website to blast the business for serving him a disgusting sandwich.

“It said on our board, this is not for the faint of heart. This is not a tasty sandwich,” Wildey said.

As an aside, a different customer eventually finished the sandwich – and ended up in the hospital with intense stomach pains. His picture is on the wall of fame at the restaurant, and Epic Deli no longer serves the sandwich.

“Honestly, feedback is always good, but at the same time, if you sit there and read everything that every person has to say, you’ll drive yourself crazy,” Wildey said.

Epic Deli has 2,776 reviews on Facebook and a 5-star rating.

It’s bad reviews, like the one at Epic Deli, that have other business owners scratching their heads. Woodstock-based D.C. Cobb’s owner Daniel Hart said he once had a complaint from a reviewer who ordered hot wings that were too hot.

“A negative review because your hot wings are too hot? That’s crazy,” Hart said.

“Honestly, we do like to get feedback. When something is wrong we want to fix it,” Hart said. “We’ve taken some of our worst reviews and turned them into our best regulars.” 

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