How not to handle poor reviews

With the rapid increase in consumer review websites and apps like Wherespresso, Trip Advisor and the like, businesses are now exposed to the full range of instant consumer feedback.

This feedback can often be made on the spot when the consumer’s experience is most fresh in their minds, be it a great experience or poor one.

This can tend to amplify emotion and the type of review as time does not pass between the patronage and review therefore there’s no chance for emotions to temper over time.

Sometimes this can lead to very poor reviews. For me, a poor experience is a poor experience regardless of when I review.

It’s sometimes the case that owners don’t react well to poor reviews and as the founder of Wherespresso, I’m very mindful of building a credible cafe review platform so that owners and consumers can be sure that everything is above board.

Maintaining credibility includes

  • Preventing opinion SPAM – this is usually flagged where a review doesn’t fit into one of the below buckets or isn’t obviously a true review. Opinion SPAM is usually pretty obvious and uses flowery and over the top adjectives (this will occur in some self reviews too).
  • Preventing malicious SPAM – if a cafe’s opponent decides to start writing harsh (malicious) reviews, these reviews are able to be flagged (by anyone), reviewed (by an admin) and removed.
  • Flagging self reviews – I’m not silly; some cafe owners will of course have friends leave favourable reviews of the owner’s cafe to paint the cafe in a positive light. That’s acceptable as long as it’s not too spammy. If however, someone is continually abusing this, then I’ll flag reviews as self reviews and the scores are removed.
  • Forcing all reviewers to have an account (no anonymous reviews).

In my experience cafe owners generally react really well to poor reviews – but sometimes they don’t.

I suppose when you see criticism (even if it’s objective) our natural reaction is to get defensive. It’s easy to nitpick the reviewer and look for holes in the review rather than look at the bigger picture and take the opportunity to get feedback from the customer (this is why I built Feedback for cafes!)

There are two clear ways to handle poor reviews.

How to handle a poor review

The guys at Outpost contacted me to apologise about a less than awesome experience I had a while ago (I honestly must sound like a d!ck in my reviews sometimes, but it’s Melbourne’s coffee scene’s fault – everyone is making outstanding coffee!) and asked me to come on back in.

Now that is mature, proactive and reasonable and I am likely to go back (I did!).

How not to handle a poor review

A couple of years ago Kate and I were holidaying in Eden and stopped for coffee in Pambula.

Here’s the review I left at the cafe and to save you clicking, it’s also below.

Kate and I were punching through delightful Pambula when we happened across this spot.

I put the brakes on as it looked so good from the front (a great start).

Walking in, I did not hold much confidence. I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by the cover, but in coffee, I find it’s usually a pretty good guide.

Anyway, I ordered a soy latte (So Good), and despite asking for it to not be too hot, it was too hot. To be fair, the guy making it did ask if 55 degrees was ok, and I am now aware it is still too hot (I like 45-50).

Coffee was ordinary, and I ended up tipping it out in the gutter.

I didn’t notice what beans they used. The inside is nice, though. Very nice. Front of the cafe is below, it does present very well. You’ll note the smiling photo assassin who jumped in from the side as I was taking this yelling “surprise infidel”. Shocking.

I think you’ll agree that’s fairly balanced.

The review was done a few hours after the visit – this is before I had the Wherespresso iPhone app finished – but was pretty accurate (I made notes in my iPhone).

I recently noted an overly positive review of the cafe that got borderline nasty (and definitely condescending) toward my review (perhaps I need to have a Respond to Review system!).

I personally don’t agree with the first review, — More than half the aspects listed as being terrible, were actually not.

Allow me to elaborate…
1. You like your coffee 40-45 degrees yeah? Well listen here sweetie, I make coffee all the time, it’s my job – and I know for a fact that 40 degree milk, is basically barely lukewarm. It has to be at least 65-70 degrees for it to even create cream.

2. You say you don’t know what the coffee beans are — well, the oblivious individual strikes again! — if you haven’t noticed, the lame photo you took outside, was in fact right in front of the obvious big yellow coffee bean sign!

and 3. You can’t honestly say that you had to tip it out into the gutter — someone who has a preference for a 45-50 degree “soy milk” coffee cannot possibly know what good coffee really tastes like anyway

This sounded like a self-review so I reached out to the reviewer (as I always do) to explain the original review.

Here’s what I sent via email.


Thanks for your review of Cafe XXX in Pambula.

Quick question – are you connected to the owners?

By the way, I actually did the original review, so I was interested to read your comments. Let me quickly touch on some of the comments you made.

1/ With regard to milk heat – yes, I did like it cooler. I was really sick at the time and couldn’t handle hot milk. I still don’t like it too hot.

2/ With regards to the bean type – I actually did the review after leaving, and didn’t note the coffee bean sign out the front (possibly as it was obscured). You’ll note I’ve since updated the bean type (which anyone can do).

3/ As for your comment “You can’t honestly say that you had to tip it out into the gutter –someone who has a preference for a 45-50 degree “soy milk” coffee cannot possibly know what good coffee really tastes like anyway” – I’m not sure what you mean by “soy milk” but the inference seems to be that someone who prefers soy milk doesn’t know about coffee? I’m not entirely sure that’s correct, as I know a lot of high end roasters and retailers in Melbourne (Market Lane, Proud Mary, etc) all drink soy in coffee. I guess it’s the case that lots of people are lactose intolerant, and drink soy in their coffee, or drink it out of preference.

And unfortunately, I did tip it out; something I never like doing.

I suppose that it’s unfortunate that I come from Melbourne – I’m spoilt by high end coffee and drink coffee on a daily basis from the likes of Market Lane, Proud Mary, Seven Seeds, Dead Man Espresso, St Ali and the like – all titans of the industry that I’m sure you’ll have heard off (especially since you make coffee all the time).

Thanks once again for your review, I really appreciate it!

Here’s what I got back

Hi Tim,

For your first question, Yes I am connected to the owner — In fact, I am the owners daughter — I may only be 17, but I know my coffee

(previous owners now that the cafe has recently been sold — for the reason of my parents looking for something different after 8 years of successful, award winning Cafe XXX ownership)

I worked in the Cafe for 3 and a half years since I was 14, and I only noticed we had a negative review on the wherespresso site when I googled “Cafe XXX” a couple of months ago.

I simply can’t say your original comments were reasonable — but now that I’ve been informed you’re from the supposed “high-end” coffee areas of Melbourne, it’s understandable.

“2/ With regards to the bean type – I actually did the review after leaving, and didn’t note the coffee bean sign out the front (possibly as it was obscured). You’ll note I’ve since updated the bean type (which anyone can do)” <— as for this comment, you should probably think about your review before writing it and posting it — I suggest you make sure you make more detailed observations of certain aspects for the future — the coffee bean sign “obscured?” hmmm, and the big piles of pre-ground coffee bean packs on the front counter as well? All of which clearly state the coffee bean type you supposedly could not state

So far, I must say you are the only truly “negative” review we’ve had in our 8 years ownership, and as far our our methods of baristing goes, it’s obvious that there would be some form of a negative comment from a typical Melbourne local. You should never expect the coffee to be the same standard as these “high-end coffee roasters and retailers” you are apparently spoiled by. We are a small town, and a small cafe — do not compare us to high end Melbourne coffee –

No need for a reply to justify your comments, we are no longer owners of the Cafe and I most likely will not reply back anyway.

Thankyou for your review.

I don’t know where to even begin with this response but to most reasonable people the flaws and inconsistencies are obvious.

This is a good example of how not to handle poor feedback.

Want to prevent poor feedback?

If you want to mitigate and even prevent poor feedback you could check out the Wherespresso Feedback buddy.

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