Mark Fletcher says he never paid much attention to Google reviews left by customers for his Victorian-based software business Tower Systems – until five months ago.
He was told he had lost a sale due to a negative review from a person called Ashley T.
The comment, made a year ago, claimed the point-of-sale software was buggy and the company did not communicate well in response to complaints.
“I would STRONGLY recommend not buying this product,” the review said.
Tower’s story is far from uncommon, as the impact of negative reviews is hotly debated among customers, businesses and Google, which has found itself increasingly embroiled in court actions.
Fletcher replied, saying the business had tried several times to contact the customer and left them a message.
But more anonymous negative reviews began rolling in, bringing down the company’s rating. Fletcher says it was difficult to get Google to do anything about it.
“We filled in Google forms, complaining about false and misleading reviews and anonymous reviews and have heard nothing,” he says. “Google makes it easy for people to complain about businesses but almost impossible to deal with misleading claims.
“The power Google has is extraordinary.”
Fletcher even started paying for Google Ads, thinking it would help get a response from the tech giant, to no avail.
“Absolute silence from Google,” he says.
The negative reviews and lower star rating on Google began costing the company business leads, Fletcher says.
He says he was forced to ask customers to leave positive reviews to fix the rating. The average is now up to 3.8 out of 5.
“I hate doing that. I want reviews to be natural,” he says.
Online reviews such as those on Google, Facebook or Yelp can make or break a business. Some businesses and customers swear by them, others curse their existence.
Some people told Guardian Australia a good Google review rating was a useful way to find small businesses that didn’t have a website.
Jillian Harrison, who manages social media for Republic Bar in Hobart, says users who saw reviews for the bar come up in search were often prompted to leave similar reviews.
“Google reviewers tend to be a bit more specifically analytical in their comments – less of the broadsided swipes or praises,” she says. “They tend to say why they like or dislike something, which is definitely useful.”
Others say leaving a negative review is a good way to get a company’s attention when it is otherwise unresponsive.
Rory Gallagher, the Australian managing director of the Behavioural Insights Team, says review systems are more likely to have an impact on smaller businesses than generic chains.
“Consumers might already know what to expect from a burger at McDonald’s, but know less about an independent burger restaurant, so may be much more influenced by…