Under Review

Back in the day, one of the more popular television shows was “Sneak Previews,” where famed movie critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert reviewed movies with a simple thumbs-up or thumbs-down. Films which received two thumbs-up from these respected critics were sure to highlight such rave reviews in any advertisements because an endorsement from Mr. Siskel and Mr. Ebert carried considerable weight.

Before the advent of the digital age, the only way to learn what Mr. Siskel and Mr. Ebert thought about a movie was to catch the show each week, or maybe scan the movie ads in the newspaper to see which films they rated highly. There was no Siskel and Ebert website to read reviews on after each show.

Now, such information is literally available at one’s fingertips. Movie reviews are just a click away on the Internet, where users can also find reviews of doctors, hairdressers, lawyers, pet sitters and restaurants, in only seconds. Reviews are big business for sites like Angie’s List, which reviews contractors, Facebook, Google and Trip Advisor, which offers reviews of eateries, hotels and tourist attractions from a traveler’s perspective, and Yelp, the king of all review sites.

Two former PayPal employees in San Francisco, Calif., started Yelp in 2004. The site reviews everything from golf courses and nail salons to restaurants and gyms, and in 2015, the site had a revenue of $500 million. Yelp has also seen its share of controversy, thanks to allegations of users, and even business owners, leaving fake reviews. It has also been said that the site has given preferential treatment to businesses that advertise with them. Despite these issues, Yelp remains the king of online review sites.

Gone are the days when one hired someone to clean their pool after only asking friends or family if they knew someone. Now, thanks to the plethora of review sites, one can get online, read reviews and easily pick someone on their own. Of course, they can still ask friends or family for recommendations, but online reviews, especially for businesses that have been around a while and have a rather high number of reviews, give potential customers a glimpse of how a company really operates.

As Frisco continues to grow and more businesses open, online reviews will become even more vital to sustain success in this competitive market. Some Frisco businesses take their online reviews quite seriously by monitoring and doing all they can to avoid negative reviews, while others opt to simply ignore them.

The Lifeblood of Any Business

For Frisco business owners who take their reviews seriously, they know that in today’s ever-changing world, doing all they can to ensure that all of their customers are happy is an ongoing process, but an important part of doing business.

That is how Jennifer Stephenson, the owner of Le Ravissant Spa, sees online reviews. Ms. Stephenson, who has operated a spa since 2005, takes pride in the fact that she has never received a single negative review on Google, Yelp or on any other site. “We live in a technology world where information is readily available. Especially the younger generation … they are all about information,” Ms. Stephenson says. “We have become more advanced and savvy in our approach of picking places, whether it be a spa or a hairdresser. There is so much competition out there, so people are smarter about where they want to put their money. For me, reviews are everything. They are the biggest way for a new client to get an idea what I am about. It is a third-party perspective.”

Tracy Hutchins, the co-owner of Hutchins BBQ, started by his father, Roy (as Roy’s Smokehouse in 1978 in Princeton), also monitors online reviews closely. Hutchins BBQ, which has won numerous awards and is regarded as having some of the best barbecue in the state, has been at its current McKinney location since 1990. Several years ago, Hutchins opened a second location, which also houses its catering operation, here in Frisco.

Mr. Hutchins, who owns the business with his brother, Tim, knows that as Hutchins BBQ has expanded and reached more customers, the importance of making sure each of them is highly-satisfied cannot be overstated, which is why he and his brother keep a watchful eye on customer reviews. Mr. Hutchins says, “Today, with social media, online reviews are your word-of-mouth. I have been in this business for 25 years, and back in the day, you got a lot of your business through word-of-mouth. So, today, reviews … Yelp, Trip Advisor, Google … pretty much all of them, we feel they are very relevant. We listen.”

However, not every business has the benefit of being reviewed on Yelp or on other prominent review sites. Fortunately, there are still other great avenues for customers to review their products. Silverback Gorill’n Sauce, a company based in north Plano, which makes barbecue and grilling sauces, uses its Facebook page to publicize its popular line of sauces.

Longtime friends Rob Clabaugh and Greg Kelley concocted an original sauce, which can be used as a marinade, dipping sauce or for other purposes. Since Mr. Clabaugh and Mr. Kelly have a minimal advertising budget, they use their Facebook page to publicize their sauces, making fun videos featuring products, while also telling customers where they can purchase their product and when they are having their next events, including in-store demonstrations.

Each Sunday, Silverback Gorill’n posts a short video. On “Silverback Sundays,” viewers can expect to see an entertaining video featuring Mr. Clabaugh, Mr. Kelley and their families, with one of their sauces being front and center. It is a smaller company, with a big vision for the future. The owners want to grow the company slowly, to ensure they can take great care of their existing customers. Mr. Clabaugh and Mr. Kelley always respond quickly to any queries or comments they receive on Facebook. Whether someone is asking a question about the ingredients in one of the sauces, how to invest in their company or just has a general comment, Silverback Gorill’n makes responding quickly a top priority. “He [Mr. Kelley] looks at Facebook every single night,” Mr. Clabaugh says. “He will go on and read whatever they have to say about our business … pros and cons. He calls or emails me the following day, and if there is a reason we need to get ahold of people immediately, he is always one of the guys that is on there right away. He feels like customer communication needs to happen immediately. You have to take care of that … you do not let it sit for more than 24 hours. If you jump into something right away and take care of it, good or bad, it will handle the situation.”

A Preemptive Strike

Positive reviews are obviously what every business strives for, even businesses that do not closely monitor their reviews, but there will be occasions when a bad review gets posted. Maybe it is due to an employee being in a bad mood and negatively impacting part of a customer’s experience, or maybe it is due to something else, like failing to quickly address an issue or offering poor-quality merchandise. For most businesses, bad reviews are a fact of life and something they will have to contend with, at least occasionally, no matter how highly-rated they may be.

During his 25 years with Hutchins BBQ, Mr. Hutchins has seen and heard plenty of reviews, most of them good, but some bad. However, he never takes negative comments personally. Instead, Mr. Hutchins takes critical feedback to heart and uses it to help improve business and better reach customers. If he can avoid a bad review by killing a customer with kindness or rectifying a problem a customer has while they are still in the restaurant, before they can write a bad review, that is the best plan. “Obviously, our goal is to reach that customer if there is any issue or any problem before they go to Yelp or write a bad review, but once it is out there, it is out there,” Mr. Hutchins says. “I would say, more times than not, there is some validity to a negative remark. We value that negative review, what those customers are saying and we respect that review. We are thankful for every customer and we value their opinion, good or bad. When they go after us and criticize, we respect that. I would say 95 percent of our reviews are good. I would say that when you do get a bad review, go back to the source. You have got to make changes on the fly.”

Ms. Stephenson feels one reason why Le Ravissant Spa has yet to receive a single negative review in more than a decade of being in business is because she is adept at what Mr. Hutchins speaks of — taking care of any issues a client has before they leave and write a bad review. “First and foremost, I think I would be able to have the wherewithal to know if a person was going to leave a bad review before they left it,” Ms. Stephenson says. “I would be able to know before they walk out of my door that they were not happy. I would try to address it before the review was even written. If you are in tune with your clients, you can tell whether they are satisfied or not, so I would try to address it even before it got out onto a review level. At that point, you have already lost the ability to communicate with them and fix the problem.”

So, while one still cannot believe everything he or she reads on the Internet, online reviews are something that are here to stay. Many types of businesses now have reviews posted on a variety of different forums, some of them are good and some of them are not so good, but whether they are favorable or unfavorable, online reviews do serve a great purpose in today’s digital world. They help customers decide which businesses they will frequent and help reinforce what business owners are doing right and wrong so they can make corrections or improvements. Maybe the best solution is to peruse online reviews and then ask your friends or family for their own recommendations. That way, all your bases are covered.