Last weekend, I went to buy a "big boy" bed for my toddler son.  I looked up where I could find kids' beds before leaving home, and found a place that looked like it had lots of choices that were fun but also made with safe materials. As I was getting my coat on, my husband googled the location of the store, and in the process, stumbled upon the google reviews for the place. They were appalling.

"Store to avoid. Bad customer service and terrible delivery and installation."   

"Deplorable. Not even a smile, not even a thank you."

"What a nasty team of salespeople. Especially the brown-haired one. They make you feel like you're nothing but a bother. Makes you not want to give them a cent. I'll buy elsewhere, that's for sure."

The list of negative reviews was long and loud, and they all seemed to confirm the same bad experience. What I found most shocking, however, was that the reviews dated from 2 years ago all the way up to 2 weeks ago. As a consumer, I know that you have to take the opinions of others with a grain of salt.  People can sometimes blow little things out of proportion, and now the internet gives them an easy outlet to make their feelings very public, very fast. But this was different. Over and over, potential customers had complained of the same disinterest, the same misinformation,  the same poor treatment! How could the owners of this business have read what people were saying about their company and not have done anything about it for more than 2 years? That's an eternity in commercial terms.

Now, as a business owner, I understand that I unfortunately can't always make every customer happy. But I also believe that owners have to keep their ears to the ground to detect discontent among clients while it's still a whisper, instead of a roar.  Ignoring customer feedback can be a fatal mistake. That's why I listen carefully to the things people say about my company.  

Bad reviews can clearly be hurtful, hyperbolic, and even vitriolic, and we may want to ignore them because they seem unjust, unbelievable, and downright infuriating-- but they need to all be read, considered, and scrutinized for the grains of truth they can provide about how the people on the other end of our interactions are perceiving our companies, our employees, our products, and our processes.  If I listen openly, as though the customer is referring to a company other than my own, I can always find ways that we can do things better, smarter, and even more simply.  By paying attention, I can make my company stronger.

Some companies wish they could find a way to shut down review sites, remove anything unfavorable they find about their businesses, and go back to the days where disgruntled patrons could tell only their most intimate circle of friends and family about their discontent. I say the writing on the wall is valuable, and smart owners, rather than trying to erase it, should be the first to respond.