What Does Your Online Reputation Have to do With STDs?

OwnerListens rep: “Hello dear business owner. We have a few complaints from customers to share with you. Would you like to hear them?”
Business owner: “Who is this again?”

OwnerListens rep: “I work for OwnerListens. We help customers reach you privately when they have a complaint they would like addressed. These customers prefer to give you the opportunity to reply privately rather than post on your Yelp or Facebook page”

Business owner: “That’s a great idea, but I don’t really pay much attention to Yelp or Facebook and my business is doing fine”

OwnerListens rep: “Glad to hear you’re doing well. However, Yelp, Facebook and other social media and review sites are dynamic. Your rating on them could deteriorate and it will hurt your business”

Business owner: “I doubt it. We’ve been around for 5 years and so far it’s worked for us”

OwnerListens rep: “I’m sure you care when customers have a bad experience. Would you like to hear and respond to the complaints we have from your customers?”

Business owner: “Oh sure. I definitely care. Eh, can you call back a bit later? I’m just really busy now”

These types of conversations and others similar to it are all too common. At first they baffled us. Why would rational, experienced business owners convince themselves that the very real threat of online reputation doesn’t apply to them? Why would business owners who pride themselves on good service avoid listening to and addressing customer complaint? Who wouldn’t want the opportunity to win paying customers back?

Baffled we did some research and learned about a psychological phenomenon called “information avoidance”. In a paper published in the Review of General Psychology in 2010, Information avoidance is defined as behavior designed to prevent or delay the acquisition of available but potentially unwanted information.

There are various studies (here and here) showing that when knowledge could create anxiety or stress, some people will do what they can to avoid it. It’s a natural reaction of our bodies to want to avoid anxiety even when we rationally understand accessing this information is important and could benefit them in the long run. Another explanation as to why information might be unwanted is when knowledge might create an obligation to act, to do something in light of the information.

Healthcare test result avoidance is a common manifestation of information avoidance. Knowing that one has HIV creates anxiety, uncertainty and stress so many people put off getting test or looking at their results even when it’s clearly at the expense of their health or even lives not to know. Information about interpersonal preferences can also cause information avoidance. For example, not wanting to know your new boyfriend’s political affiliations for fear they may not match yours. Better to “deal with it” later. Or, never.

If you want to get a taste of this issue without having to read through academic papers, this recent NPR report is a good place to start. It tells of a study conducted at Claremont College in which students were willing to pay to avoid a test for type 2 Herpes. That’s a nasty form of Herpes that targets the genitellia. Clearly, something a rational person would want to know yet 15% of students were willing to pay to avoid taking the test. Their most common explanation: the results might cause unnecessary stress or anxiety. While this was not mentioned in the report, one might also hypothesize that knowing about an STD creates obligations such as to disclose the condition to potential partners. Yet another reason to remain ignorant even at the expense of another’s health.

The study went further to suggest that scaring people about the implications of the test creates the anxiety that leads to information avoidance. A potential solution would be to stress the normalcy of getting tested and to emphasize the treatments that exist to alleviate or cure the condition. Rather than scaring people into getting tested, empower them with coping mechanism.

With this we now felt we have a better understanding of why some businesses prefer to put their head in the sand and avoid customer feedback, whether public or private:

  • Knowing you have a negative online reviews creates stress and anxiety. Businesses feel they have no control of their online reputation so they just avoid knowing about it.
  • Knowing you have an unfavorable online reputation creates an obligation to improve it. This is hard work in a field businesses are still struggling to figure out.
  • Getting customer feedback even in private is like hearing bad news. The implications of avoiding the bad news are not typically concrete and usually can’t be tied to the demise of a business until it’s too late.
  • Getting customer feedback directly and privately creates an obligation to address it. Customer service and customer recovery is work. Businesses are already overworked.

With this in mind, we now have a better approach when speaking with business owners. We start by explaining to them how OwnerListens helps them quickly and efficiently address the online reputation problem. We go through case studies with them showing that it’s actually not that hard to respond to customers directly through OwnerListens and turn them from irate detractors to raving fans.

By stressing the coping mechanism we have built for them, we are able to reduce anxiety about addressing feedback privately and dealing with online reviews.

It’s still not easy to hear negative feedback about the business you pour your heart and soul into and it never will be but at least you no longer have to be an ostrich about it.


Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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