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When The Karate Kid Gets Mad – Teaching User Review Crane Technique To Small Business Owners

The Story
A cry for help from the Google Places Help Forum:

Hello Google Team, My name is Aaron and Im a student at the White Lions of Shaolin Kung Fu Academy. Anyways I am contacting you because I was wondering what the procedure was to get false statements and slanderous comments removed from the reviews section when looking up a business. I understand reviews are there for a reason, so you can post your review of what you think about a business, for example, if you eat at a restaurant and you font like it, you can post a negative comment explaining why you didn’t like it, but I think you will agree these 2 reviews that I am concerned about are not reviews at all and the only purpose of them is to try and slander the business.
We had a student in the class who got kicked out for misconduct and now he and his girlfriend have been posting terrible and untrue statements on the google reviews tab with the intention to hurt the business with false statements.

The Offending Reviews
Time to part ways.‎‎
Rated 1.0 out of 5.0 By JEFF – Sep 8, 2010
As a mixed martial artist since age 7 and 21 years U.S. Army Special Forces (Retired), I attended White Lions for almost a year serving as an instructor for Sifu G. One of the many things that Sifu can’t teach is experience- or the concepts learned from it (Experience). Sifu has no actual combat experience. As a former dance instructor Sifu can remember forms like choreography. When one pays in advance for private lessons from Sifu, they expect to get his time, not be taught by anther instructor that learned the form a day or two before. An honorable Sifu would never gossip behind the backs of his students and his own instructors who teach classes and clean the school for free. This shows a lack of respect, and self insecurity (Not honorable actions). An honorable Sifu would also not make fun of an overweight student for hurting himself doing class exercises, as I have heard Sifu do. I look forward to excelling in CLF, but will have the added expense of flying to California to bypass White Lions to get proper training.
Rated 1.0 out of 5.0 By tddonkey – Sep 7, 2010
While the black belt students and instructors use encouraging and skillful ways to teach children & adults kung fu, the sifu brainwashes and does not treat his students well considering how much they pay. I took from this school a few years ago and I felt high amounts of false guilt due to the brainwashing after 3 years of not attending. The sifu tried to make me feel bad that I could not go to classes because I chose to go to college for an education away from Dallas. It drove me to counseling for a year while in college. The sifu also told my mother (yes, my mother), that my burly, rambunctious brother talked like “a gay person.” He gossips about the other students and is constantly asking students about those who don’t attend as often as them. He talked badly about my own private instructor for leaving because she dated a black-belt who left the school. His teaching was degrading and involved making fun of students’ clothing, nail polish, weight, etc. It is one thing to be a strict and respectful master, completely another to be degrading and immature. This kind of teaching should not be supported by our dollars and I highly do NOT recommend this school. But as far as the private instructors, I did learn many good lessons from them and my scoliosis and bad knees improved by practicing martial arts. If you are interested in kung fu, search somewhere else, do not attend here.

There’s nothing like a negative review to put you into a defensive position. It is totally legitimate to fear that reviews of this kind could negatively impact your business. Accusations of brainwashing, making fun of injured overweight students, students’ voices, nail polish etc….these range from the serious to the colorfully bizarre, and they certainly do not give a good impression of the martial arts school. Here we have two extremely specific and convincingly detailed negative reviews, an alleged former employee of the martial arts school and his friend calling these reviews slander (probably meaning libel) and asking to have these reviews hand-removed by Google. We’ll return to Google’s part in this at the close of this study, but in the meantime, what can the business owner (or his student) do? Let’s consider the options:

Sweep The Leg
Die-hard fans of The Karate Kid Pt. I will remember the evil sensei’s response when he felt threatened with losing the big tournament. He acted crazily, went for broke and had his student hit below the belt. Small business owners, in their moment of embarrassment and anger, are sometimes guilty of doing the same. The owner of White Lions of Shaolin Kung Fu Academy could choose to respond like this:

You’re a liar. You’re just seeking revenge because we kicked you out of the school. And by the way, your nail polish is ugly, what I said about your burly brother is true, and the fat kid who got injured was just faking it. Also, your mother is a nitwit. Our school is wonderful and we’re glad you’re gone!

“Take that, you negative reviewer!” the business owner might be saying as he publishes this response to the offender. It might feel good for a moment, but no, no, no: this is the wrong way to go. Don’t be the evil sensei. He had absolutely no class. If you’ve received a negative review and are about to respond in the heat of moment, step away from your computer. Shut it off. Take a walk on the beach and consider a second option.

What Would Mr. Miyagi Do?
As movie fans will recall, Mr. Miyagi’s first response to Daniel-san getting beat up by bullies was to go and try to talk things out with their sen-sei. In this specific scenario with White Lions of Shaolin Kung Fu Academy, it would appear that the business owner knows who the negative reviewer is.
I believe Mr. Miyagi’s first move would be to try contacting this past employee/student by phone or email in an effort to resolve the situation. This communication must have a polite, non-confrontational tone and contain an apology for the student’s dissatisfaction with the school. The owner should try to see if there is a way to mollify the student’s ill feelings and have him remove the most hurtful accusations from his review.
Should this fail, as it did in Daniel-san’s case, it is time for the business owner to develop Crane Technique. This means finding balance within, knowing you are standing in the right, and then responding to the situation in an unimpeachable manner. As Mr. Miyagi said in his Hollywood Asian-English, “If do right, no can defense.”
So, what would a Crane Technique business owner response look like to reviews as negative this? Here is my suggestion:

It is every small business owner’s bad dream, having to find a way to respond to a review like this, coming as it does out of the dark, and with no personal communication from the unhappy student or supposed employee. Accusations like this put us in a tough spot, struggling to know how to respond, when the reputation of our school is at stake. We have worked so hard to build up our good reputation over the past 15 years, but it stands to reason that we can’t please every student. It’s our goal to be fair, transparent and honest, and our first task is to acknowledge that this reviewer was really dissatisfied with his experience at our school, or he wouldn’t have felt impelled to write such a strongly-worded review. We are extremely sorry that any student would feel so unhappy about his experience with our instructors.
Our second task is to make it known that we held a meeting with all our instructors to talk about the disturbing accusations made in this review and everyone felt just terrible to think a past student or employee would be so unhappy that they would feel driven to make such remarks. If you are considering enrolling at our school, I would like to personally invite you to come down and watch some of the classes before you make up your mind about the quality of what we provide. I believe you will see our instructors teaching our students in a safe, respectful and skilled way.
Finally, I would also like to ask the reviewer that, if there was a personal problem with the school, please, phone me and let me know about it. My best chance at making amends for any bad feelings is to be able to listen, in person, to your concerns, and do my best to address them. We truly care about our students and take their needs seriously.

No Can Defense
If you’re about to respond to a negative review, please take a moment to study that sample response. I believe it accomplishes the following:

  • It expresses sorrow at the idea of customer dissatisfaction
  • It does NOT refute the weird accusations being made – it just doesn’t get into it
  • It shows that the owner is deeply concerned and also, in a difficult situation trying to respond fairly to out-of-the-blue negativity
  • It invites the public to come into the business to make up their own mind
  • It invites the reviewer to seek resolution

Here, instead of coming off as aggressive, hot-headed or angry, the business owner sounds polite, reasonable and ready to take responsibility for the reputation of his school. It creates a real contrast to the nasty picture painted by the reviewer, and most of all, it diffuses an agitated situation into a calm and rational one.
Regardless of what Google does, the business owner wins by looking like a professional and a nice guy. As the triumphant lyrics in the old movie go, “You’re the best around!” Happily for you, Google now enables an owner response function and it is your tool for making the best out of what is certainly an uncomfortable situation. When you are able to respond to a negative review like this, you really have gained balance, Daniel-san.

Pity the Ref
What about Google’s part in this? Frankly, they have my pity. Who are they supposed to believe? The detail of the accusations in the reviews makes them look legitimate, but so what – some people can write well and are capable of crafting convincing-sounding lies. If the truth is that this is a student/employee who was dismissed for misconduct and has an axe to grind, we all sympathize with the business owner, but for the life of me, I can’t see how Google is supposed to determine this. What if it’s the unhappy student who is telling the truth and the school really is guilty of acting badly? Can you tell who is right? I sure can’t.
I think it may have been lack of foresight on Google’s part that in entering the world of reviews, many people would expect them to shoulder the responsibilities of arbitration between unhappy customers and unhappy business owner. I see absolutely no possibility of Google choosing to do this. This means that you – the business owner – are on your own, and it’s up to you to rise above cowardly attacks and show that you take the high road. And, while you’re responding with such aplomb, start making a list of your really happy students who might be willing to leave a good review, thereby pushing the offending materials down the list.
Until next time, my friends, wax on, wax off!
Many thanks to Local Search Sen-sei, Mike Blumenthal for sharing this scenario with me.