The worst customer service experience ever! The lobby was dirty, and the bathroom had hair on the toilet seat.

My car reeked of BO when I picked it up. The side mirrors were covered in mineral spots. I paid for but did not get tire shine. Do not EVER wash here!!!!!!!”

“If you are offered a job at this place, run! Do not walk to the nearest exit. This business is an asylum. I have never worked with a more dysfunctional group of people in my life.”

“There are a lot of fake reviews on this site. Anyone who has ever been here knows there is no possible way on earth a real customer would say this place was anything but a pit. Enter at your own risk. You have been warned.”

Ouch! Those hurt.

And there it is, right there in black and white for anyone and everyone to see — the naked truth: what someone thinks of your product, your service, and your wash.

Bad reviews can bite, wound, and sting. Worst of all, a mountain of them can appear in a matter of seconds. Social media: it’s a wonderful thing, until it turns against you.

So, what’s an operator to do when his reputation — and that of his car wash — is suffering at the hands of others? Plenty.

Step One
Take a deep breath. You can fix it. Not overnight, but you can fix it.

Step Two
Get over any hurt feelings or embarrassment, and do it quickly. The people who complain have done you a great favor. It’s now up to you to decide if negative reviews are going to be the kiss of death or a wakeup call.

Step Three
Uncover everything that is being said about you. If you found a bad review in one place, there are probably others. You will need to spend a few hours researching yourself online. Start Googling, and take a notes of what you find and where. A word of caution: resist the urge to respond to anything. Be strategic, not impulsive. You will need a game plan before typing a word.

Step Four
Automate. Sign yourself up for Google Alerts at If new content mentioning your company shows up online and Google sees it, the search engine will send out an automatic alert letting you know. There are also a variety of free and paid services that will monitor online search terms and any major review sites for mentions, and will quickly notify you if new information about you is posted. If you are serious about managing your online reputation, these services are extremely valuable.

Step Five
Once you have a good picture of your online grade, get ready to roll up your sleeves and start problem solving. If your employees are rude, train them. If your establishment is dirty, clean it. If people hate working for you, investigate. Unless you are the victim of competitor sabotage, what you are reading is probably based in truth. If needed, revisit step two.

Step Six
Involve your team and communicate your improvement plan.

You will reach your goal faster if everyone in your organization understands what it is, and is working toward it.

Step Seven
When you are interacting with people, ask them what they think. You already know some of them have no problem sharing their opinions with the world, so they will probably be willing to candidly tell you the good, bad, and ugly. Asking your customers or clients for help can prove extremely beneficial.

Here’s an example: “We are working hard to improve. Would you be willing to talk to me for a few minutes? Thank you. What two or three things could we have done differently in order to make your experience with us better?”
If at all possible, have these conversations verbally. You may be surprised by the quantity and quality of information you are able to quickly gather.

Step Eight
Once you have a clear sense of what is going on with your business and are on the road to smoothing out the rough spots, get back to the reviews. It’s time to answer them.

First, thank the reviewer for letting you know about a problem and include something good about yourself, too:
“Thank you for your feedback. I’m sorry your wash experience with us wasn’t what you expected. We wash over 10,000 cars a month, and we strive to delight each of our guests.”

Second, describe what you have done to prevent the issues from occurring again:
“We’ve taken a few steps to prevent what happened to you from happening to another customer. Since your visit, we’ve introduced a tighter monitoring schedule for all public-access areas. Our employees have been given additional training to improve their quality-control skills.”

Third, ask the person to give you a second chance:
“Please wash with us again. I believe you will be pleasantly surprised. My name is Joe. Ask for our location manager, Mike, or me when you visit us again. We will take care of you personally.”

Resist the urge to be snarky, judgmental, or to correct your customers. Yes, some customers are wrong — however, pointing that out will not help. Lots of people are going to be watching how you respond to others. Take advantage of the opportunity to be polite, helpful, and solution-focused. People who rely on the reviews can often tell when other customers are being difficult. If you are gracious in your dealings with them, you will win in the long run.

Step Nine
Ask your happy customers to post reviews. Over time, your average will improve. Obviously this approach only works if you are indeed making changes and removing the causes of bad evaluations. If you are not, prepare for more of the same reviews you’ve gotten in the past because they’re coming. You simply cannot turn off the social media tap.

Step Ten
As tempting as it may be, do not post fake reviews or go to a service to get others to do the same. Apart from the fact that it’s dishonest, it’s also dangerous. If you get caught, you will look even worse than you did before. Instead, get busy writing more content to post on your site, press-release sites, and other appropriate places. The more that’s out there, the less visible a bad comment will be.

Followed closely, this ten-step plan for a reputation overhaul could earn you five stars.

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit