CrossFit Sour Grapes: Why People Leave Bad Reviews (And What To Do About It)

By Oskar Johed, TwoBrain Mentor, with afterword by Chris Cooper
Brian Strump, another Two-Brain mentor and gym owner wrote the following on Facebook a few days ago:
A guy drops in but wants to do his own thing. We tell him he can’t. He then returns 3 weeks later.
– Him: I’m still not over what happened last time.
– Me: Ok, then why’d you come back?
– Him: Most gyms I’ve been to are friendly and welcoming.
– Me: So are we when people follow directions. Can you imagine the chaos of 200 people doing whatever they want?
– Him: I want to drop in and try a class.
– Me: I don’t think this is the best fit here. There are a few other gyms nearby you should try.
The drop in then writes on Facebook that “…the gym is a bad gym. Do not go. They do not want to train you they just want your money. There are better gyms in the area.” 
The owner responded “…we never asked for any money from you. We decided it wasn’t a good fit for you to join. If we only wanted your money, we wouldn’t have done that.”
As small business owners and entrepreneurs we are hyperaware of what people say about us on the “Instawebs”. Anything except a 5-star review is often considered bad. I am quite generous with my 5-star reviews and I am sure you are as well because of what I just mentioned. Even when I feel like giving a 4-star review I most often refrain from doing so. It warrants a written review to fill the void of the missing star and I can’t muster up the energy to do so. “A 5-star it is.”
Everybody knows that most 1-star reviews aren’t relevant or accurate. Seldom do they reflect the quality of the service or product. They are given to make a statement. However, often do they have the opposite effect when the recipient of the 1-star review publicly responds. In calm, professional tone does the business owner explain his or her view of the situation.  Any human with half a brain, let alone two brains (pun intended) will sympathize with the business. The 1-star review has all of a sudden turned into great marketing for the business. 
Receiving 1-star reviews in itself is probably not a business best practice. I am not a believer in the “I don’t play hard to get. I play hard to want” mantra. Just be nice to people.  
That said, the rules and policies by which you run your business are vital to your success.
Very often are they results of cognitive dissonance. That is the state of having inconsistent thoughts or beliefs. The Greek storyteller Aesop wrote about the behavior in The Fox and the Grapes:
“Driven by hunger, a fox tried to reach some grapes hanging high on the vine but was unable to, although he leaped with all his strength. As he went away, the fox remarked ‘Oh, you aren’t even ripe yet! I don’t need any sour grapes.’ People who speak disparagingly of things that they cannot attain would do well to apply this story to themselves.
The drop in above clearly is suffering from cognitive dissonance. He wanted to join the gym (he even came back a second time!). He was told he wasn’t a good fit. He then writes that the gym is bad.
What is interesting to me is the rationale behind the situations that lead to 1-star reviews.
At our gym profanity is not allowed, we don’t offer Open Gym, barbell dropping is not allowed and we have a shirt on policy. What we do offer is a place where dreams comes true through world class coaching and a supportive community. We don’t want to work with more than 200 people. That makes us fairly selective at intake. A few people that we have turned down have afterwards expressed their opinions online.
We don’t mind being their “CrossFit Sour Grapes”.
If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for everything. Even if they get you 1-star reviews from foxes suffering from cognitive dissonance. They just really want to join. 
Afterword: What To Do About Bad Reviews
By Chris Cooper
As Oskar wrote, your box isn’t for everyone. When people feel excluded, they’ll sometimes use their outlets to make themselves feel validated. They want to be heard; sometimes they want to be told “it’s not you, it’s me.”
While my gym doesn’t get many poor reviews, it IS sometimes confused with other “Catalyst Gym”s from around the world, and they occasionally get a bad review. When I see a one-star review from someone whose name I don’t recognize, I get in touch personally. I’ve had several conversations with people about other gyms this way. In most cases, they’re willing to take their bad review down. Here are the scenarios I’ve encountered and how I’ve seen them resolved, from easiest to hardest:
1) Easiest – the client doesn’t actually realize how much damage a bad review can do.
In a personal (and very painful example), a client wrote “Catalyst has literally changed my family’s life. Everything is better because of this gym.” And then continued, “But they stopped doing punch cards.” and ranked us 3 stars on Facebook. When I saw the review, I called the client immediately. He had no idea that the review was public, or that it would affect our search rankings. He didn’t realize that it would actually harm the gym; he thought it was the same as a comment card in a restaurant. He thought we’d see it, note his frustration on the punch card situation, and that would be it. When I told him what actually happened with reviews, he was embarrassed and removed it immediately.
2) Easy – the client had one bad experience. Maybe they were visiting for a weekend; maybe they’ve been a client for 5 years, and the single bad experience just stood out in their mind. Either way, a direct approach is best: climb the communication ladder as high as possible and address their review. If you’ll see them in the next 24 hours, address it in person. If not, pick up the phone immediately. If that won’t work, sent them a video text asking specific questions about their review. Don’t attack them. Be curious, not defensive. Most of the time, they’ll amend their review or remove it.
3) Medium – the client has a laundry list of negatives, but you have a good reason for all of them. Maybe she complains about your prices, or your drop-in policy. Heck, you might not even want her around, but she doesn’t want to feel excluded. This is Oskar’s “sour grapes” example.
I brought this example to Matt Bischel and Jon Haynes, who run the social media department for CrossFit HQ. They recommended simply responding to the review on the same platform. They said to stay positive and explain, but not necessarily to apologize unless it’s clearly warranted.
While some skeptical potential clients DO jump right to the negative reviews, they’ll also read your response. If the response is caring and logical, it could actually convince the new client to sign up. People are smart: the best ones will realize that your gym isn’t for everyone, but might be better for it.
4) Hard – the client has a personal bone to pick with your brand. This means an emotional issue, not a logical one. I recommend an in-person conversation (very hard, but worth it). Then follow the steps to ‘pop their emotional bubble’ outlined in “Never Split The Difference.”
If the complainer is a real outlier, their post can actually galvanize your best clients. Point out the response in your private group and say, “Does anyone else feel this way?” Let your gym family go to work. Encourage them to post their own reviews, but remind them to keep responses positive. Don’t expose them to an online debate, but tell them how to help you instead.
You can’t get rid of the bad review, but you might be able to bury it.
5) Very hard – the client actually DID get ripped off. Maybe they were brought in through a bait-and-switch funnel, and didn’t get their money back after jumping through all the hoops. Maybe the coach embarrassed them for coming in late. Maybe they found out that they’re paying more for the same service than the next guy. If the review is justified, own it. Accept it as an expensive lesson. Fix the problem. A bad review is a great teacher.
Three years from now, no one will have a perfect 5-star review record. There will always be outliers who are impossible to satisfy. My gym has them too. And these will always be the squeaky wheels. Read “Killing The Canary” for tips to stay on track.

One more thing!

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