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Is this a threat?

Updated: Mar 21, 2022

“So the 5 day rental was $143, and the 3 day rental was $121? I’ll pay the invoice and leave a review.” – Karen

– A little background. I’d sent an invoice that included an unadvertised, unpromised discount of over 50% on a 5 day Paddleboard Rental, and then a second invoice with a 35% discount when the customer, let’s call her Karen, said she’d only used the board for 3 days. The discount on the first invoice was labeled “Special Partner Weekly Rental Discount” with a dollar amount. The second one said “An Extra Discount Just Because We Can”.

I never actually met Karen. I gave her a deal for no real reason other than that she was staying at a friend’s B&B & I felt like hooking up their guest. She misunderstood a number of things along the way, making assumptions that we were trying to sneakily wrong her. “There was another board at the property. I’m not paying for that.” (We often keep boards and boats at this house since the property has multiple rentals almost every week. It was never suggested she would or should pay for a second board).

I generally really like crowd sourced reviews, and I use them often. I read comments about restaurants, activities, hotels, rental houses, just about anything associated with an experience I am going to have – especially with friends or family. I’m much more picky about these experiences than I am about the things I buy. And I depend on the wisdom of the community to point me in the right direction.

Of course, I also make sure that I am finding a place that meets my expectations. If the #1 rated restaurant in town is a Denny’s, I keep reading down the list.

But as a business owner, it seems like there are days when I’m being threatened by some customers if we don’t offer them a special discount or provide a special service that is beyond what was ordered or requested. They ask for something unreasonable, or better yet just imply a desire for it. Then say something like “Well, you’ll see what I really think on Yelp.”

It’s said in such a way that I can’t justifiably ask what’s wrong. They just said they’d leave a review – not a bad review. But the words are spoken with that slight accent of contempt that leaves the threat hanging in the air – Just waiting for me to swat at it with a discount or special offer or anything I can think of to protect my reputation from being sullied.

The onus is put on me to interpret that we’ve done something wrong and have to make amends. It’s bump, set, spike, where I’m expected to take their last hit and spike the ball into my own face.

Just in case you didn’t know this – your online reviews have a major effect on the businesses you’re writing about. Taking 5 minutes to stoke a shop, service, or restaurant that you loved with a 5 star review can bring them significant additional revenue, even keep them in business.

Additionally, posting a rave review and giving it 3 or 4 stars because “5 star is for something really special” can really screw a place over. Why? Because, thinking nobody has your high standards or knows how to use a 5 star system properly, you still only LOOK for 5 star reviews. And so does everyone else. Your review can be the difference between whether a restaurant is #1, #2, or #7 in town – Especially in a small community. How often do you look at a list of the top 10 of anything and go straight for #4?

Now, if a business doesn’t provide a decent product or service, please review honestly. I don’t know an entrepreneur out there that doesn’t want to know how they can improve or where they’ve missed the mark. But before you trash them online, try talking to the owner or manager to see if they’re willing to help solve a problem they might not be aware of. Try working together to make your actual experience better rather than suffering through it, stewing and writing your scathing review in your head.

If you go to a place frequently and have the same issues all the time, then maybe they really do deserve a 1, 2, or 3 star review. Or maybe you’re looking for something they’re not trying to provide. Expecting a perfect cappuccino at a drug store lunch counter (in America) is your bad, not theirs. It’s like going to a Dentist to get a Colonoscopy. You are going to be disappointed, and it’s not their fault.

But back to Karen. I still don’t really know if she’s just curt in email, or if she’s pissed off that I only gave her $57 off of her paddleboard rental. So I asked – “Is this a threat?”

And I sent the e-mail. And now, even though I stand behind everything I wrote. And I don’t think I was (very) rude about it. And I immediately added “If I misunderstood, please accept my apologies.” I know she’s going to get the e-mail and think “Who does this guy think he is? I never threatened anything. I should write a review about how rude this guy is.”

But I hit my limit today. I’ve held back on too many things. Friends who I think of as kind, reasonable human beings are saying horrible, racist things online and posting incredibly offensive memes and images on social media and sending emails spreading inflammatory articles that have been proven to be full of lies and falsehoods. And I keep my mouth shut and my fingers off the keyboard. Because I don’t want to offend them or get into some long internet brawl with them.

People who are very good friends with gay and lesbian friends of mine talk about why we shouldn’t allow gays in the military or how gay marriage is an abomination “But not you guys. You guys are awesome.”

Having spent a lot of time as a happy civilian in the Middle East (I lived there as a child and have been back several times as an adult.), I am disgusted and dismayed by the anti-Muslim vitriol I see around me every day. But I keep my mouth shut and my fingers off the keyboard. Because I know that that dude who I chat with in the lineup at our local break- the one who just posted some crazy shit about how “All Muslims are scum.” has other friends who will caps-lock scream their heads off if I mention that Muslims are people, and there are several Muslim people that they actually know and interact with on a daily basis… And they’re not f’ing terrorists!

But today I feel that Karen, with her implied threat, is exactly that – a damn terrorist. She’s subtly trying to take something from me or influence my actions using fear and intimidation. And I’ve had enough.

So all of you out there who love the flame wars, and yell at waitresses about mistakes the kitchen made, and threaten to “tell you what I really think on Yelp.” I’ll tell you what I really think right here. You suck.

You’re part of the problem. Maybe not all of the problem, but a big damn part of it. Another part is the community of people, myself included, who are concerned about or afraid of pissing you off.

So here’s what I’m thinking I can do about a small part of it.

  1. Start calling out review threats made to me or other businesses– stop the cyber-bullying of small business owners.

  2. Respond to obvious BS reviews that I see online (1 star – Great shirt, but I ordered a Medium and needed a Large)

  3. Fact check friends who post racist memes, fake quotes from celebrities, and other BS (Unless I actually believe they’re racist assholes. There’s no sense trying to correct those folks with facts on Facebook.)

  4. Take a step back, go to the beach, and have a cold beer

I’m not going to make a crusade out of this. So, just because I don’t debunk your BS, don’t assume I think you’re a racist asshole. But if I do challenge you on something you posted, sent, or said, please know I am doing so because I think you’re better than that. That maybe you went for the cheap laugh without realizing the cost was your moral standing and the respect of your peers (not so cheap now). And I ask you to do the same with me. Call me out if you think I’m out of line. Let me know what you really think. Think.

I don’t care if you’re a Republican or Democrat. A Populist or a Libertarian. A preacher or a drag queen (or a drag queen preacher). Think what you want. Support who you want. Do what you want. But be ready to stand up for it. “That was just a re-Tweet.” Is a weak response to “Why did you send out that crazy racist shit?”

Just as a 3 star review because “It was my birthday and the guys at the tire place never even sang to me.” is an offensive assault on a business.

But please, Karen, if I misunderstood you, please accept my most sincere apologies.

(Sorry for the rant, I really just wanted to know if you thought Karen was threatening me, and I guess I had a bit more on my mind.)


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