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I had to take our car in for a service today and we used a mechanic we’d never used before. This particular business had been pre-sold to us a few months ago when a girl knocked on our door and sold us a coupon that offered a discount on a future service. It seemed like a good idea at the time – this particular mechanic is part of a nationwide chain with a pretty credible name, so it seemed low risk.

It wasn’t until I dropped the car off this morning that I googled reviews of the business and, to my horror, found a couple of recent very negative reviews of the business.

When I picked the car up in the afternoon, I asked the manager if he was aware of these negative reviews. Not only was he not aware of them, he didn’t really seem to care. His attitude wasn’t “REALLY?? THAT’S SHOCKING!!” – it was more of “oh yeah? Huh.” He seemed like he could care less. I mentioned that I’m a marketing consultant and that this kind of negative online review can be damaging to a business, but again he seemed disinterested. I took that as a sign that a) he wasn’t surprised that there were negative reviews and b) he didn’t really think it was a big deal.

Compare that to this study by two Berkeley economists.

They found that the tiniest changes in online restaurant reviews can make or break a restaurant. A simple half-star improvement on Yelp’s 5-star rating makes it 30-49% more likely that a restaurant will sell out its evening seats. Online reviews, the researchers conclude, “play an increasingly important role in how consumers judge the quality of goods and services.”

I really wish I’d had my brain switched on when the girl was trying to sell me the discount voucher. I should have checked for online reviews before I handed over my credit card.

As it is, I feel very uneasy about the mechanics and won’t be going back there. Even if the negative reviews aren’t a genuine reflection about the business’s standards (let’s face it, they might be two bad reviews out of thousands of happy customers who haven’t bothered to leave positive reviews), the manager’s nonchalant attitude when I asked him about it has left a very bad taste in my mouth.

Businesses really need to start taking this kind of thing Über-seriously.