Navigating Trolls and Customers in Online Reviews

In this day of data-ubiquity, negative online reviews can be deadly for small and medium sized businesses. And yet there are some out there who get a perverse pleasure from posting random or undeserved negative reviews. This is especially problematic for small and medium-sized businesses who may not have the resources to combat these trolls.

In this post, I’ll try to help you spot the difference between legitimate customers and trolls, and provide some guidance on how to deal with each.

Knowing the Difference Between Customers and Trolls

Dealing with Trolls

Trolls are becoming more and more savvy in mimicking natural language and impersonating legitimate customers. Adding to the complexity, some legitimate, but disgruntled, customers may adopt troll-like language in their reviews.

However, in general, you can spot a troll review by looking for the following:

  • Short, unspecific criticism
  • Excessive use of capitalization and exclamation marks
  • Suspicious usernames

Possible troll reviews might be things like:

“Rude and unprofessional!”


If you suspect that a review was left by a troll, investigate their user profile. See if they’ve left other “trolling” reviews. If not, then it may just be a genuinely irate customer. If you see a pattern of negative reviews, however, you can contact the hosting company (i.e. Google, Amazon, Yelp, etc.) and bring the issue to their attention. These companies actively combat trolling and have systems in place to help you alleviate and protect against them.

Real Customers

Generally, negative reviews from actual customers are more detailed. They tend to point out specific issues that they experienced. Here are two examples of actual, customer-posted reviews:

Example 1:

“…When we arrived they said it was a 20 min wait (which is fine). They said we could go [walk around] … and come back. I made it a point to come back 15 min later so they wouldn’t be waiting on us. When we got back, they said they were running a little behind (but didn’t say how long). I told her that was fine and we could wait a few minutes… 30 minutes later we still hadn’t gotten in and I just walked out and left.. so the wait went from 20 min to 50+ minutes. I felt [i]t was really unprofessional of them and if they didn’t have time for us they should’ve just told us to come back in an hour or 2 instead of wasting our time and still not getting our [product].”

Example 2:

“…They messed up my [service], so I went back a few days later to ask for a re-do/fix-up. The only thing they offered to do was let me buy it again 10% off.. no thanks. I’m going to [another provider] from now on.”

These reviews focus on specific experiences that the customers had.

Believe it or not, that’s a good thing. It can help you to isolate a business unit or function that is not operating optimally, and improve it: Example 1 highlights and inefficient scheduling system, and Example 2 highlights the service delivery and customer service systems.

Taking legitimate complaints seriously, and isolating the offending system can serve as the foundation for meaningful improvement in your organization.

In Conclusion

We live in a highly-connected, global-economy where reputation is king. Negative reviews can drastically influence potential customers’ buying decisions. As you approach those reviews, it’s important to know whether the review is legitimate (which can catalyze meaningful change in your organization) or if it’s a troll that needs to be reported.

I hope that this short post has provided some insight and guidance. Good luck out there!

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