FARMINGTON — Technology moves fast, and for businesses, that can mean instantaneous reviews.
Smart phone users can use mobile apps like Yelp, Google+ and others to review and share their experiences with businesses, and, for some companies, that can be frightening.
"I got a lot of business owners that get fearful," said Amy Lahti, a business trainer and consultant with WESST, a small business development organization with six offices throughout the state.
While businesses may have different practices regarding how to monitor online reviews, Lahti said finding out what customers are saying and engaging with them makes a business stronger.
"It's just an extension to the way word of mouth used to be passed," she said.
Mike Ziems, business development manager at Farmington's Ziems Ford Corners, said he actively seeks out online reviews from customers.
"It gives us a place to start to improve our services. If we don't know the customer is upset, we don't know how to improve," he said.
His car dealership's Facebook page has a place for customers to comment about their experiences with the company.
"I make it my goal to respond to every negative and positive review," Ziems said.
The result, he said, is often returning customers.
"We catch the problem, and correct it," Ziems said, "Those are our most loyal customers."
Not all business owners embrace online reviews. Anthony Chen, manager at Mikasa Japanese Cuisine in Farmington, said he doesn't bother to keep tabs on the restaurant's reviews online and via social media.
"We haven't paid attention to Yelp. We haven't done anything with them," he said.
On Yelp, a business review website, Mikasa has 25 reviews, averaging three and a half stars out of five.
Monitoring comments is time-consuming, and sometimes customers have complaints that aren't reasonable, Chen said. For instance, he said, one customer complained online that the sushi served at the restaurant was cold. Given that's how sushi is served, Chen said, "What I am supposed to say?"
One reason businesses may shy away from online reviews is they can't always dispute the criticism, said Chris Hunter, regional manager for WESST's Farmington office and a former board member for the Better Business Bureau.
Customers and businesses need to consider the business model of the reviewing site, he said.
"There are different commercial models behind those business reviews," he said. "You have to understand the model."
As an example, he used Angie's List, a site that lets customers review contractors and other services.
"In order to access Angie's List, you have pay," he said.
Moreover, businesses that get negative reviews on many online sites often have limited avenues to rectify the complaints, he said. That's different than, for example, the Better Business Bureau, which offers a way for companies to address the problem and remove the negative complaint from their record, Hunter said.
There's also the issue of resources. Some small business owners may not have the time or staff to monitor what's happening online.
"You may not even know somebody is Yelping about you," Hunter said, "It's the Wild West out there."
Kayleigh Winslow, a spokeswoman for Yelp, said most reviews on the company's site are positive for businesses.
"About 80 percent of the reviews on Yelp are three stars or higher," Winslow said in an email.
She said the site offers a way for business owners to dispute ratings, but they have to be registered members of Yelp to do so. Winslow noted Yelp offers free business accounts.
But business owners also have to know their clients before investing time in scouring online reviews, said Jason Black, director of operations at the LNG Company, a social media marketing company in Las Cruces.
"The more your business appeals to the media savvy generation, the more you have to pay attention to this stuff," he said.
He also added some negative reviews may be exaggerated, and keeping that in mind, businesses have to discern which reviews to address.
Lahti said another way businesses can mitigate the effects of bad reviews is to suggest happy customers leave reviews. But she cautioned against businesses offering discounts or other freebies in exchange for reviews.
"That will get you in a lot of trouble," Lahti said.
In fact, Winslow said offering incentives or asking for reviews goes against Yelp's policies.
"We actually recommend that business owners let their customers know about their Yelp presence, and stop short of asking for a review," she said.Erny Zah is The Daily Times business editor. He can be reached at 505-564-4638. and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @ernyzah on Twitter.