Bad online reviews are like a punch in the gut. That’s what Yelp says, and they should know: the online customer review website has published more than a few bad business reviews.
Negative reviews are more than just gut-punch: your bottom line can take a hit, too. As many as four out of five potential customers are probably going to consider other options, if they see too many.
Whether they’re on Yelp or the comments section of your company website, negative reviews are a fact of life. They may not teach it in business school, but bad reviews test you. How you respond might have a greater effect on your business than the review itself.
It isn’t a question of if, but when. And when it does happen, chances are you’ll want to reply immediately. Seasoned business owners say that would be a mistake.
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“Don’t respond immediately; wait twenty-four hours,” the owner of a moving company advised, in an interview with Yelp. “If you respond immediately, you’re going to respond with emotion.” That can backfire. If you respond in the heat of the moment, you may say something in anger.
Another business owner said her approach is to assume the customer is right. “I try to see if there’s anything we can improve on our side – If there’s anything that we have done to solicit this type of review,” she said. If there is, she addresses the complaint. If there’s something she can do to improve, she says so, and makes sure to follow through.
Even if the complaint is groundless, she still acts like the customer is right. In those cases, she explains to the customer why she does things the way she does – clearly and politely.
Believe it or not, a few bad reviews can work in your favor. According to a Harris poll, people are more likely to trust a business that has a little negative customer feedback, than they are a business with nothing but stellar reviews.
“People are not looking for perfection online,” said Shama Hyder, CEO of The Marketing Zen Group. “What they’re really looking for is humanity and a genuine response, so a negative review can be a great opportunity to respond in a positive and transparent manner.”
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This must be done with great care. Written remarks lack the nuance of the spoken word, and if you aren’t careful, your reply could be misconstrued. Remember that the people writing the reviews are paying customers with strongly held opinions – which is why they took the time to write a review.
And remember – you can learn from negative online reviews. “If multiple people are picking up on the same issue,” said a Boston restaurateur, “that’s something we really want to focus on.”
Your response to a negative online review should acknowledge the issue that led to the review, and indicate that you understand and empathize with the customer’s experience. Let the person know that you appreciate the input. Begin with an apology – even if you think the customer is all wet.
Be brief and to the point. Sure, you feel like you’ve been punched in the gut – but let the customer know you’ve done something about the complaint. If you need to say more than a brief reply allows, consider taking the conversation offline. Email, even a phone call, shows you really want to correct the problem.
At the end of the day, it’s all about perception. If your reviewer thinks you’re being rude or condescending, a situation can go from bad to worse. Even when the customer is wrong, on the other hand, your good manners and an apology will go a long way toward fixing things.
Negative online reviews are going to happen; it’s a part of doing business. The silver lining is that they’re an opportunity to improve. When you improve your business for one customer, it gets improved for all of them.
Every business and every situation is different. In some cases, negative online reviews can get out of hand, even when you’ve done everything right. When that happens, remember that you control your own destiny; it may be best to get some professional reputation management. Reputation Sciences is an industry leader in online reputation management for businesses. The Reputation Sciences team can help you overcome those negative reviews, and create the positive online presence you deserve.