It’s no secret that customers value their 21st century right to read and leave reviews for businesses online. This right is so valued, in fact, that 97% of customers have reported reading online reviews for local businesses in 2017. This means that every business is fair game to become victim to negative reviews at any moment.
As a business owner, negative reviews can be hard to handle. Personal feelings often play a much bigger role the decision making process than anyone would like to admit. And it often leads to the two worst outcomes: ignoring the reviews or responding to them,such as the amusing restaurant owner responses on Yelp reenacted by Aziz Ansari and Jimmy Fallon.
However, ignoring reviews or responding wrong can lead to your business’s downfall. In an increasingly digital world, online reputation is vital for staying alive. And handling negative reviews before they tarnish your image is a crucial skill every business owner must master.
Luckily, handling negative reviews is not a hard task after you get the swing of it. Here is a foolproof strategy that will help you handle any negative review like a pro.
Make A Strategy
Before any reviews are read, you should be as prepared to confront the comments as possible. This means first having a plan on how the comments are read and handled with, and then preparing the reader.
STEP 1: Assign a person to be in charge of reviews on all platforms.
Do you have an employee who specifically handles PR? Or is this a small, local business with the owner in charge of review response? Using only one person ensures a unified company voice and keeps your business from going back on any promises made by a different employee.
STEP 2: Prepare the review reader.
It is important to make sure that person in charge of reviews understands their role. It is not their job to get offended by any discouraging or nasty comments left by a customer. It is their job to rectify the situation.
- Take a breath
- Don’t take anything personally
The employee on the front line may have fallen, but it is up to the review reader to pick them back up and keep the whole team moving.
Create Business Profiles
The next phase to prepping for negative reviews is to create your business profiles for all the review sites. A fierce online presence is the best defense to a poor reputation, and can do wonders in negative review situations.
Find out what sites your customer base gravitates to. Some of the most common review websites are:
- The BBB
Also, your industry may have its own specialty review sites, such as Angie’s List or Google Local Services. If you’re not sure, a little research can go a long way.
After you find the sites, its important to have an active business profile. That means:
- Updating all directory information
- Posting regularly
- Responding to reviews and comments
- Answering questions
It’s not enough to just have a name on a website. Each profile requires maintenance, starting with the correct set up. Make sure all of your business information is correct.
A second key to building your online presence is activity. This could be replying to comments or messages, posting a status now and then, answering questions publicly, or posting recent photos. And, if you have enough pictures of smiling employees and a clean, sparkly store or office, how could the public believe a few negative comments here and there?
Respond to the Review
When you finally get around to reading, you see that you have a couple of negative reviews. The first thing to do is to respond. Immediately. Right away. As soon as you can. Studies have shown that 51.7% of customers expect a response to their comment within 7 days. Also, the quicker the issue is addressed, the better you business will look to others. 30% of customers judge a business on whether or not they respond to comments and reviews.
However, the secret many may not know on how to perfectly handle negative reviews is that it is actually a two phase process. This means addressing the review publically, for all to see, while simultaneously diffusing the situation privately with the customer.
Phase 1: Responding Publicly
The first step is to respond to the negative review publicly on the review site. If you have a bad Yelp, Yelp give the business owner the opportunity to respond. Facebook allows business pages to comment on reviews. The ability to join the conversation in the open forum of the internet is truly a business’s best friend.
The public response should contain the following
- A greeting
- An apology
- An brief explanation of your side of the story
- A request for a private message or phone call
Phase 2: Responding Privately
The second and most important phase is the private response. Customers love to drag a business in public. It provides the reviewer with a sense of fulfillment and satisfies their desire for attention they felt the business did not provide. So taking the conversation behind closed doors kills two birds with one stone: giving the customer the attention they want and preventing any more further damage to your online reputation.
In the first response, you may want to provide a phone number so that the rest of the conversation can happen in person between the disgruntled customer and a manager. Otherwise, sending a message through the review site is the next best option. But do not wait for the customer to message the business, the review reader must reach out.
How to Respond
In the private message, get to the bottom of the issue. Why exactly did the customer leave a negative review? But remember your training: you are a business owner, not someone to take personal offense to the customer’s comments. Be professional.
The private message has two goals. The first goal is to prevent any further negative review comments. The second is to discover and fix any issues that continuously appear in negative reviews.
Luckily, there is a conversational formula to help achieve these two goals.
- Reinstate the issue
- Research the incident
- Take ownership of the issue
- Offer a compensation
Reinstating what was mentioned in the negative review will not only act as a body to the first private message, but will indicate that the business is committed and engaging in the conversation. This will also give you the chance to clarify exactly what happened.
After discussing the incident with the customer, double check with your employees. Was the situation the customer is describing true? Were there other witnesses to the event? A little detective work will help find the best way to compensate the customer.
Once the research is done, take ownership to the customer. “The customer is always right” is used for a reason. Customers want to feel as though they are right. And if your make them feel as though they are wrong, there is nothing stopping them from continuing to leave negative reviews on your pages.
And finally, offer compensation. Refund their money or offer a future discount. Again, making sure that the customer receives the attention they feel they deserve will stop them from adding more negative reviews.
If it was a small, one time issue, compensating the customer may save the business much more in the long run. But if an issue keeps reappearing, it may be time to change something in your business. If customers are complaining that the music is too loud, turn it down. If a certain employee has been mentioned multiple times, address the employee. Negative reviews are great indicators of how well your business is running.
Of course, it should go without saying that you should always follow the rules of the review sites you are using. Yelp specifically asks that you do not ask for good reviews, so do not request that the customer change their review. But with good customer service, you will not even need to ask.
Sometimes those negative reviews are fake. Upset employees or competitors may be trying to sabotage your online reputation with a series of fake negative reviews. In most cases, it’s easy to spot – an empty profile with a short name leaving nasty comments. Or, better yet, the actual employee or competitor’s profile.
Most review sites have policies against fake reviews. And they also have an option for anyone to report a review. The most common reasons for disputing a review are:
- Off topic
- Conflict of interest
Disputing a review is simple. Most cases, the review site will ask for a reason, and are pretty compliant with dispute requests. Simply click whatever indicator is next to the review to report it, fill our a short form, and its done. A few seconds can save a business’s online reputation lifetime.
Alternative Approach to Online Reputation
If you’re worried about the toll negative reviews may have on your online reputation, you don’t have to be. There are a number of practices to do to keep your reputation in the clear.
First, it’s important to remember that there are multiple review sites. If your business is not glowing in one, it may be glowing in another. Never put all of your eggs in one basket, and make sure that your business is active on all of its review site profiles.
Another approach is to focus on gaining more positive reviews to outweigh the negative ones. If your have five hundred 4 to 5 star reviews and only three 1 stars, The chance that a customer will take that review seriously are much smaller.
And, of course, there is always the SEO approach. This approach requires you to flood the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) with positive content on your business to take attention away from review sites. To do this, there are a number of SEO tactics, such as using the right keywords and advertising, to gain that attention. However, studies have indicated that this approach is slowly becoming less effective.
Regardless of how your business chooses to handle negative reviews, it’s important to remember that at least one method must be chosen. Online reputations have too much value in the increasingly digitized world, and must be taken care of.
Take a look at our infographic that breaks down the steps on how to deal with negative reviews!