If you own a business, online reviews are part of the territory. Unfortunately, no matter how you conduct your business, some of those reviews will be negative. After all, it’s impossible to keep 100% of your customers happy 100% of the time. Because online reviews are such an important part of local SEO, it’s important to know how to handle the negative when it comes along, as it’s an essential part of online reputation management.
Years ago, an episode of Kitchen Nightmares aired on TV and created a social media frenzy. The owners of Amy’s Baking Company did exactly what you shouldn’t do. They became defensive, accusatory, and even called people names. After a failed attempt to clean up their image, the bakery remained open for a short time before closing its doors.
The Power of Customer Reviews
If you think reviews are no big deal, I’ve got some news for you – they affect your business more than you realize. Nearly 95% of shoppers read online reviews before making purchases. The majority of buyers (88%) are influenced in their buying decisions by reviews. Reviews produce an 18% increase in sales.
Unfortunately for you and all other businesses, people are much more willing to share a negative experience with their peers than they are a positive one. That means working hard to provide quality products and customer service and going above and beyond when and where possible to ensure everyone has a great experience with your company.
Part of handling negative customer reviews means you must distance yourself emotionally, working hard not to take things personally – even if you know what the reviewer says isn’t the full story. Ignoring negative customer reviews can also backfire, because there’s nothing you can do to remove them from your profiles. That means potential customers will see the bad reviews and take note of the fact that you’ve done nothing to respond. Here’s what to do.
Reply to All Reviews
You should be taking the time to reply to all reviews, both positive and negative. When someone leaves a positive review, at least thank them for the time it took to leave the review. When it comes to a negative review, you’ll have to spend more time crafting the appropriate response. Replying to all reviews is better than only acknowledging the positive ones, only acknowledging the negative ones, or worse, never acknowledging any review.
This means monitoring all your review profiles online – not just the ones you’re most familiar with, or your favorite. You’ll want to spend some time looking for any profiles you may have on review sites and directories, claiming the listings when you find them, so you have more control over the information that’s presented.
Pay close attention to what the reviewer is saying. This type of feedback can help you see ways to improve your business operations, whether it be through improved customer service, additional products and services, or another strategy. If you notice a pattern in the complaints, then you know you have a much larger issue at hand to fix. Ignore the quality of its presentation – as many people are quick to vent anger from behind a keyboard, and focus on what’s actually being said. The reality is few people are able to articulate criticism in such a manner that makes you comfortable accepting it and learning from it.
Even if you know the person is wrong, don’t try to prove it to be so. That approach isn’t helpful for anyone, even if you can prove it. You must listen to the other person without planning your reply in advance.
Listening can help you determine the root cause so you can prevent it from being an issue for other customers. For example, if you have a client who is refusing to pay for the promotional flyers you produced for them, look at why:
Why? The delivery was late, so the flyers couldn’t be used.
Why? The job took longer than it was supposed to.
Why? Because the printer ran out of ink.
Why? Because we used all the ink on a large, last minute order.
Why? We didn’t have any left in stock, and we couldn’t order it fast enough.
Solution: Work to find an ink supplier who can deliver on short notice.
Apologize for the Issue
After you’ve read the review and understand the key issues the reviewer mentions, take time to apologize for their experience. Let them know you heard them, and you’re taking the necessary steps to prevent the issue from happening again in the future (then make you sure you have a way to do so.)
Most of the time when someone leaves you a poor review, they want to be heard and acknowledged. Taking the time to understand where they are coming from and apologize can go a long way in repairing the relationship.
Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and imagine how they feel. Even if you can’t deliver a solution, you can deliver empathy. Even if you didn’t do whatever it was that upset them to the point where they left the review, you can still genuinely apologize for the way the customer feels.
Direct the Conversation Offsite for Resolution
To keep your review profile as clean as possible, in your response you should provide contact information. Encourage the reviewer to reach out to you via email or by phone so you can discuss the particulars of the situation in more detail and come to an acceptable resolution. This way, the reviewer knows you’re willing to work with them but want to protect any sensitive data such as account numbers, payment methods, and personally identifying information. And most importantly, the people who will be reading your customer reviews in the future see that you are making every effort to rectify the situation, regardless of whether the reviewer actually responds to you or not.
When the person contacts you to resolve the issue, ask questions. This can help clear up communication so you understand the core message better.
Customer experiences have a lasting impact on whether or not someone is willing to continue doing business with your company. By being willing to accept that no one is perfect and take responsibility for your mistakes while also looking for a way to resolve them and prevent them in the future, you have a much greater chance at salvaging the relationship.