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How to deal with negative online reviews

According to the Search Marketing Company MOZ, 67 percent of users are influenced by online reviews when making a purchase. Customers look at reviews to find brands and products that will provide them with the best service, reliability and/or experience.

And because customer reviews show up in Google's search results, you can't close your eyes and hope any bad ones will go away or be ignored.

Taking the time to communicate with both satisfied and dissatisfied customers who post reviews or comments on social sites is very important.

Don't take it personally.

Hard to do if you are a small business or sole trader, but remember a bad review might just mean your product or service wasn't right for that particular customer and/or their expectations. And that's OK – you can't be right for everyone.

It's tempting to respond to a negative review angrily, especially if you think it's unfair but this will only make your business look bad. Respond professionally and politely even if you are having to set the record straight about something they said that isn't true.

See it as an opportunity

Things go wrong sometimes.

For every bad review, there could be dozens of unhappy customers that haven't said anything.

If every one of your negative reviews says service was too slow, chances are it is. Use it as an opportunity to prioritise the improvements to your business.

Engaging with these vocal customers is a great way to learn from and build goodwill, especially if you can turn them around and make them a fan instead.

Always Respond - in a timely manner

One of the most important things to do is to respond to reviews if you can. Don't wait a month to do it, the quicker you can respond to comments the better.

How to respond

It's very difficult if not impossible to get reviews removed, so the best way to deal with them is to respond and if possible resolve the problem. By reaching out to your reviewer and being genuine in your efforts to resolve the situation you have a chance to change this customer's perspective for the better.

  1. Thank them for the business and their feedback – they've taken the time to do it, and don't forget they paid for your product/service in the first place
  2. Apologise if mistakes were made. If you can, be specific about their experience and restate the issues so it's clear you've heard them – eg ”We're sorry you had to wait so long for service”
  3. State any changes you have or will made as a result eg “We've reviewed our staff rosters for peak times to reduce waiting at these times”.
  4. Don't be defensive or make excuses – you being short staffed isn't the customers problem. Instead, empathise with them using phrases like “I'd be frustrated too if….”
  5. Work in your positive values – eg “We work hard to provide the best service in our area”
  6. Don't used canned or pre-prepared responses and they make it look like you really couldn't care less.
  7. Send a private message or ask them to email you if you need to take it offline to find out more information or personal and/or purchase details to resolve the problem. The more general responses keep them public so people can see how you responded.
  8. Resolve it - If it was a product, offer to take it back or if it was a service, offer a refund or replacement. It’s a way to show potential customers that your business values people. Think of it as advertising at a discount.

An example of doing it right

Here's an example that we experienced very recently. This one involved a post on social media, rather than a review as such but the principal is the same.

1. Our dryer packed up. Eek! So, we rang around and finally found someone who could repair that particular make and model. This turned out to be Fisher and Paykel (didn't know they did repairs for our brand of machine, but there ya go)

2. It was a few days before they could come out (groan), and when they did they told us it needed a new part. Wait another four days. Repair man came, replaced part. Tested machine, worked ok and left. Over a week without a dryer, so on went a load of washing and into the dryer it went. The dryer went for exactly 90 seconds and stopped again. GAK. Rang them back immediately. The call centre rep said it would be another five days to get someone back again – WHAT??!! Oh but they were really busy. Sorry, but that's not our problem.  Two weeks of hauling wet washing to the albeit friendly local laundry to dry was getting a bit ridiculous.

3. Cue grumpy posting on social media.

4. Almost instantly the post had a reply from a customer service rep, asking for more information. She arranged for another tech to come out straight away to fix the dryer.  Apparently it was a different part at fault this time. Tested it. Left. Dryer went for 10 minutes this time before stopping. Cue further rant.

What followed was several emails and phone calls from the customer service rep and a decision that the dryer had to go to laundry heaven. Fisher and Paykel offered us a special deal, including delivery (and taking the old one away). Which we took, because it was a good offer and totally unexpected.

So, while we didn't really want to buy a new dryer, it would have no doubt packed up eventually.  We feel good that we got a new one for a great price even allowing for the initial cost of repairs that were all for naught.

What Fisher and Paykel did right was:

  1. Responded immediately to a complaint on social media with an offer to help
  2. Took the issue off line for more personal service
  3. While they did explain why it was going to take so long to get a tech out, the didn't use it as an excuse not to do anything
  4. Came up with a solution - and sweetened the deal
  5. Ended up keeping a customer who was quite impressed with their willingness to find a solution, and who will stick with them.  We even told a few friends about it.

Nice. Bad situation turned around.

Dealing with Fake or malicious reviews

Unfortunately you may find that some reviews are not by legitimate customers but by competitors or people with an axe to grind who have never used your company.

If you believe that a review is false or malicious or breaks the specific review site rules (e.g. contains profanity, personal attacks or private information), you can try and contact the site and ask for it to be removed. But don't expect them to take your side or do it in a timely manner, or arbitrate to see who's right. Google for example will only remove reviews that violate their content guidelines and “I don't agree” or “that customer was an idiot” aren't listed in these policies.

Note, that if the review is abusive or harassing, take a look this blog post on cyberbullying for more information on what to do.

Encourage positive reviews to drown out the bad

Bad reviews happen but if you have 100 good reviews and only a couple of bad ones, the good ones will outshine the bad.

If you have a lot of positive reviews (not to mention a lot of other search results) showing up in Google, these will push down the negative ones. Google places are a good place to refer people to leave reviews.

Finding business reviews

The best way to find reviews of your business is to Google your business name.  And monitor your social media sites regularly.

If you want to be more active and encourage reveiws on external sites, the most popular review sites are:

  • Google my business (this one in particular)
  • Yelp
  • No Cowboys
  • Finda
  • Localist
  • Dineout (if you're in the restaurant biz)
  • Menu Mania
  • Trip Advisor - for travel related companies
  • Priceme (price oriented but does also have reviews of products)
  • Facebook – people can leave reviews on your business page which will show up in search results
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