Small business owners typically feel immense pride in their companies, their products, and their services—so when a customer offers laudatory feedback, it’s gratifying on a personal level. However, the inverse is also true. When customers leave negative comments or bad reviews, it can feel like a personal insult—even though it’s rarely intended as such. The sting of negative feedback is even more pronounced when it happens at a public review site, such as Facebook, Yelp, or Google.
It’s only natural to want to respond to negative reviews—but is that actually a good idea, from the standpoint of marketing or even basic PR? That’s what we’ll be addressing in this post.
Online Reviews Are About More Than Your Ego
The first thing to understand about online reviews is that they matter—and not just because they have the power to hurt your feelings or to make your day. It’s only normal to look upon reviews with some level of personal vanity, but please note that sites like Yelp can make or break your business. The reason for this is simple: Consumers are increasingly likely to spend a lot of time doing online research before they make any major purchasing decision. Online reviews play a big role in that.
Consider: You’ve received a number of scathing reviews on Google; whether fairly or unfairly is beside the point. You’ve got an average rating of 2.5 stars. Your competitor has received positive notices, and maintains a score of five stars. All else being equal, to which company do you think most customers will take their business? Bad reviews can rob you of foot traffic, undermine your authority, and damage your bottom line.
What to Do with Online Reviews
All of this points to one central implication for business owners: You should be closely monitoring your online reviews, checking for new ones on a regular basis and taking time to respond when you see them.
When the reviews happen to be positive, responding can be both quick and pleasant. Simply tell the customer in question that you appreciate their business and are thankful for the good review. Let them know that their feedback has been heard and that it’s been meaningful to you.
When the review is negative, knowing how to respond can be more challenging—not least because it may cause you to be angry, even if the criticism is justified. Again, your business is a source of great personal pride, and it’s understandable to be hurt when you see negative comments about it. The absolute worst thing you can do, however, is respond in anger, lashing out at the customer in a public place. This takes something unwelcome (a bad review) and turns it into a potentially devastating PR crisis. It is imperative to give yourself time to cool down and regain perspective before you reply.
With that said, we generally do recommend replying—and here’s why: It’s an opportunity. Responding to a bad review gives you a chance to show your customer service skills; to change the reviewer’s opinion; potentially even to have the review deleted or altered. If nothing else, it allows you to show other customers, who may be reading the exchange, that you care about the experience your clients have and want to do everything you can to address their needs. Meanwhile, leaving a review unanswered makes it seem as though you don’t care or don’t have anything to say in your defense.
Responding to Negative Reviews: Some Pointers
Of course, it is important to be diplomatic in your response to bad reviews. Here are a few pointers for doing so.
Remember that no reviews are stupid. Or at least, you can’t assume that they are. Even if you feel like the complaints you receive are unfair, you have to proceed with the attitude that the customer has a real problem that needs addressing.
Acknowledge and apologize. To that end, it’s always a good start to tell the reviewer that you understand their complaint and are sorry they had a bad experience. Restating their central points, to show them that you really hear and understand, is a smart move.
Offer customer service. Again, responding to a bad review affords you the opportunity to flex your customer service skills. Ask how you can make things right. Offer replacement products. Do what you can to make your customer happy again.
Restate your company’s values. You can turn your response into a sly restatement of your company’s main selling points. Stress the steps your company takes to ensure quality and satisfaction. Repeat your mission statement. Do a little stealth promotion for your brand.
Offer to take things offline. To show that you’re serious about helping—and also to minimize any unflattering public exchanges—invite the reviewer to talk with you one-on-one, either over email or phone.
Court positive reviews. In addition to responding to negative reviews, you should also work to bring in positive ones—maybe even asking your best and most loyal customers to leave you their feedback. This can help balance out any negatives that you get.
Don’t Leave Bad Reviews Unattended
You may encounter people who simply complain to complain, and who really can’t be reasoned with—and if so, the wisest thing to do may be to throw in the towel. It’s always worth it to at least try sorting things out, though, especially if you can move the conversation to a private channel.
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