What do you do when your business gets a negative online review?
Recent numbers show that over 80% of the US population is now online. Of those, a full 90% read online reviews before making a purchase. And of those, 88% trust the reviews they read as much as a personal recommendation. Knowing this, you want to have nothing but 5-star reviews for your business, right?
Consider your own online research – how do you react if you search a company and find all glowing reviews implying the company practically walks on water? You’re probably really suspicious of every one of those reviews.
After all, nobody is that perfect; 100% positive reviews are automatically suspect. You’re actually more credible if readers see a few unhappy ones here and there. Hopefully a small percentage, but we’re a cynical people and we expect to see the good, bad, and ugly. If the bad and ugly aren’t there, we don’t trust the good.
So, do we just welcome bad reviews with open arms? Well, yes and no. Being criticized is never fun, but it is an opportunity to correct a shortcoming you might never have known about if the review hadn’t been posted. We all makes mistakes, but how we respond to our mistakes is what’s important. Equally important is how we respond when the criticism is unwarranted.
By the way, it’s rarely a good idea to try to get a review taken down. Most review sites won’t even consider it and the reviewer certainly won’t. If you make an attempt, you’ll probably be perceived as a bully trying to hide the truth. Unless the review violates a site’s policies (e.g. profanity) it’s there forever.
Best practices for negative reviews
Following these best practices can help you navigate the rough waters of negative reviews.
Some reviews aren’t worth a response
Some have language or opinions that are clearly irrational or unfair. Some are posted by habitual complainers. Those may be better off left alone. Save your energy for legitimate issues from real customers.
Always be professional and polite
This is a basic tenet of good customer service, and it absolutely applies to online engagement. Show respect, even if the customer doesn’t. Take the high road when you respond and stay positive, brief, and never defensive.
Respond promptly and highlight your strengths
Take the time you need to collect your thoughts and to gather the facts about the complaint, but don’t take too long or it will look like you’re ignoring your customer. A day or so is reasonable. If you’ve dropped the ball with a customer, acknowledge it briefly and assure the customer that it’s not how you normally do business. Point out any policy or expectations your business has for a good customer experience.
Quickly try to move the conversation offline
The longer a dialogue goes online, the greater the chance for it to go sideways. Invite the customer to contact you by phone so you can rectify the situation quickly. Even better, if you know the customer’s identity and contact information, you can be proactive and call the customer.
Don’t feed the trolls
Never argue with anyone online, even if in your heart of hearts you know the customer is in the wrong. You will never look good if you take an adversarial tone, and you could be playing into a troll’s hands. He or she may be baiting you, hoping to suck you into an online “flame war.” You won’t win – you’ll only give that person more ammunition to paint you as the bad guy.
Remember, you’re not answering just the reviewer – you’re speaking to the whole world online. Think of it as having a loudly aggressive customer in a crowded lobby. Everybody is watching you, waiting to see what you do. This is the time to show the world what a class act you are.
What if you suspect the review is a fake?
Most of the time even an anonymous review will contain at least a few details that will help you identify the customer. However, a recent review left us scratching our heads.
Harsh accusations, but pretty vague at the same time. In this instance we searched our CRM and found no record of this person having been a customer. I spoke with the local manager in the city where the review was posted. Neither the reviewer’s name nor his comments sounded familiar at all to anyone. Regrettably, competitors and disgruntled former employees have been known to drag company names through the mud. It’s not ethical (and it’s almost impossible to prove), but it happens.
If someone does this to you, no matter how badly you want to call the person out, don’t do it. Even if he or she is not your customer, what if he’s taking up for a relative or friend he believes has been wronged? What if your database is missing some critical information? You really don’t want to find that out after you’ve put your foot in your mouth.
But if a reviewer makes false statements, you can state the facts as you know them in a calm and tactful manner. You can point out inaccuracies without calling him out. (On the outside chance the review is legit, you haven’t opened yourself up to a world of trouble.)
Using those guidelines, the next day we posted the following response:
We first politely acknowledged the post. We then briefly stated our commitment to integrity and customer satisfaction. Next – and you really have to get this right – we tactfully stated we didn’t have a record of his being a customer. Finally, we invited the reviewer to speak with us offline where we could address his concerns.
While we believe this was a fake review, we were careful not to say that. Thus the situation doesn’t escalate, the online world sees us responding professionally, and the door is left open for legitimate dialogue.
Do you have other tips for handling negative reviews?