In the digital age, customer reviews are a force to be reckoned with. Online reviews perform the same function as old-fashioned “word of mouth,” which is both a good thing and a bad thing. Positive reviews speak to the reputation of your business and the general satisfaction level among your customers. Negative reviews – particularly those that fester online with no response or action on your part – can be crippling.
The first thing to note is it’s extremely difficult to get bad comments removed from a third-party review site. Nor is it advisable to take legal action. The negative consequences of these actions far outweigh any possible short-term benefit.
Instead, business owners should have an “online review game plan” in place. This helps offset potential damage to your reputation and demonstrates that you genuinely value customer satisfaction and will do whatever is necessary to make things right. This game plan should include the following:
1. Don’t ignore negative reviews. Any small business has encountered customer complaints at one time or another. It takes time and effort to address these complaints, but it’s preferable to pretending they don’t exist or hoping they will just go away. They won’t. One negative review, let alone a half dozen or more, is enough to cause doubt in the minds of potential customers.
2. Respond to negative reviews ASAP. It’s also a mistake to place these reviews in the “I’ll get to it later” category. Keep a close eye on major review sites. Either check them daily yourself or assign that task to a diligent employee. When you come across a bad review, comment or blog post, get the individual’s contact information and attempt to resolve the issue offline. Don’t post a comment of your own arguing that the person is wrong. It only makes you look worse.
3. Always respond with empathy. Rightly or wrongly, someone has a problem with your business. The best approach is to see the situation through their eyes. This will help set the tone of your response, so you come across as sincere and eager to resolve the problem, not as a defensive business owner quick to assign blame elsewhere. Getting in the mind of the customer also enables you to look closely into their complaint and learn from it, which will benefit you and your business in the long run.
4. Offer a sincere apology. Upon contacting the dissatisfied customer, determine what went wrong and reply immediately with a well-worded apology – ideally, one that includes a specific reference to their problem, not something that comes across as a canned reply. Acknowledge what went wrong and offer a solution in the form of a replacement product, expedited shipping or complete refund.
5. Invite the customer to amend his or her negative review. When handled correctly, a bad situation can be turned around to benefit your business. Most disgruntled customers are looking for a resolution to their problem. If you provide that resolution quickly and sympathetically, they will appreciate the effort and may reconsider their decision to never patronize your business again. You can even invite them to amend their negative review, including a message about how you responded to the original complaint and made things right.
6. Solicit positive reviews. When you hear from satisfied customers, invite them to post a positive review or glowing testimonial on review sites related to your particular product or service. Major review sites include BBB.org, Yelp, Angie’s List, Yahoo Local and TripAdvisor. (These are also the sites you should be checking on daily.) When positive reviews appear on these sites, you can proudly advertise that fact on your own website. Remember, prospective customers are impressed by positive reviews, not merely swayed by negative ones.
Most importantly, make sure your existing customer response processes are working well. If a customer calls your service department with a complaint and it gets promptly resolved, there’s never a need for a negative review in the first place.