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How to deal with negative online reviews

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In recent years online reviews have made your business’s reputation more public and far reaching than ever before.

While a raft of five-star reviews is a powerful way to build trust with potential customers, the same system unfortunately makes it possible for disgruntled or dissatisfied customers to damage your business reputation in far greater ways than before, and in ways that may be unfair.

If you’ve ever received a one-star review for your business, you probably experienced an instant wave of emotion – disappointment, anger, fear, frustration, rage!

But, as much as you may want to react, how you handle that negative review is crucial.  I’ve seen some businesses respond very well, while others have dug themselves a grave, with their response doing just as much damage as the negative review itself.

What many business owners find extremely frustrating is that there is no way to remove the negative review. Be it on Google, Facebook, TripAdvisor, or another platform, you don’t have the power to remove the critical review from your business profile. That is, of course, an essential component of any review system. If business owners could remove the reviews they didn’t like, everyone would only have five-star reviews, and the rating systems would be worthless.

So, since you don’t have the ability to remove negative reviews, what are the best ways for dealing with them? Firstly, it’s important to know what NOT to do.

Do not respond with anger, justification or blame

Nearly all review platforms give you the ability to write a response to a review. The number one rule is never, ever, write a response when you’re feeling angry. In general, it is good to respond promptly, but don’t if you’re feeling angry. It’s better to leave the review for a day rather than writing an aggressive response. 

You should also always avoid the temptation of providing justification for what happened and avoid blaming the person making the complaint. This is especially hard when the complaint feels completely unjustified. But never write an essay outlining your side of events. Doing so creates a perception for potential customers that your business gets into attack mode when things go wrong.  The old adage “The customer is always right” definitely applies to what you write when replying to negative reviews.

So, what are the best ways to handle things?

Show your commitment to making it right

Think of a negative review as an opportunity to show potential customers how your company deals with complaints. Your response should apologise for whatever made them unhappy and ask them to contact you directly as you want to resolve the situation. The tone should sound warm and concerned about giving them a good experience.

Doing this will shift the focus from the content of the negative review, to your ongoing commitment to having satisfied customers.

Take it offline

Focus on moving the conversation out of the public setting. In response to your reply they might contact you through direct message, email or phone – the key is to be away from the public eye so you can privately work through the issue and resolve it.

Often, when customers feel heard and their issue gets resolved, they’ll remove the negative review voluntarily.

If you know the customer’s contact details, you should reach out to them directly – warmly. I worked with a beauty salon who received a surprise two-star review. On my advice they phoned the customer, mentioning they had read the review, were concerned that they weren’t happy with the experience, and wanted to know if there was anything they could do to help resolve it. The two-minute conversation turned the situation around from having a one-star review and losing a customer to rebooking that customer (with a slight discount as an apology) and the customer voluntarily changed the review to five stars.

Bury the negative reviews

Finally, by far the best way to stop negative reviews from damaging your reputation is to have so many positive reviews that an occasional negative review gets buried in a sea of positivity.

I had a client who only had two Google reviews – both five-star. They had hundreds of satisfied customers but had been slack at asking for reviews. Then came a fall out with a very grumpy customer who proceeded to write two separate one-star Google reviews (one from the husband’s account and one from the wife’s).

If this business had already built up 20 or 30 positive five-star reviews, the two negative reviews would have only made the smallest blip in their overall rating. Instead, their five-star business rating plummeted to three stars.

Not surprisingly they became highly motivated to request reviews from their happy customers.  To rescue the ratings they sent emails to their previous customers, and within a couple of weeks they had amassed an extra 23 reviews, all five stars. This buried the negative reviews and gave a very strong overall rating.

Negative reviews are a potential risk for any business. You can decrease this risk by being proactive in building up a large number of positive reviews. And when the occasional negative review comes along, answering it warmly with care demonstrates to potential customers what your business is like to deal with, and might even turn the situation around where the customer changes the review.

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About Author

Josh Moore

Josh Moore is the managing director at digital marketing agency, Duoplus. www.duoplus.nz