How to deal with negative online reviews

Even if you don’t have a website, if you have been operating for a while you will find some kind of review online, somewhere. Whether it’s on a dedicated review site, social media channel or business directory, they all offer customers the chance to leave a review about you. Which is great! Most of the time at least.

As any business owner can tell you, no matter how well you run your business, negative online reviews will happen. It’s how you deal with those negative reviews that can define how that review will impact your business.

You have very little control over what people say about your business online. A curse, or a blessing?

The tricky part about online reviews is you have no control over which reviews are visible. Or exactly what people write about you. Ahh, imagine if you could just delete the bad reviews and keep all the good ones?

While the lack of control can seem daunting, it is also a huge opportunity for business! Since it is well-known that negative online reviews are possible, customers are more trusting of them. So with more positive than negative reviews, your customers can help bring in more customers. Sprinkle reviews anywhere you can I say!

So how do you deal with negative online reviews?

Before you can deal with them, you need to know about them! So even without a website, make sure that you claim your business page on sites where your customers can leave a review; yelp, Facebook, Local Directories, Professional membership sites, Amazon/eCommerce sites… Setup email notifications so you never miss customer feedback again.

Of course, you want your reviews to boast about your amazing product or service. But negative reviews do happen, so you’ll need to be prepared for them. Perhaps your customer was having a shitty day, and you and they waited a little longer than they wanted to. Or perhaps you were having a bad day (we all do) and weren’t doing your finest work?

Generally, negative reviews can fall into 2 categories, and how you respond depends on which of these categories you’re dealing with.

  1. The review is from a real customer, who had a legitimate complaint about your product or service; or a real customer, who just had a bad day and you were (undeservingly) on the receiving end of their wrath;
  2. The review has been left by a competitor, online troll or bully who has never had any experience with your company or has an interest in tearing down your good reputation.

Scenario 1: The review is from a real customer

It sucks, I know. No one likes to hear that your work was not up to scratch in the eyes of your customer. Worse, if that customer has taken to their computer and posted a negative review about their experience!

The fix:

  • QUICKLY reply to the online review publicly thanking them for their feedback and offering a sincere apology, along with a way for the complainer to contact you (offline). Make the contact method specific, eg ‘call us on xxx and ask for Tim’.
  • Get in contact with this person asap. If you have their phone number, ring them directly to discuss an appropriate remedy. Usually, contacting them personally over the phone will diffuse a lot of their anger (people are braver behind a keyboard!).
  • Sometimes, further commenting on the negative online review and briefly outlining the remedy provided can be a good thing, but is not always necessary.

Why this works:

  • By taking the complaint offline, you remove the chance of further damaging comments being written publically.
  • By making the effort to contact them personally, you make them feel valued and diffuse a lot of the frustration/anger etc. If you can do this, it might even result in the customer removing their negative comment, or writing a positive one instead.
  • By replying to the comment thread directly, anyone who reads the negative feedback also gets to see your response. They’ll see how quickly you responded, and of course, read what you say as well. Knowing that a business responds quickly and doesn’t just ignore negative feedback can actually boost your reputation.

What NOT to do:

  • If you’ve provided a great remedy for a customer; you might be tempted to ask them to change their feedback. Don’t.
  • Don’t use canned responses when replying to negative reviews or vague contact information. Make each comment specific and personal, otherwise, you’ll just sound like a robot.
  • Argue with your customers online. This never (if ever) ends well. Always make every effort to speak directly with them offline to avoid any public showdown.
  • React defensively or try to explain away your reason for their negative experience. For example; if you were running late and they had to wait longer than they wanted; don’t write up a whole story about your day.
  • Try not to take it personally. Sometimes people just really expect the world when making a purchase.

Scenario 2: The negative online review is from a competitor, troll or online bully

This is the harder scenario to deal with because while you do still need to reply to their complaint, these people are just out to make trouble. And there is no remedy you can provide because they were never a real customer.

The fix:

  • Report the comment as spam to the review site. Often they will have a form you can fill out to explain why this review is not valid. Unfortunately, after you report it,  it can take the review sites months to take action, if at all.
  • While waiting for the review to be removed, reply. Simply state that this review is not from a real customer (if you know this for a fact, if you’re unsure treat every comment as a real customer). Something like ‘Oh, Karen, I’m so sorry all your hair has fallen out, that must be awful! But since we have never seen you before, you’ll need to get in contact with the hair salon you visited last.’ 
  • Not all of the negative online reviews you report will be removed. So the last step is to simply dilute the negative reviews with more positive ones. Email your customers and ask for feedback, or post a link on social media, and get reviews posted on different platforms. Google My Business is the gold-standard because these reviews appear alongside your website in search engine results.
  • In the case of online bullies; they may reply back again, trying to goad you into a keyboard fight. Don’t engage them! Be polite and professional (just as you would in person). Respond once with a way to contact you and then leave it at that.

Negative reviews suck, but they're not the end of the world.

You can mitigate their impact on business easily with these few tips, and sometimes even turn things around! Just remember that the worst thing you can do is leave them unanswered. So make sure you are registered with the review sites. If you’re not sure which ones your customers use – ASK THEM!

If you’re drowning in negative reviews and need some emergency help to restore your business reputation; contact us.

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