With the evolution of multiple online review opportunities, the power balance between businesses and their customers has shifted. Customers now have the final word, and often their comments show up front and center when someone searches for a business. Websites like Yelp even have mobile apps that allow users to leave reviews instantly, while they're still at the place of business.
Naturally, of course, this is a big publicity boost for your brand when users have good things to say about your company -- but being able to mitigate damages from occasional negative reviews can be quite the challenge. In today's digital world, one wrong response can ruin businesses that have built solid reputation over countless years, in a matter of seconds.
How to respond to negative reviews
If you receive a bad review for your business, your first response should be to address your disgruntled customer directly. This is assuming, of course, that the complaint is based on reality, at least in the mind of the reviewer. Contentless or profane insults will often be removed by site moderators, and you can always make this request. Even if you aren’t successful in having drive-by sniping removed, you can rely on the fact that an incoherent, ranting complaint will most likely not do too much damage to your brand development.
If you find that there is some merit to the review, the best thing to do is to craft a careful response and strategize how to recover from the reputation dent the review might bring about.
Now, if you are the captain of the ship replying to online reviews (positive or negative) for your business, or have tasked someone to steer this ship, here are a few helpful nuggets of wisdom for you.
1. Have a company leader respond online
Negative reviews that are coherent and convincing require a serious, high-level response. A single customer can do extensive damage, and good brand management dictates that a high-level company officer needs to respond directly. In order post a comment on a given platform, your company will have to claim its profile on that platform first.
2. Acknowledge the reviewer’s pain
The tone of your written response to a negative review will tell other customers a lot about your company's character. No one is perfect, but everyone is capable of an honest apology. Without being defensive, your company representative should lead with a heartfelt apology for the customer’s inconvenience, and should express the fact that everyone at your business is invested in providing a good experience.
3. Be brief online and offer an in-person resolution
You have to be careful in conducting online dialog, because it's an unregulated environment and even carefully phrased commentary can be seen as inviting a petty back-and-forth argument. It’s best to avoid lengthy justifications, and merely express -- in the most professional manner -- your apologies and your desire to make things right. From there, the most effective strategy is to invite the complainant to contact you directly, for an offline one-on-one phone call. Posting the company officer's name and phone number shows integrity, gets all further venting out of the public eye, and tends to be the most effective way to soothe legitimately upset people.
4. Push negative reviews lower in the search engine results
Once you have personally responded to the reviewer, the next step in brand management is to address the fact that the negative review is permanently stuck online. You can’t remove it altogether from the review site, nor the review from search results, but you can do the next best thing: you can push it lower, past the first or second page if it's a bizarre site such as pissedconsumer.com, to search result hinterlands where almost no one ever ventures. Or if it's a negative review on Yelp, you can overcome that with an increase in positive reviews. Here's how to do that:
- Use social media profiles
If you don’t already have profiles on plenty of social media platforms, now is the time to mobilize. This is your first line of defense against the negative review on a smaller review site, because if you use the same tags or keywords that the bad review is associated with, then when people search for those terms they will see your fresh content on Google Plus, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Quora. The trick here is to tend the profiles, once you’ve created them, contributing to discussions and adding new content on a fairly regular basis.
- Don’t link to the negative review
This should go without saying, but we’re saying it anyway: don’t ever refer to the negative review page, or you’ll be giving it a search engine boost.
- Leverage your positive feedback
Reply and thank everyone who leaves your business a positive review, but don’t stop there: instead, blog about the good feedback you received, and create links to it from other locations, so that the positive commentary receives extra traffic.
5. Never pay for positive reviews
At the very least, large sites like Yelp will use their filters to make sure those paid reviews never see the light of day. Even the ones that make it past the filters won’t be convincing, and they’ll turn off potential customers by their hollow, homogenized tone. Furthermore, Yelp has recently become proactive in battling paid reviews, and they have sued users who try this strategy.
6. Create a feedback form on your own site
This is probably the most powerful method you have of proactively heading off future bad review problems: Provide a feedback form on your company’s website and specifically invite customers who experience problems to contact you that way. Many businesses end up spending huge sums on reputation management when they could have simply handled their upset customers privately.
With resources at the tip of our fingertips, we are always on the lookout for possible consequences of our purchase decisions, so we carefully research and consider other people's experiences with the services or products we are looking to get. While this is good for the "word-of-mouth" marketing aspect of businesses, sometimes negative reviews can result to irreversible damages that can have huge and lasting impact for some businesses. Because of this, it's a challenge to take a step back sometimes and not take it personally. Whatever you do, (no matter how tempting it may be) DO NOT let it get under your skin and resort to impolite responses.
If you feel that you are too emotionally invested in a reviewer's comment -- take a step back and ask another person from your business respond to the review. Some of the biggest and most embarrassing business blunders online happened in response to client feedback. Be respectful, and if you find that there are major flaws in your services or products that's causing many clients to feel frustrated or angry, it's probably wise to zoom in on the problem and figure out if any adjustments can be done to increase customer satisfaction.