Reviews are essential for business. We all know this, even if we don't understand exactly how and to what extent they matter, at least in terms of organic visibility in search engines.
Google itself has said it itself: positive reviews and interactions between customers and businesses improve organic visibility. But more importantly, customer reviews influence actual business results and the decisions potential customers make about whether or not to patronise certain establishments.
Like their influence in the real (offline) world, reviews not only give people a better idea of the effectiveness and quality of a specific product, service or business, they reinforce a better-than-average customer experience, something all consumers are looking for. That is why all brands should accept and engage with customer reviews, good or bad, every time. Responding to positive ones is usually not that difficult. It is the negative reviews that are often the most difficult to deal with, and rightly so. It is even more difficult to deal with an angry customer who can sometimes, in these circumstances, become stubborn and overwhelming.
So here are the top 16 tips for handling negative reviews that every business will undoubtedly receive.
1. Respond quickly
If someone is upset enough to leave a negative review, they tend to do so fairly soon after the negative experience occurs.
And they will expect a fairly quick response. It's the right thing to do and it also helps to limit the damage caused.
2. Answer reflectively
In addition to being quick to return, all responses to reviews - especially negative ones - should be appreciated for their true value.
All comments are critical, and even more so when they are negative.
This feedback is likely to allow your team to understand some of the not-so-smooth aspects and pain points that customers experience throughout their daily experiences with your brand.
Appreciate their efforts to communicate this to your brand's stakeholders, and make a difference on that basis.
3. Respond truthfully
Nobody is perfect. Neither is any company.
As well as being quick and thoughtful in your response, be honest. Transparency has a big effect.
Most negative reviewers - and customers in general - prefer an honest response to a genuine mistake with the understanding that their complaint is addressed fairly and honestly. This usually results in an outcome that is better for both the customer and the company in the long run.
4. Be kind and appropriate
There is no doubt that some criticisms are downright unpleasant. However, a company should never stoop to this level of unprofessionalism.
Maintain the same attitude you would want an employee to have in person.
Keep your composure, remember to think of the customer and their displeasure, and always offer an apology.
Remember that companies that fail to act professionally and rectify a negative situation by satisfying a disgruntled customer have a lot to lose.
5. From each response a personalised response
Clients want to be heard. They want to have an impact on the people who operate the business being reviewed, but also on the future of that business so that others do not experience the same difficulties they did. One of the easiest ways to illustrate that to people is to give them the attention they deserve.
There is no better way to do this than with a personalised response that shows empathy and compassion. Genuinely caring through emotion - the same emotion that runs a quality business - will go a long way.
Just don't confuse it with getting personal.
6. Never get personal
Be thoughtful and give unique feedback, but don't get personal and certainly never attack or retaliate. Even if you remember the exact person leaving the review and you know they didn't act entirely - or even a little bit - correctly, handle them like a true business professional with a lot more to lose.
And remember that you actually have much more to gain.
7. Stay out of trouble
One of the best practices for handling negative criticism is to switch off communication as soon as possible. The key to doing this is to facilitate offline communication without overstepping boundaries.
Don't try to get the dissatisfied customer to contact you.
Get their contact details, ask for the best way and time to communicate and apologise for their dissatisfaction with your product or service. Therefore, the first response to a negative review is the most important.
8. Be grateful and appreciative
All feedback is helpful. Appreciate that someone has taken the trouble to give you criticism, even if it is harsh, and appreciate the fact that you are offered the opportunity to correct it.
Negative reviews can and should be a good and free way to keep customers coming back.
Some customers never will. Dismissing once and not re-engaging would be the worst case scenario. Take it for what it's worth and improve on the company's imperfections, and be sure to express that in your response.
9. Go one step further
Although you don't necessarily have to go further, it almost always helps. This may vary depending on what the problem is and the impact it has had on the reviewer.
But sometimes it is not enough to apologise. And offering a credit to be used for your business is not always going to be the answer either.
Go a step further to show that you are not only sorry, but that you want to fix it and gain the person's trust. Offering a gift of peace could be the first step in that direction.
A gift card or flowers can have a big impact. So could sending a heartfelt gift of thanks and/or forgiveness.
But it doesn't have to be expensive to win over a negative reviewer who was upset before. Be creative and think about what would matter to them as a customer.
Even something as simple as a video or a personalised image could not only improve the reviewer's perception of the company and how it operates, but will probably also affect many others for years to come.
Those who encounter a review - and their responses - could quickly go from being unsure or even dissatisfied customers to brand advocates.
And let's not forget the impact of word of mouth, especially in the days of social media.
All you have to do is go further and you will probably have an impact.
10. Take appropriate action to correct the problem and show it to the customer.
Again, customers want to be heard and to know that they have had an impact on the business in question.
Take all reviews seriously and, when it comes to the negative ones, look for common ground to find real ways to improve your business.
Use what you learn from these reviews and take it back to the employees who interact with people and make decisions that are impacting customers.
This will make the changes that need to happen a reality. Then explain to people how these comments have affected your company.
There is something good in every criticism. Find the good in the bad.
11. Follow up on negative reviews
Always follow up on negative feedback.
Make sure that their problems have been solved and that they have ended up as happy customers after the experience.
If so, ask them to remove the negative review if they have not already done so.
It will not always happen, but most of the time, a person will withdraw a bad review because they felt as if they had been treated fairly and reached what they considered to be a fair resolution.
12. Offer compensation for hardship, if necessary.
Often, offering compensation when a negative review is published is not necessary. But sometimes it is.
Again, people just want to be heard and have their opinions listened to.
But if someone has suffered financial loss or personal injury, compensation - at least in the form of a money-back guarantee - is the least a business can do to assuage the grievances of an upset customer.
13. Encourage customers to leave reviews
The best way to ensure that happy customers leave positive reviews is to recommend that they leave reviews. Good reviews work alongside negative reviews to build a brand's reputation. All businesses receive both good and bad reviews. But if you want to constantly improve your reputation, consider the power of reviews, the power of good business, and refer those happy customers to popular review platforms like Google, Facebook, Yelp and other top sites, but also to industry-specific sites that affect the brand's reputation in their respective niche.
14. Understand how reviews and rating sites work.
To fully understand the impact of reviews, business stakeholders must also understand how reviews and rating sites work.
Different platforms are useful for different reasons at different times.
To get the most out of these reviews, understand how the platforms work and which one is best suited for your reviews in terms of customer impact and business reputation.
15. Request the removal of false or misleading reviews.
Not all reviews are authentic. Sometimes it's the competition. Sometimes it's a former employee.
Sometimes it is even a potential customer who never became a real customer and tries to take it out on the brand for whatever reason.
Such reviews are against most terms of service agreements and can be removed when reported to the appropriate management of each platform.
16. Monitor your online reputation
Monitoring your online presence is the only sure way to stay on top of all criticism on an ongoing basis.
In doing so, you will be able to apply all of the above guidelines to manage reviews and ensure that your business is positioned for success online and beyond.