What’s to stop any customer with an axe to grind – or worse, your competitors – from completely sabotaging your online reputation? In a world where the lines between the Internet and reality are rapidly blurring, the reviews that Google searches regurgitate about your company can make or break your business.
Don’t get anxious quite yet; the reality is that if your company has been around long enough, it’s bound to get a bad review every once in a while. No product, service or customer service team is flawless, and the Digital Age has made it easy for anyone with Internet access to complain about a negative purchase or experience that isn’t necessarily representative of your business as a whole.
Luckily, every negative complaint represents a positive opportunity to push reset on your relationship with the reviewer in question – while also showcasing your commitment to customer satisfaction. Follow these five steps the next time a less-than-laudatory comment about your business shows up online.
1. Analyze the review.
Reviews come in all shapes and sizes – and some may even be of the more disingenuous variety. The first thing to do when you receive a negative review is to decipher whether it’s an actual customer’s legitimate opinion or a false statement by a competitor or fake, paid reviewer; the former should be addressed, while the latter ought to be reported. The silver lining – Yelp and Google use sophisticated algorithms to distinguish credible users from reckless abusers in order to help you cut down the time you spend combing through reviews. If you suspect a bad review on Yelp or Google was posted by a bitter employee or a competitor, you can “flag” the comments. Before you can do any of this, however, you need to make sure you are signed up for a Yelp account and have verified your business.
Caution: try not to take advantage of this function too often or post fake reviews yourself, as your account could be flagged.
2. Avoid a virtual debate.
Once you’ve determined that a negative review reflects a genuine experience that a customer had with your product or service, it’s time to craft the perfect reply. You won’t hear back from everyone, but taking the time to reply consistently and kindly helps you to actively gather useful consumer insights and demonstrates that you are engaged with your customer base. Most importantly, you can learn how to perform better next time.
The right response is both apologetic and proactive – not defensive or retaliatory. It can be challenging to accept reviews that seem flat-out wrong to you, but it’s absolutely vital to keep your cool and refrain from responding emotionally.
Wade Lombard, owner of Austin-based moving company Square Cow Movers agrees that self-restraint is key. “Your immediate reaction is to defend yourself because your business is your baby,” he says. “But in the end, you would be doing yourself a disservice.”
Thanks to Yelp’s free review response tools, you can respond either publicly or privately. A private message is akin to sending a personal email directly to the user who posted a review. A public comment posts directly beneath a customer’s review and can be seen by any Yelp user. When responding publicly, remember: don’t make excuses or be personally offended, and do be courteous and appreciative of feedback.
3. Invest in your reputation.
Consider each interaction you have with a customer online, negative or otherwise, as an opportunity to invest in your company’s reputation. Offer an honest apology for a reviewer’s poor experience, and perhaps a refund or free service – saying “you’re sorry” can soften a customer’s impressions of your company more than you may think. Regardless, a sympathetic response that doesn’t convince a past customer can certainly affect the opinions of future customers who may research your brand and see your consistent history of helpful, professional responses.
Many online reviews skew negative because satisfied customers are less emotionally motivated to document their experiences. Thus, you should encourage your regular customers to post positive reviews about your product or service to help balance any negative reviews you receive. This proactive, SEO-focused approach to your customer service and brand management is part of a new strategy known as reputation marketing. There are tools available to help you easily gather and leverage encouraging reviews from your happy customers as a marketing asset to help differentiate yourself from your competitors in a more personal, demonstrable way. Think about it this way: are potential customers more likely to believe a carefully crafted TV ad, or authentic reviews from real people who stand behind your product or service?
4. Shake it off.
A negative review (or ten) may seem like the end of the world. It may leave you feeling dejected, rejected, and eager to crawl into a hole and avoid the Internet forever. However, it’s important to remember that in this case, the old adage that “any publicity is good publicity” can ring true if you maintain the right attitude. Every negative post is an opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to customer satisfaction, showcase your professional integrity and convert a detractor into your next “best customer”.
May the online odds be ever in your favor!
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