A wise man (aka Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos) said “your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room” – and ain’t that the truth about online reviews!
Love them or hate them, one thing is certain, your business depends on them.
It’s not just me saying it. There’s a scary amount of consumer research to back up the fact that 86% of consumers read reviews before purchasing. What’s more, 57% of consumers will only buy from a business with four stars or more.
The impact of reviews on people’s purchasing patterns is so prolific, many marketers (this writer included) argue building your online review bank (aka online reputation) should be your biggest marketing play.
If you’re not asking your customers for reviews, can I please ask that you make a late addition to your 2020 business new year’s resolutions? Start asking for them. You have nothing to worry about – even a negative review has positive side effects.
Not only is it a learning experience, it’s an opportunity to show potential new customers just how committed you are to improving your product or service.
So, what do you do when someone leaves you a negative review?
Regardless of how special your product or service is, there’ll always be someone who disagrees. You only need to read the thousands of one-star reviews on the Eiffel Tower to see what a difference of opinion looks like.
One reviewer only had this to say about their experience, “more like the awful tower” for another it was “too tall” and another “not tall enough” – talk about tough crowd. Lucky the other 216,288 other Google reviewers thought differently enough to bring one of the world’s most popular tourism attractions to a total of 4.6 stars.
Although I sincerely hope no negative-Nelly’s take pen to virtual paper and one-star your product or service, being forewarned about what to do when it happens is being forearmed.
Step 1: Take a short walk around the block, have a cup of herbal tea, take deep breaths and settle down
Just as you should never go to bed angry, you shouldn’t respond to negative reviews before simmering down, either.
While plenty of marketers argue you need to respond within 24 hours, I’d recommend waiting as long it takes for you to not want to throttle the reviewer through the keyboard. As a hothead myself, I need at least a block walk, cup of coffee and vent to everyone on speed dial before I’m even remotely composed enough to respond without expletives and virtual eye-rolls.
When responding to reviews, it’s worth remembering your audience is not only the disgruntled customer, but potential new customers reading your responses. You want to come across as approachable – not defensive – something that’s a lot harder for some of us, particularly when writing in a fit of rage.
If this takes you three days, that’s three very well spent days in my books. So, permission to take your time. Whatever you do, just don’t ignore it. A bad review, unlike a pimple, won’t go away.
Step 2: Assess the review’s merits
While all customer feedback is helpful, I’d argue not all customer feedback is constructive – some is just downright delusional.
Wearing your detective hat, you’ll be able to determine if Meg731’s* complaint about delays and poor service is legitimate, or whether she just woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Equally, you’ll also be able to determine if Meg731 even ate with you last night or perhaps is in fact, bemoaning the wrong pizza shop. Trust me, this happens all the time.
I always like to check if the reviewer in question is known for balanced reviews or are you dealing with a keyboard warrior only known for wielding their one-star sword. Having your facts straight before responding to the review is important – especially if it’s a genuine experience.
In a service-based business, you’ve got time to establish who was responsible, review the files and speak to your staff first to get their side of the story. The customer might always be right to the outside world, but anyone who manages a team will know staff loyalty on the inside reigns supreme.
There are always two sides to every story and knowing exactly what went on will provide context to your response.
Step 3: Respond but keep it short and sweet
Now that you’re more relaxed than the savasana position in yoga and have a good read on the reviewer, you’re ready to respond.
Keep your response short, sweet and for goodness sake, please make sure someone else proofreads it. There’s nothing worse than a sloppy response from the owner. Poor attention-to-detail with spelling and grammar often helps prove the reviewer’s argument that things were less than satisfactory about your business.
Although each response needs to be personalised, they can be formulated, and I’d recommend saving a draft response as part of your standard operating procedures for the business.
Be specific – There’s nothing worse than a lazy copy and paste response to a negative review that has nothing to do with the comment itself. You’ll want to call out exactly what went wrong to show you’ve understood your reviewer’s gripe. For example, if they specifically mention you were hard to get a hold of throughout the service process, you might like to share that you were out of the country at the time of delivery.
Own up to problem and apologise – A bit like apologising to a sibling when you didn’t mean it when you were younger, this is one of those situations where it pays to fall on your sword. An apology (even if deep down you think it’s not warranted) always goes a long way to diffuse a situation. When you’re managing people’s perceptions, it’s important to recognise how the other person has seen the service, product or experience. Avoid anything antagonistic, the idea of responding to a negative review is to simply close the loop, move on and get back to business.
Subtly promote your strong points – You’re not entirely meant to take a negative review lying down. In your response to the reviewer you have time and space to be able to show what you’re known for. For example, if it doesn’t sound salesy or insincere a mention of your usual impeccable service standards doesn’t go astray, even if just to remind future customers that you intend to do good business.
Outline your make good – For the sake of completion, outline how you intend to fix the issue moving forward within the business, even if vague. This one isn’t so much for the benefit of the person who left the review, but the hundreds of other eyeballs now looking at how you managed it. It shows you’re accountable, receptive and committed to growth. You might like to respond with this as an example, “I’m going to review the rostering from the day in question to make sure we have more staff on the floor moving forward to avoid this occurring again.”
Take the conversation offline – Once you’ve said everything you need to say, it’s time to take the conversation offline. The purpose of taking it offline is to mitigate any further damage to your reputation and find a private place where you might like to share an invitation to revisit or compensation (if applicable). You certainly don’t want to give the idea to every one-star-reviewer that they might get a free meal if they leave a disgruntled review. To take the conversation offline, extend a call to action like “if you send me an email at email@example.com, I’d love to discuss this further with you.” You’ll be surprised how few people follow through despite being so ‘outraged’ at their experience.
Like everything in life, you’ll learn more from negative experiences than positives, so I encourage you to use a negative review experience to tighten up any gaps in the business and your service process.
And if you ever need comforting, just read the scathing reviews of the Pyramids of Giza, the last remaining wonder of the ancient world, which appears to let down so many of visitors with its “disappointing pyramid shape”.
Hannah Statham is a Premium member and The Boss at Media Mortar, a content marketing agency that delivers brands content so good, it sells itself. Armed with her mantra show them you’re good, don’t tell them, Hannah regularly wages wars on bad content, transforming brands from zero to successful with her approach to storytelling. If you’d like to become a Premium member and have the chance to tell your story, you can join here!