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Bad reviews matter. Research shows that 85% of consumers read reviews to determine whether a business is good, and 79% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. And while many take online reviews with a grain of salt, many base important buying decisions on the opinions of strangers — and if you have a bad review, you can drive away potential customers before they even step foot in your establishment. In fact, Harvard research has found that each ratings star on a Yelp profile translated to between a 5 to 9 percent effect on restaurant revenues.
But while a bad review (or a string of bad reviews) can cause serious problems, you don’t have to just let it go. In fact, it’s best if you don’t. It’s important that you respond to negative reviews both publicly and privately and work to move past them in a positive, professional manner. In doing so, you can turn around a negative situation, show customers that you care, and build trust with the public by demonstrating your commitment to customer service. But first, you’ll have to figure out how to get a handle on negative reviews and respond in a way that’s positive for your business. Here’s how:
- Respond: The most important part of dealing with negative reviews is to simply make an effort to respond. Whether the review is true or not, deserved or not, or even infuriating, it’s important that you speak up for yourself — and show potential customers that you care and are paying attention. It also gives you a chance to share your side of the story to set the record straight, as well as offer an apology or concession to the customer if appropriate. By responding, you’re showing integrity and a willingness to take care of customer issues, which increases trust. Fail to respond, and potential customers will assume that the problem has not been fixed.
- Keep your emotions in check: You may not agree with what the reviewer has said. They may have even made you extremely angry with their comments. But it’s important to remember that when you respond to reviews, you’re doing it on a public forum specifically designed to help potential customers judge your business. Don’t give them the opportunity to see you slip up. Be respectful and factual in your response, and be genuinely concerned and polite with your customer. While it may be difficult to let a bad review sit, sometimes letting it go and coming back to it with a clear head is the best thing to do. You are likely to be calmer and in a better place to deal with the negative feedback in a professional way.
- Follow the rules: Every review site is different, and each has their own set of rules that determine how businesses can respond to customers and their reviews. Some encourage you to respond directly, others privately. Some are fine with offering freebies to make up for disappointments, while others may consider that a bribe and a violation of trust. Some make it possible for business owners to respond to reviews multiple times, but on others you may only get one shot — if you get one at all. Make sure you review and understand the rules of the website before you take action.
- Objectively consider the feedback: It’s not always easy to take a neutral stance when you feel like you’re being attacked, but it’s important to take a look at bad reviews to learn what went wrong and how you can improve in the future. It’s not always easy to hear a hard truth about your business (especially if you believe it’s not true), but genuinely listening to what the customer has to say can help you consider what you can do better in the future, even if all you’re doing is changing the customer’s perception.
- Get the facts: If you were not directly involved in the moments that led to a bad review, it’s important that you find out what really happened. Sometimes, reviewers can be emotional, letting things get a little overblown and overstating facts. Research before you react. Talk to your employees to get their side of the story and investigate until you’re satisfied that you’re getting the truth, for better or for worse. When you have all of the facts, then it’s time to take action, whether you’re contacting the customer, working out a resolution, or simply responding to the feedback.
- If you disagree, say so: Not every bad review is deserved. Customers may be mistaken in their version of the facts, asking for a service you don’t (and shouldn’t) offer, or expecting something that’s just not reasonable. Whatever the reason, if you don’t feel like a review is fair, you can say so. Just be sure to stay respectful and professional. In your response, note that you disagree with what they are saying and regret that you’re not able to come to a solution.
- Avoid getting defensive: If you’re upset by what a customer has said about your business, you’re normal. It happens. But you’ve got to keep your cool. Be careful not to point fingers, get defensive, or go on a long tangent about why the customer is wrong. The last thing you want to do in your response is look like you’re attacking the customer. Avoid criticizing the customer, and instead, offer a levelheaded, professional assessment and response.
- Do not delete comments: If your bad review comes on Facebook or another oulet where you can control comments, be careful. While it’s tempting to simply delete unflattering comments that you don’t want others to see, in doing so, you’ll likely infuriate an already disappointed customer — and that can majorly backfire. Instead of silencing them, what you’re likely to do is light a fire under them, and encourage the customer to share their bad review (and the fact that you deleted their comment) with anyone who will listen. Instead, take the time to respond properly and let the conversation stay public for others to see that you’re not afraid to face tough customer issues.
- Make things right: Sometimes, a bad review is deserved. If you’re in the wrong and you know it, own up to it. Contact the customer who left the review and offer to make things right. Given the chance, they may update their review in a more flattering light if you take the opportunity to connect with them and improve their outcome. Even if they don’t, it’s a good idea to work to repair the relationship and retain the customer. You should consider all reviews a direct complaint to your business and treat them as such. Always reach out to them and find out what you can do to make them into a customer that raves happily about your business.
- Consider contacting the reviewer directly at first: Sometimes, responses to negative reviews are best kept private at first. Not because you have something to hide, but because the discussion needs to be between you and the customer. You may need to work out what happened, which employees were involved, why they were disappointed, and other details that can help you make things right and learn from your mistakes. Once you’ve reached a satisfactory resolution with the customer, it’s a good idea to return to the review and add your response with the positive outcome you’ve determined along with the customer.
- Learn from mistakes: When a customer leaves you a review, what they’re really giving you is free market research. They’re telling you what works (and what doesn’t work), and even if you don’t like what they are saying, there may be some truth to it. If you determine that a review has pointed out a genuine mistake, consider what went wrong and what you could do better next time. After all, a review gives you the opportunity to understand that you may have made a mistake that you should handle better in the future.
- Implement changes: Has a bad review revealed a problem in your business that you need to fix? Make changes that will help you serve your customers better in the future. It could mean changing your policies, providing additional training to customers, using different products, or other solutions. Once you’ve implemented changes, be sure to let the customer know publicly in the review. That way, potential customers can see that you’ve taken their feedback to heart and have worked to remedy the situation so that they won’t have to deal with similar frustrations if they decide to patronize your business.
- Apologize: Whether you’re right or wrong, you’d be surprised how far a simple I’m sorry can go. Expressing your disappointment along with the customer shows empathy and that you care about how your customers feel. And often, an apology is all that disappointed customers really want from you. A simple acknowledgement is enough for most, and showing empathy is a great way to win over customers who are upset.
- Let others know you’re learning and improving: In your response to negative reviews, it’s a good idea to point out any actions you’ve taken in light of the review. Let others know that you’ve listened to the feedback, and as a result, made a specific change. It could be that a customer complained about a dirty bathroom, so you’ve worked up a cleaning schedule. Or customers may be disappointed with slow service, so you’ve added extra employees to pick up the slack. Whatever your solution, be sure to make it clear, as potential customers reading reviews will be excited to know that you’re listening and working to improve based on real feedback.
- Say thank you: Even if you’re disappointed by what you’ve read in a review, it’s important that you show your appreciation for the feedback. After all, customers who share a review are handing you the key to a better business, even if it hurts to hear what you’re doing wrong. Let them know that you genuinely enjoy and find value in their feedback and that their opinion is valuable to you. Customers who see this appreciation will be impressed that you’re happy to listen to customers, good or bad.
- Keep it short and sweet: Potential customers aren’t visiting review sites to read an essay, and they certainly don’t want to be subjected to a long back and forth story about what went on with a disappointed customer. Whatever you say, get to the point and get there fast so that anyone reading can skim through quickly and get the gist of what’s happened.
- Give customers an outlet for contacting you privately: If you’re disappointed when customers air your dirty laundry online, give them an opportunity to talk to you before they share their review publicly. Make sure that it’s easy to contact you for customer service, and that you’re actively soliciting feedback in a private outlet that your business controls. If you’re able to respond to and resolve customer complaints through other channels, customers may not feel that they have to resort to sharing bad reviews online.
- Don’t sue your customers: If a review is bad enough, it can really damage your business. You may be tempted to lash out and get revenge on the customer that caused you business, but the fact is that fighting back is often more damging than simply letting it go. While it is possible to sue for a negative review, the fact is that these lawsuits rarely result in a win for the business, and they are far more likely to just draw further attention to what’s probably an already sore subject. You may be able to get past a negative review with better service and great reviews in the future, but the public may not ever forgive you if you end up with media backlash for suing a customer — and it won’t matter if you win or lose the lawsuit, because you will have already lost the public.
- Don’t hesitate to point out fake reviews: While a negative review you’ve earned is bad enough, far worse is a fake review, often placed by a competitor. Even if you can see right through them, others may not, and it’s important that you work to get them removed if possible. While major websites like Yelp or Google may not respond to requests for removal of fake reviews, they do use filters to fight them. On other websites, it’s key to report suspicious and untrue reviews to the website — but be careful not to abuse the system. Only turn in reviews that are genuinely fake or completely made up, not just reviews you don’t agree with. Be sure to point out any inconsistent information and make a good case for removal so the website understands why you think it’s fake. It may not always work, but it’s worth the effort.
- Respond to fake reviews: If you’re not able to have a fake review removed, there’s still hope. You can respond to the review and point out to potential customers that this is erroneous information and not to be trested. Take a fact based, calm approach that highlights why you believe this review to be fake. It could be that they’ve complained about an employee that does not exist, a time you’re not open, or a service you don’t offer. Whatever the reason, take a level headed approach and point out why this reviewer is clearly mistaken and not actually talking about your business.
- Say thanks for positive and improved reviews: If a customer has revised their review to be more positive as a result of your actions, or if you’ve simply received a positive review, always be sure to say thank you publicly. Let the customer know you appreciate their feedback.
- Earn positive reviews: Perhaps the best way to deal with bad reviews is to drown them out with good ones. It’s important to respond and deal with bad reviews professionally, but ultimately, some may remain and tarnish your good image. But if you have just a few bad reviews in a sea of hundreds of positive ones, they won’t really matter. Actively solicit positive reviews from your best customers to make sure you’re building up a library of positive words about your business to outweigh any negative ones.