Managing negative online customer reviews

Dealing with the time-consuming and often challenging task of addressing negative online customer reviews is becoming increasingly necessary for small business. If you own a small business, it is almost certain that at some point one of your customers will have an unsatisfactory experience.

Ignoring even one negative review can harm your business. Not every person is going to take the time to read a negative review and carefully consider whether you or the customer is in the right. More often than not, that one negative review can create enough doubt or uncertainty to send your potential customers into the arms of your competitors.

This is why it is important to have a set game plan of how to deal with online complaints. You will find that it's very difficult to simply get a negative review removed. Most review sites do not allow reviews to be removed unless you can prove that the reviewer has violated that site's guidelines. Learn how to learn how to effectively reply to negative reviews as you're sure to get another one down the road. Here are three steps to follow when confronted with damaging customer criticism online:

  1. Offer an apology and a solution

    The first step is to try to identify the customer and fully understand their grievance in order to better prepare your response. With that information in hand, reply to the review, politely acknowledging the mistake and offering them a solution, whether it be a full refund, expedited shipping, a replacement product, etc.

    It's important to include unique details of the issue and not make your reply sound like a canned or forced response. This helps frame the situation as an out-of-the-ordinary occurrence that you've taking a personal interest in resolving and not simply "business as usual." Make sure that your customer support lines are active and operational. Do not tell someone to call a number or email support when there is no one on the receiving end to handle their issue. This will only result in a more damaging follow-up customer review. 

  2. Invite the customer to amend their review

    If you are able to resolve your customer's issue, the next step is to encourage them to return to the site and remove their negative review, or at least amend it with a follow-up message describing your help in resolving the problem. This may require some incentives on your part, but clearing up a negative review is definitely worth any immediate costs. If the customer refuses to do so or is unable to remove their review, then follow up with your own summation of the events.

    Explain that as a business owner these things are unfortunate but do happen and that the customer received a full refund or whatever action you took to address the issue. This public display of customer service will go a long way in overcoming any damage done by the initial review.

  3. Encourage positive reviews from satisfied customers

    Encourage your satisfied customers to leave a positive review at the site hosting the bad one. This may also take some incentives. This does not mean paying people to leave positive reviews! There are many subtler ways to encourage your customers to leave honest reviews to crowd out the bad ones.

    It's also important to note that you shouldn't have to wait for a bad review to start motivating happy customers to leave reviews; in fact, being proactive about this can prevent one negative review from having a drastic effect on your business. Since it's more difficult to get customers to post positive reviews rather than negative ones, regardless of exceptional service, you should try steering them towards sites that will offer you the most benefits. Start by identifying who your customers tend to be (tourists, locals, foodies, professionals, etc.) Then choose a review site that best fits your niche and invite customers to leave feedback there.

    The idea here is to control as much of the online conversation about your business as possible. By directing customers to a business-friendly review site - one that allows owners to reply to complaints or even offers some kind of reputation-management program - you'll further mitigate the damage one bad review can cause. But never leave fake positive reviews of your own business. There are many ways you can get caught doing this, which will be much more damaging to your business's reputation than a few negative reviews.

Understand that negative reviews are not the end of the world. If you deal with the situation correctly, you can come away with a positive boost to your business.

Customers do not expect a business to be perfect. What they do expect is a company to take responsibility for its occasional shortcomings and show that it cares about its customers and is willing to do whatever it takes to make them happy.

By Steve Albright, All Business.com

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