Online reviews, according to a variety of sources, are a must-have for any business. With Google predicting that these online social signals becoming even more important in 2015 for creating a sense of trust and authority in the eyes of potential consumers, it could open the flood gates for companies to court as many reviews as possible.
But, it is a double-edged sword. Just like asking the kids what they think of your baking is a dangerous and loaded question, if you don’t really want to hear the answer, why ask the question?
And so, with online reviews there is a great side – the bit that propels your website from the dinginess of the lesser pages on Google to the upper echelons of pages of the top 10 – but there is also another darker, sinister side.
It is something we need to talk about. And so, as we invite comments and responses, you need to be ready for the negative online reviews.
Negativity. Trolls. Ridiculous. Damaging.
Right, before we start we need to grasp this nettle. We have all seen it. We look on comments for various news reports etc., and we see senseless comments from people, who want to deliberately inflame the situation. They make negative, crass and unnecessary comments that are hurtful and damaging.
Not everyone is nice out there, in ‘real-life’ on the streets and in ‘real time’ on the Internet. If you are going to actively ask for comments and feedback, you must be ready for the negativity.
But heading in to all-out war to win a small battle will not do you, your business or your brand any favours. It can be the opposite and you can spend the rest of your life drinking a chalk-based stomach settler before you eat due to the ulcer that these negative online reviews have left you with.
Something to be embraced
However, it can all seem a little bit off putting and, rather than taking a leap in to the unknown and damaging your business for ever, take a step back. It all seems a little dramatic and, in all honesty backing off from online reviews could damage your business in the long run. Google is telling us that these online reviews will be important but it leaves one burning question:
How do you deal with negative online reviews?
This is a two part answer: knowing when to respond and how to respond
When to respond
Right, let’s be honest. We have already alluded to this; not all negative reviews are equal. The trolls and the not-very-nice-people will leave nasty reviews for the hell of it. And the thing is, you have to remember and trust in the intelligence of your customers.
They know when someone is being deliberately obtuse, they may even laugh at such stupidity and you online reputation remains intact and unscathed.
But there are occasions when you do need to respond to negative comments, such as:
- When you have genuinely made a mistake – life happens. And sometimes, it goes wrong. From a dodgy haircut to a broken product, systems and the like breakdown and a customer can genuinely be in receipt of a rubbish service or product. Even though a customer may leave a negative review, they will understand… but only if you really do acknowledge that you have dropped a clanger. Genuinely apologise and put it right, to the satisfaction of the customer.
- They are not sticking to the facts – we saw this recently in which somebody left a negative review about not being able to access the money off online voucher but, it seems that the company they were having a rant at was not the right one. And so, if this happens to you then you need to respectfully point out they have made a mistake/got you confused with another company. If the facts are wrong, you need to correct them.
- When the bad review starts to pick up speed – and by this we mean when other people jump on the bandwagon and start to say such things as ‘yes that happened to me too’. Absolutely, and without doubt, you need to deal with this at the source; find the original negative reviewer and deal with their complaint… or close it down if it is not right.
- When someone is just plain angry – not everyone wakes up with a spring in their step, ready for the day ahead and there are people out there who moan and complain most, if not all of the time. Engaging in this circumstance will mean only one thing… it’ll go on and on. Therefore, you will need to measure carefully if you want to engage with this person or not. You may find the review irritating but, providing it doesn’t gather support or pace (see above), then this may be one instance where you leave it alone…
- When people join in, defending you! – on one hand, this is great but you cannot have people leaping in before you, determining whether someone’s negative review deserves a response or not. Hence, if a review starts to develop support, you also need to make sure you leap in, shut it down as you do not want a customer coming under fire, if their complaint is genuine.
How to respond
This is the diplomatic part and not one all of us are blessed with the skills of diplomacy, therefore if you are not too sure this is your thing, then find someone who is! Or, if push comes to shove and that person is you, read on and develop a strategy for responding to negative online reviews.
- Honesty – you know that hands up pose that says, ‘yup, we made a mistake’? You need to do that now and admit that your failed to meet their expectations, provide what they were looking for etc. and that you realise this. But, don’t go for the blame game and don’t act the victim. Something when wrong and you are sorry…
- Listen – the negative comments are remarks are not about you, but how your customer feels; this can be anything from feeling let-down to disappointment. Listen to what they are really saying; is the product or service really the problem, or is there something else niggling at them? If they take the time to post a negative, then their gripe must feel quite real to them. Hence, show them you have heard what they are saying…
- Calmness – remaining calm is essential. If you cannot remain in a calm state, then get off the Internet! Losing control, shouting and looking generally hysterical and over dramatic makes you and your brand, look like numpties. Calm. Calm. Calm. Professional. Calm.
- Human – any response needs to sound and feel like it comes from a real person. If it looks too automated, robotic a response you could simply be soaking a smouldering ember with petrol… stand back!
- Thank them – and tell them how this debacle/cock-up/disappointing episode will change the company or brand for the better in the future but do this without sounding patronising or gushing. Genuinely, it may be that the negative review has highlighted a real issue in a process and, without this complaint, you would not have seen it as clearly as you have done…
In a nutshell
Online reviews – all of them, negative and positive – should be helpful to your company and so you need to be active in maintaining and responding to them. Customers won’t just leave reviews on your website or email them to you personally, some will use third party websites (we all know the horror stories around Trip Advisor).
You will need to seek out some of these views and don’t just save this for a rainy afternoon every now and then. Make searching review sites – simply check out your company online can be enough – and decide which ones you are going to respond to, and which ones you won’t bother with.