How to Manage Negative Online Reviews

by Mia Steinberg

negative-reviewsMany businesses hesitate to list themselves on Google or Yelp because they fear the worst: an onslaught of bad reviews which will tank their reputation and ruin their chances for success. This doesn’t actually happen too often, but a bad review always stings. When you own a small business, you pour everything into it, every single day. A disparaging review feels like a personal blow—but criticism can be very helpful, and how you respond to bad reviews reveals quite a lot about both you and your business. Here are some tips on how to respond to those less-than-glowing comments.

1: DO Take a Deep Breath

It’s tempting to snap back at negative criticism, refuting every point and defending yourself and your livelihood. But being emotional can backfire in a serious way when you engage online; good business owners remain calm under that pressure, and maintain a professional composure at all times. So before you start responding, take a deep breath or two and let all those emotions pass before you engage.

2: DON’T Ignore It

You can try to pretend like that negative comment never happened, but the Internet never forgets. The fact is, every business slips up once in a while and it results in an unsatisfied customer. However unjustified the review may seem, if you don’t respond in some way you risk looking like you simply don’t care. If a prospective customer stumbles upon a negative review that hasn’t been acknowledged by the business, they may assume that this worst case scenario is the standard. It’s tough to engage with negative reviewers, but absolutely vital.

3: DON’T Make Excuses

No matter how you feel, or how unfounded the review might be, making excuses is always the wrong move. “The customer is always right” extends to the online sphere as well; just because you have the time and space to formulate a blow-by-blow defense doesn’t mean that you should. For those watching from outside, making excuses smacks of guilt and insecurity; it makes them wonder if all the negative things are actually true, and thus decreases trust and reputation. Customers tend to be far more accepting of businesses who own up when they make a mistake rather than trying to make themselves into victims.

4: DO Thank the Customer For Their Input

…And be honest about it. Feedback, even when negative, can do a lot of good for a business; it forces you, as the owner, to reflect on possible flaws in your policies and take steps towards preventing any other mishaps down the line. When a customer leaves a negative review, it’s rarely done out of malice; they feel that you should know the issues they experienced. An earnest response shows that you’re listening, open to criticism, humble, and willing to change to provide your customers with the very best experience possible.

5: DON’T Make it a Public War

Yelp offers the chance to respond to reviews privately, and you should take advantage of this when necessary. While some criticism can be responded to publicly, others should really be taken care of between the two parties. If the reviewer is particularly hostile or combative, you risk a public response turning into a full-blown flame war between you two—and that’s a prime area for reputation disaster. By contacting the customer privately, you can try to calm them down without it becoming a spectacle for onlookers.

6: DON’T Sue Anyone

There are lots of stories about business owners sueing either a customer who left a bad review or Yelp itself for displaying it, and these people always end up as the butt of many jokes. Freaking out over a bad review will not bolster your reputation; on the contrary, it’ll make you look like the unstable one. For goodness sakes, don’t get lawyers involved; it’s really not worth it!

7: DO Have a Policy In Place

You can drastically cut down on the chance of a bad online review meltdown by having a policy in place for how to respond to negative comments or criticism online. If you have a predetermined method for responding to customers in person, it’s easy enough to extend that same rule set to the Internet. No one is immune from criticism and there is no harm in sitting down and sketching out a few ideas for how to approach negative comments or reviews.

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