Back to Basics #14: How to Deal with Bad Reviews

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It happens from time to time: We all get bad reviews.

It happens to the best of us: At some point in your small business career, you’re going to get a negative review. Even if you try to make every business decision with the customer’s needs in mind, and even if you strive to ensure 100% customer satisfaction every day you’re open for business, someone will still find something to complain about. From contractors to preschools to salons, no one is immune from the dreaded bad review.

Well, that was a depressing intro. Sorry about that.

So, now that you’re feeling deflated and sad, how can we go about making sure that you’re a) prepared for the review when it arrives and b) educated with a few basic skills to help you make the best of a bad situation? In this article, we’ll talk about how you can best go about addressing a bad review. Of course, we’ll also mention a few things you should avoid at all costs–because not every review is worth responding to.

Take a cooling-off period.

When you see that bad review, your first reaction is probably going to be anger. A few thoughts will probably be running through your head: “What did I do to deserve this?” “I don’t recall anything like this happening.” “Well, this customer is clearly mistaken.” “They’re lying.” “I’m just going to ignore them.” And the list goes on.

Well, any or all of the above may be true, but unfortunately, most small businesses lack the means to prove their side of the story. So in this situation, before you sit down and type a response to the reviewer in an attempt to defend yourself, it’s best to just back away and think about what the customer has said. The reviews generally fall into two camps: The people who complain for the sake of complaining, and the people who want to offer constructive criticism.

The people who like to go online and vent about things for no real good reason are nearly impossible to appease. Respond to their complaint and they could berate you. Ignore them and they could get angry that you don’t respond at all.

On the other hand, there are always going to be reviewers who have a legitimate complaint. Maybe there was a miscommunication, and it was just an accident. Maybe one of your employees was having a bad day and it ended up affecting their work. Either way, it’s your job to consider what the reviewer has said before jumping to conclusions

Most importantly, it’s vital that you be able to admit that maybe you really did make a mistake, if there was indeed a mistake made.

Then, once you’ve calmed down and evaluated the situation, you’ll be ready to deal with the bad review in a professional manner.

Determine whether a response is needed.

As mentioned above, some cases will call for a response, while others are best left untouched. Situations where you will just want to ignore a response would be:

  • If the reviewer is using inflammatory language or just trying to pick a fight
  • If the reviewer is ranting about something that doesn’t have anything to do with your services
  • If someone is leaving repeated reviews in an attempt to flood your page with negative comments

While most companies make every effort to respond to each review, sometimes dealing with the very angry or hostile reviewers can end up making the experience worse. Knowing how to identify these types of reviewers is a great skill for your company to develop.

In other situations, you’ll want to respond to your negative review. Doing so requires you to have professional language and a legitimate apology. Don’t just make excuses for the mistake. Acknowledge that this person is trying to constructively help you with your business—they’re hoping that by leaving their review, you can see where you might be falling short of good customer service. Then you have a chance to win back business or, at the very least, to show customers how much you care.

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Respond in a timely manner.

There are instances in which businesses take too long to respond to a review. This can actually make a company look bad—like they can’t be bothered to address the concerns of a customer. It’s best to respond within a week of the initial comment, so check the popular review sites regularly and make sure that you’re following up with your customers. 

Next, write a draft of your review. If the review was written recently and you’ve taken the time to cool off before you reply, it’s still best to compose a draft. Have a friend or someone you trust read it through and make sure it doesn’t come off as passive-aggressive or inflammatory.

Write a real apology if needed.

There have been a number of articles written on flimsy apologies vs legitimate ones. The intricacies of constructing a PR-friendly, yet personalized apology and follow-up promise to improve is beyond the scope of this article. However, the following tips should prove useful: 

  • Don’t make excuses. Treat the customer with respect and dignity. Offering an impersonal and lazy excuse like “well the cashier was new” or “it was rainy that day and some people couldn’t make it in to work” is not going to cut it.
  • Explicitly state that you are sorry for the inconvenience you have caused. Not the inconvenience you may have caused, or for the customer’s feelings. (i.e., “I’m sorry you feel this way” or “I’m sorry if we offended you.” The customer is telling you exactly how they feel. You need to apologize for the mistakes made on your end, not for how the customer feels.)
  • Follow up with something to make it up to the customer. Whether that’s a 10% off coupon, a free meal, or a complimentary service from the owner, any sort of offer to fix the problem will be appreciated. An apology needs to be followed up with the intent or promise to improve, or the customer will find it empty or phony.
  • If the customer doesn’t accept your apology, move on. Don’t argue. It will hurt that they still don’t want to visit your business. But you can’t please everyone—and arguing or begging will just make you look bad.

Finally…

Don’t send your replies in a private message. Post these apologies publicly. People will see that you took the time to respond and it will only reflect well on you!

See more information on how you shouldn’t respond to negative comments here: The Wrong Way to Respond to Comments

Encourage more positive reviews. As we discussed in a previous article, it’s always a good idea to encourage positive customer reviews. There is a difference between begging for a review or being too aggressive in your requests vs posting a friendly reminder that you need customer reviews to help grow your business. You can offer an incentive for people who participate and generate more good talk about your company! 

Can you think of anything we missed? Let us know in the comments!

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