In today’s interconnected digital world, online reviews hold more power than ever. In fact, they can make or break a small business. Positive reviews can build your online presence and drive a steady stream of customers to your door. Conversely, negative reviews can act like an anchor on your new customer generation and even loyal customer retention. That is, if not handled properly. Unaddressed negative reviews can do a lot of damage to your business growth, but you can mitigate and even prevent that damage by dealing with them appropriately. In this post we have outlined a 6 step process for dealing with negative reviews, especially on Yelp and Google.
The first step in responding to negative reviews is to be sure you know when they happen. Many small business owners make the mistake of not monitoring their reviews or assuming that because they aren’t listed on a review site, they don’t need to worry about it. However, for many review sites these days, any user can add a listing for which customers can leave reviews. It’s extremely important for you to stay on top of your business listings, and to claim your listing so as to manage these reviews.
Set a recurring reminder on your calendar to check your reviews regularly. This way you will see if anything new has come up with the big review sites like Yelp. There are also various online tools available, such as Google Alerts to help you stay informed.
The worst thing you can do with a negative review is ignore it. Some review sites like Yelp allow you to start by sending the reviewer a private message. This is an opportunity to apologize to the customer and potentially explain how the situation has been resolved. Just remember, you don’t want to make excuses, burden them with long explanations, or try and defend yourself or restore your reputation. Focus on validating their feelings and their concerns, and on the action you are taking to alleviate their concerns and compensate for their inconvenience.
In many situations, a private message that satisfactorily addresses the negative experience that the customer had will result in the reviewer removing the negative review. If it doesn’t, or if you’re dealing with a review site that doesn’t allow private messages, it may be a good idea to write a public response. By responding to negative reviews you’re letting potential customers know that you’re on top of your customer service.`1
Once a negative review is published, it’s important to act quickly. If there is an actual problem that should be addressed with your business, you’ll want to take care of that promptly. However be sure to establish communication with the unhappy customer as soon as possible—while the reviewer is still thinking about the experience and possibly willing to change the review. If enough time passes, not only has the unaddressed negative review been deterring potential customers, but the reviewer becomes far less likely to remove or modify their review.
When you’re a small business owner, your business is really an extension of you personally, so it can be very difficult to read a negative review. Try not to take the review personally and be sure that when you do respond you do so in a calm and non-confrontational way. It is common for people to be harsher on the internet than they would in person, but remember that responding to over-the-top criticism with over-the-top aggression will only make things worse. Do your best to respond in a professional way that will de-escalate the situation rather than escalate it further.
Keeping people aware of where they can go to review your business is a good way of ensuring that you are getting a constant flow of reviews that accurately represent your business. If you don’t, you could end up with just a couple non-standard bad customer experiences dominating your reviews. Including a link to your Yelp or Google listing on your website and in your email communication is a good way to nudge people to review your business if they have something to share.
As hard as review sites try to eliminate spam and false reviews, they cannot catch everything. Don’t be tempted to enlist your friends to put together false reviews on your behalf. Even if they don’t get caught today, they might get caught in the future and degrade the entire reason why review sites add value. If you follow best practices and give it a little time, you’ll be able to generate legitimate positive reviews for your business.