No matter how great you are at your business or what industry you’re in, at some point you will probably have to deal with a negative online review. Negative reviews are inevitable in business. They are part of the game.

Keep in mind that your customers and prospects will be watching to see how you handle your customer issues. So, welcome negative business reviews as an opportunity to show the world how you actually run your business by responding in a manner that is friendly, professional, genuine and in line with your policies and guidelines.

Furthermore, being able to deal with the negative comments that you receive in a positive manner will help you stand out from your competitors, and develop a reputation as a professional, friendly, caring and transparent “human” and business.

The good news is, most consumers expect to see positive AND negative reviews. In fact, the existence of a few negative reviews can make some people trust the positive reviews more, because then they know that your reviews weren’t manufactured. It is when you have lots of 5 star reviews and not a single negative review that people begin to get suspicious, because that is simply not natural.

The fact is, there will always be something about the way you have chosen to run your business that certain individuals will not like. Unhappy customers, trolls, disgruntled employees and even unscrupulous competitors can hit your business with poor ratings, harsh comments and negative online reviews. In fact, the Daily Telegraph reports that malicious reviews from online trolls cost more than half of UK businesses up to £30,000 a year.

Unfortunately, many of these reviews are posted on popular review sites such as Yelp, Trip Advisor and TrustPilot, online forums and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. This gives the reviews high visibility in the search engines when potential customers are using branded keywords to research your business online.

As the cost of challenging unfair reviews in court continues to soar, it is now critically important to know how to deal with negative reviews without having to resort to expensive litigation. Burying your head in the sand is not an option either. If you do not have an effective strategy for dealing with negative reviews, it could cost you customers, and the situation could get out of hand.

Why Online Reviews Are So Important To Small Businesses

Your online reputation is essentially your brand. It is your most valuable business asset, and positive online reviews are the most powerful asset you can use to build a strong reputation online. Because they are freely given from satisfied customers, online reviews are highly valuable customer acquisition tools that can be used to convert visitors into buyers. They can also boost brand awareness and help customers make decisions faster and with greater confidence.

Furthermore, reviews on your Google My Business page and top ranked review sites can significantly boost your organic search ranking in the search results page, as well as on Google Maps.

A 2016 local consumer review survey by BrightLocal revealed the value of online reviews for local businesses.

The survey revealed that:

  • 84% of people trust online reviews from anonymous strangers as much as a personal recommendation
  • 7 out of 10 consumers will leave a review for a business if they’re asked to
  • 90% of consumers read less than 10 reviews before forming an opinion about a business
  • 54% of people will visit the website after reading positive reviews
  • 73% of consumers think that reviews older than 3 months are no longer relevant
  • 74% of consumers say that positive reviews make them trust a local business more
  • 58% of consumers say that the star rating of a business is most important

Impact of Poor Reviews on Small Businesses

Negative reviews can really hurt small businesses. This is because small businesses only receive a small number of reviews each day, so they usually don’t have as many positive comments that can effectively crowd out the negative reviews. With more and more people shopping online, reviews are the first thing they use to get more insights into the product or service they are thinking about buying.

One study has found that a single negative review can cost a business up to 30 customers, and 39% of people would change their minds about a purchase after reading 3 bad online reviews. This demonstrates just how seriously you should be treating reviews.

Essentially, negative reviews can send your prospective customers to competitors that have been more proactive in dealing with negative reviews.

Responding To Negative Reviews

Since negative reviews are inevitable, it is important to formulate a strategy for dealing with them. Glossing over the problem by hiring online reputation firms to bury those negative reviews are not always the best strategy. In fact, they could turn out to be an expensive waste of money if you do not tackle the root cause of the negative reviews.

The truth is, unless the review was purely motivated by malice or jealousy or is an outright fabrication, most negative reviews have some basis in fact, even if they might be exaggerated. If you have received one or more “honest” negative reviews, view it as constructive criticism of your business. Rather than getting emotional or viewing it as something to be buried, acknowledge the fact that you were unable to satisfy the customer, who is always right. You may not feel that the negative review is fair or warranted, but the customer clearly does. Consequently, your first response should be to thank the customer for taking the time to post a review and apologize for the inconvenience.

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Should You Respond To All Reviews?

Don’t be tempted not to respond at all. Essentially, the way you respond to a bad review will tell prospective customers more about you than the person leaving the review, and may actually turn a negative review into a positive outcome. Not responding could give the indication that you simply do not care about that unhappy customer’s concern. Some have suggested that not all reviews are worth responding to, especially if they’re posted by people who are frequent complainers or if the review is on an obscure blog.

First of all, you don’t want to get into the habit of cherry-picking reviews to respond to, no matter how unfair or outrageous it sounds. Your aim should be to satisfy your users, and show the world that you really do care about satisfying your customers. Not responding could become a habit that could come back to haunt you. If the review is on an obscure blog, the user may one day decide to share it on social media. So, you should be prepared to respond in some way to every review about your business that you come across.

If the review is an outright fabrication or rude and outrageous and the reviewer is an obvious troll with a personal problem, take action by flagging it. Respond to the review by indicating that it is fraudulent and has been flagged. Keep in mind that you will have to present your case to the site’s moderator who will have the power to remove the review if it breaks any of the site’s rules.

Google also recommends that business owners should repsond to reviews that customers leave on their Google map listings. You can read more about Google’s recommendations here.

How Quickly Should You Respond?

If you receive a negative review that you feel is completely unfair, it would be a mistake to respond immediately when you are probably still feeling pretty emotional or raw about the unfairness of the review. For this reason, do not respond to the review until you have calmed down. In fact, give yourself 24 hours to respond, and always respond professionally.

How Not To Respond

If you receive a negative review, do not argue with the reviewer no matter how harsh or unfair it is. Yes, a negative review can potentially ruin or damage your online reputation. However, you will only be making matters worse by picking a fight with the reviewer. If you get into an argument no matter how unfair the review is, you’ll never win, and getting into an argument online will do more damage than the review as the whole episode may lead the unhappy customer to spreading even more negativity about your company. People may forget the review, but you’ll be remembered as combative.

Always keep in mind that dealing with a negative review is a chance to turn a negative into a positive and show the world the level of your professionalism. On the other hand, providing a positive response shows that you are open to criticism, willing to hear what the reviewer has to say, and willing to correct the problem. By responding in a positive manner, you will also encourage positivity from other customers.

How To Respond

When you receive a negative review that you feel is unfair and harsh, the first thing you should do is to act quickly by acknowledging the review with a short response. Since you might be feeling quite emotional about it, do avoid giving a detailed response until you are in a much better frame of mind. For now, simply thank the reviewer for trying out your product or service and taking the time to leave a review.

Empathise with the reviewer by saying that you are really sorry that they did not enjoy the experience with your company. Explain that you’re currently looking into the matter so that it never happens again, because customer service is a top priority with your company. Add that you’ll get back to them with a more detailed response as soon as you have completed your investigation into what happened.

Once you have calmed down and looked into the matter, do whatever you can to make the customer happy – within limits of course. Make sure that you keep everything in the open so that the world can see what you did to resolve the problem. Keeping things out in the open will leave a positive impression on other prospective customers, letting them know that you really do care about customer satisfaction. This is not just for the benefit of the reviewer, but for the benefit of people who may come across the review online.

A response like this does the following things:

  1. It gives you a chance to take a look into the matter and ascertain what might have gone wrong, and how you can make the reviewer happy.
  2. The reviewer knows he or she has struck a chord and has been heard, so there’s no need to keep on spreading the anger on other sites.
  3. It lets the world know that you really do care about your customers and the service they receive from you.
  4. It is a powerful way to advertise your business by reasurring prospective customers, letting them know that if they face any issues with your offerings, they will be taken care of.

If a review contains inappropriate language such as profanity or personal attacks, it is acceptable to get it removed without responding. Inappropriate language is a violation of most reviews sites. Most popular review sites like Google My Business and Yelp have a flagging system that can get inappropriate or fraudulent reviews removed.

So, if you don’t have the power to delete reviews, notify the moderator.

If the review is on a page you have control over such as a Facebook page, you can delete the review. It is imperative that you have a policy against foul language if you choose to delete content at your own discretion. After you have deleted the review, you may want to send a private message to the other party explaining why you have done so, and include a link to your guidelines.

If a review contains information that is inaccurate or incorrect, do not delete it. The author may simply be misinformed. If you just delete or ignore the comment and don’t respond, it will appear as though you’re trying to sweep it under the rug, and the misconception could spread and escalate.

Moreover, your community may have seen the post. If you don’t respond and promptly, it would appear as though you are arrogant or unconcerned about customer support, which can be detrimental to the online reputation of your brand. So, be proactive in educating the disgruntled customer. You can respond thus: “Thank you, but the more accurate information is…”

If the author is clearly irate but is in the wrong, engage with him or her by using wording that diffuses their anger such as: “I hear what you are saying…”, or “I understand how you must feel about this…”, or “I can understand your frustration…” or “I am sorry that you feel that way…”, and then state your position.

When addressing the author, be sure to use their title and surname rather than their first name until you have built some rapport with the individual. Some people might get offended if you use their first name when you don’t know them personally.

If the review has an element of truth or a mistake was clearly made on your part, respond and correct the situation quickly, offering some solutions. You could use words such as “I value all our customer opinions, and I am glad you have pointed this out to us. Here is how we plan to proceed on this…”

By being truthful and honest, you build up integrity and trust in your organization. Once you have resolved the problem, you can ask the author to remove or edit the review at their discretion to reflect the outcome.

If the review is fraudulent, Get advice on how to rebuild your small business after a reputation blow.

Dealing with Positive Reviews

A lot has been written on how to deal with negative reviews. But knowing how to deal with positive reviews is sometimes just as important.

When you receive a positive review, it is important to acknowledge the customer who wrote the review. This will demonstrate that you truly value the opinions of your customers. It will make them feel happier and engaged with your brand. This also presents the perfect opportunity for you to connect with these customers.

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