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– Eric Hardenbrook

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Dealing with Negative Reviews

Imagine you own a business in a small town and a customer has an unhappy experience at your establishment. Instead of talking to you and quietly working it out, one reasonable person to another, this person parks a pickup truck loaded with sound gear in front of your business and starts broadcasting to passersby how unfairly they were treated by your business. Now imagine the local newspaper and television stations show up and, instead of giving you a chance to explain, the media surrounds your one unhappy customer and proceeds to rebroadcast his experience to thousands more. Any reasonable person would think that situation was unfair and yet, that is almost exactly what can happen these days with negative reviews of your business online.

Accidents happen and customers have a bad experience. No matter how good your company is, no matter how hard you strive for perfection, it’s inevitable that a small subset of customers are going to have a bad experience. An even smaller group won’t be happy no matter what you do and is likely to post a negative review of your business online. That’s life, but the damage those unhappy customers can do with the power of the internet can mean a death sentence for your company if you don’t respond properly.

Black balloon called "Reputation" about to be popped by a pinNot many years ago a business could afford to ignore the unhappy margin; the damage they could do was largely limited to their immediate family and a small fraction of the community. Today, for better or worse, the power has shifted to a small but vocal fraction of society.

According to estimates by Bain and Company, only 6 percent of your customers will bother to take the trouble to fill out an online review. On the flip side of that exchange as many as 90 percent will read an online review before making a purchasing decision. It’s critically important to grasp the reality that the online reputation of your company is going to be dictated by a relatively small fraction of your customer base.

When it comes to managing your online reputation it is important to directly engage that vocal minority in the online forums where they post. If that protocol sounds labor intensive, that’s because it is and, unfortunately, there are no shortcuts.

First, Get the Facts

When you get a bad review, first get the facts of what happened. If it’s something that can be resolved easily, contact the customer directly and offer a resolution.This is an essential step that will provide the cornerstone of the complete response.

Respond Directly to Negative Reviews Online

If the venue permits it, respond directly to negative reviews and post online. A direct response is the quickest way to turn a negative review into a positive demonstration of quality customer service.  The direct response will be far more effective if you have the facts of the incident in question and can add the resolution you reached with the customer during your offline conversation.

Be Personal

The individual who feels wronged is a single person but hundreds more will sympathize with that individual if the only information available is the content of their negative review. Be personal and polite, recognizing you’re dealing with a person who has feelings and, that this conversation will be read by and resonate with a large number of readers. This is not the time for formally stiff corporate communications. The internet is not an audience of thousands as much as a collection of thousands of one-person audiences.

Take the High Road

Being informed and understanding the facts provide the basis for your personal and direct response to negative reviews.  The fact you took the time to research what happened and respond directly to the customer will resonate with readers and leave a positive impression.  For this reason (and more)  there’s absolutely no reason to get drawn into a heated exchange or any kind of personal argument.

Learn From Your Mistakes

While it can be painful to have your mistakes litigated in the court of public opinion, it is also the least expensive customer feedback a business can obtain. No focus group will ever serve you as well as the customers motivated to post a review online.That’s why it’s important not to delete negative reviews, even if you can. It’s human nature that everyone loves an underdog and admitting a mistake and fixing the problem will shift customer perception your way. That kind of advertising can’t be bought and is more appropriately seen as an opportunity. Focus instead on making negative reviews the exception, outweighed by positive reviews.

Instead of seeing online advertising as a cost center, see it as an opportunity to collect direct and unfiltered feedback from your customers. Encourage happy customers to write a review, within the framework of what’s allowed by the review sites. Your repeat customers are your happy customers and your best source for potential reviews.

More information on the topic of negative reviews, attracting positive reviews and other aspects of reputation management are available on our local search site

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