How To Smoothly Handle Negative Reviews Online

Did you know that Yelp receives 26,380 reviews per minute? (According to Vendasta.)

That’s a lot of reviews. Online reviews have changed the face of eCommerce, and getting a bad one can feel like the ground’s fallen from under your feet.

But did you also know that a staggering 30% of consumers think online reviews are fake if there are no bad ones? (Thanks again to Vendasta.)

This means consumers are getting smarter and more cynical. When shopping (and opening your wallet) is as easy as a couple of clicks, it’s understandable that consumers want to make a fully informed decision by gathering information on a business, both good and bad.

Bad reviews are absolutely not the end of the world, though it can feel like it. They can be more savage than you’d expect - it’s much easier to be blunt over the Internet than face-to-face.

But there are lots of techniques you can apply across the whole review lifecycle, from before they’ve even happened to after the fact, to encourage good reviews and smoothly handle and fix negative reviews.


HOW TO ENCOURAGE POSITIVE REVIEWS (AND LESSEN BAD ONES)

What’s better than a bad review? A great one!

There’s plenty of things you can do to both passively and actively encourage positive online reviews:

  • Provide a great service
  • Be informative and clear on your website about costs, shipping, product descriptions and anything consumers need to know before purchasing
  • Fulfil orders and requests in good time
  • Keep your promises
  • Make it easy to get in touch with visible emails, contact forms and numbers as appropriate

Making life as easy as possible for your customers is key. In particular, ensuring you are accessible and contactable means customers can tell you what’s on their mind out of the public eye. If emails and calls go unanswered, customers will simply hop on a public forum like Twitter or Tripadvisor/Yelp to make their point, knowing full well a public message review is more likely to trigger a response.

You can also actively encourage positive reviews. How many times have you bought something online and the website has asked you to “rate our service” or “leave feedback” or ask “how did we do” on the checkout page? That said…

Don’t try and play the system. Yelp’s content guidelines ban unbiased and incentivised good reviews, and doctored reviews are plainly untrustworthy. It’s best to provide a knockout service and encourage positive reviews organically.

The best way to underpin your review strategy is to stay informed. Online reviews often go unnoticed by the businesses in question, and this can leave bad reviews unanswered and festering. Maintaining a presence on review sites keeps you informed and in the public eye, which is your number one technique for when a negative review does appear…


How to handle negative online reviews

Negative reviews happen, and while it’s very tempting to pretend it doesn’t exist, this will only aggravate the situation. Customers don’t like to be ignored, particularly disappointed ones.

Copy and pasting in a generic apology is also not a great response as it makes you seem impersonal and apathetic. Instead, use these techniques to alleviate and fix a negative online review…

Technique #1: bite the bullet and publish the bad reviews

Show you have nothing to hide. Hiding or deleting the bad reviews is not cool - you’re withholding information from other customers and silencing a customer who has something to say, no matter how barbed.

Technique #2: respond promptly

Just as we now expect websites to load quickly, customers expect responses to their negative reviews pretty promptly. While it’s unreasonable to expect a business owner to lurk on a review site 24/7, it’s not unreasonable to expect a response in a timely manner, no matter how tempting ignoring the issue may be.

30% of consumers say responding to reviews is a key factor when judging local businesses, so put aside the discomfort and plan your response.

Technique #3: apologise and be polite

Always be impeccably polite, restrained and calm, no matter if there’s CAPS LOCK or loads of inflection!!!!!!! in the review. Be apologetic and make an effort to understand where the customer is coming from without getting personal or making excuses. The majority of the time, the customer just wants an issue fixed and isn’t looking for a fight.

Technique #4: take real, tangible action

You’ve apologised and taken the review seriously, which is a serious step in the right direction. Sometimes, that’s all that can be done. But if there is opportunity to actively try and fix the issue, you should do so.

In your response, outline publically how you intend to fix the problem - sending a gift card in apology, refunding something, looking into an incident. Demonstrating a prompt, positive and productive response to negative situations actually inspires a lot more trust in customers than doing nothing at all.

Technique #5: take the issue offline

Respond publicly to negative reviews, and then ask the customer to send you the information you need to address the issue privately, whether through the review sites direct messaging or email.

Not only does this mean the customer gets a more personal resolution, this also protects vital personal information, such as order numbers, account names, credit card numbers and so on. Be careful with what gets publicly posted - you may be liable if information is leaked.


How to use negative reviews for positive growth

You’ve handled the bad review professionally and proactively, and found a resolution. Publicly demonstrating your commitment to your customers may well improve your reputation.

Use negative reviews to help shape your business strategy going forward.

After the fact #1: fake reviews

Some reviews online are just trolling, and there’s not much to be done about that. You’re within your rights to request that fake or deliberately misleading public reviews are removed - just be absolutely sure that’s the case first, then research the review site’s guidelines on removing fake material.

After the fact #2: keep your promises

If you’ve agreed an outcome with the customer, fulfil your promise. Demonstrating commitment to issue resolution can only make your business look good, and maybe transform your unhappy customer into a loyal, satisfied one instead.

After the fact #3: self-reflect

It’s always worth really looking into the cause of a negative review. Has this happened before? Or is it something you can ensure doesn’t happen again? Is there an issue with supply, or customer service, or an oversight you can now fix? Use negative reviews to pinpoint problems in your business and fix them - consider it free critique.


Looking forward...

Negative reviews are not the end of the world. They’re common, simple to handle and even simpler to dissuade. The fact is, online reviews are a staple of modern eCommerce - and business in general - so having a positive strategy for handling them and fixing them will make future issue resolution much easier - and could even improve your reputation.

Posted by Victoria Brock on June 11th 2019

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