Strategy for Handling Negative Online Reviews

As consumers have switched to making more of their purchases online, the importance of positive online reviews has skyrocketed in the digital economy.  Online reviews have in many ways reduced our reliance upon going to a store to actually get the “look and feel” of the product in person.  We are willing to rely on the experiences of total strangers in order to formulate our own opinions.

Even if you don’t render your services over the internet or even a website, your business will likely still have an online presence.  Thus, it makes sense for you to develop a strategy for handling online reviews.  It does not take much imagination to see how negative reviews could have a devasting impact on your business.

First, it is important to recognize that what you sell is different from what is typically sold online.  Online retailers sell products, and you sell professional services.  While reputation is very important for products (which is why companies spend so much money on promoting their brand), it is absolutely critical for professionals. 

Think about it – when you moved to a new city and you wanted to select a dentist.  Did you look for the cheapest dentist around?  Or did you ask people that live in the city who they went to and whether they were satisfied?  A professional’s reputation is one of their most valuable assets.  Even though it is not readily quantifiable, there is even an accounting term (“goodwill”) that is used to represent its value.

Online reviews for your business will either help solidify what your reputation is or undermine it.  Because the risk of potential negative reviews is high, most professionals will not include a spot on their website for unfiltered online reviews.  In addition, most people would assume that any online reviews on the company’s website would be curated for only positive feedback.

Google allows users to post reviews online for pretty much any business, including professional firms using 1 to 5 stars.  The same goes for Yelp and other top review sites.  Potential customers will often see these reviews “pop up” when they are searching for your business online.  While a series of great reviews will provide good positive feedback for your business, it takes only a few negative reviews to have the opposite effect.

Google, Yelp and other review websites stake their reputation on honest unfiltered feedback that is provided about your business.  As a result, they do not allow you to remove a negative review unless it falls outside of their guidelines which are pretty strict.  If you need to remove a review, you have to flag it to Google, but it is ultimately their decision whether or not to remove it.

The most important thing you can do when you receive a negative review is to take appropriate action. Here are several guidelines to follow when responding to negative reviews:

1. Respond promptly and professionally

People like to see that businesses take feedback seriously. First, confirm that the person leaving the review was an actual client (which is not always easy because the online identity of a person may not be evident).  If it is obvious this was one of your clients, apologize for their disappointed expectations and offer to speak with them via phone call to address their issue. Do not get defensive and certainly do not belittle or demean them in any way in response.

2. Be detailed while maintaining confidentiality

If you are able to be detailed in your response without compromising client confidentiality, other potential users can see that their potential issue is distinguishable from this other client’s situation and thus is not of concern to them. Responding the right way to reviews is a great opportunity to build trust with potential clients.

3. Look for patterns

If there is a pattern to the negative reviews for your business that are consistent in nature, such as “he never returns my phone calls”, “I can’t easily get a hold of him”, and “I was not kept up to date” from a series of different reviewers, then you have a big problem on your hands.  If such reviews are not responded to promptly or at all, a potential customer might have serious reservations about hiring you even if others have recommended you. In these situations, it’s important to take a good, hard look in the mirror and decide if there are things that you need to change in order to serve your clients better.

4. Have the right perspective

It is important to recognize that bad reviews have the effect of proving that the good reviews are “real”.  People like to see that you care, and that you will do what it takes to fix the problem.  It is important to recognize that a bad review does not mean that you have a bad business.  Most people recognize that there are “grumpy” people in the world who are not satisfied no matter how good things are for them.  They just seem to want to complain about everything.  Like any criticism you receive in life, a negative review should be viewed as an opportunity to grow.  It could be just the thing that takes your business to the next level!

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