Online reputation has a massive impact on business. Research shows that 83% of consumers say online reviews influence their purchasing decisions. This is why even small, local businesses should continuously monitor what is said about them online.
Throughout my work with small businesses, I have met business owners who have been so petrified of negative comments online they refuse to use Social Media altogether. However, Social Media is not the only way for consumers’ to provide feedback. Online business directories such as Google Plus or Yelp, or industry specific sites, i.e. Trip Advisor, are equally popular among those who want to share their experiences.
Reading bad comments can be deeply upsetting for any business owner; it’s only natural to feel hurt or angry. I have seen some business owners respond online to ‘fight’ the critics, while others simply soak up the comments, deciding the best response is no response at all.
Neither of those approaches is correct. In fact, they usually led to more problems.
The raw truth is, as a business owner you have no choice but accept that people will talk about your business, whether you like it or not. Negative comments will happen too, as it is simply impossible to please everyone all the time.
But if you develop a proactive strategy for dealing with online comments you can turn even the most negative of feedback into positive, by engaging in a constructive, genuine way and showing that you listen.
So what’s the best way to respond if your reputation comes under fire and you receive a negative online review?
- Stay cool
Ever heard that saying “Don’t promise when you are happy. Don’t reply when you are angry”? It certainly applies here. It is absolutely understandable that your immediate reaction to a horrible online review is to return fire. However, if you respond in anger you will only make your business look unprofessional and most probably face a further backlash from the online crowd (consumers online rarely side with the service provider). Instead, take a deep breath and do a bit of digging. Is the complaint justified, is it a misunderstanding or is it a spiteful gossip posted by competition? Decide where you stand before you engage.
- Remove abusive content
If the negative comments come in the form of malicious, fake reviews written by a bitter competitor, or an unjustified smear campaign by an angry former employee, the best way forward is to contact the site owner and request to remove the damaging content. Good thing is that most of online directories and review sites offer an option for reporting comments that violate their terms of service.
- Respond with tact
Acknowledging a mistake and apologising and offering to make amends – even if you don’t feel like doing it – is the best way to start. However tempting, trying to convince the reviewer that they are wrong and pushing your side of the story won’t score you any brownie points. However, there is nothing wrong in highlighting some good things about your business in your response e.g. “We’re very sorry to hear you had a bad experience. We have been serving our local clientele for the last 15 years, and we always strive to create the best experience for our customers”.
Whatever you choose to say, ensure that you make the reviewer feel heard and acknowledged. Remember, you are not only responding to the very person who wrote the review, in fact you are writing to the whole online world.
- Take if offline
After acknowledging and apologising about the reviewer’s experience, try to move the discussion offline. Offer a direct email address, ideally to a business’ manager or a direct phone number so you can really get to grips with resolving the issue e.g. “We really appreciate your valuable feedback and would love the opportunity to talk with you about your experience in detail. Please contact Julia, the store manager…”
- Proactively encourage positive reviews
You should make a continuous effort to encourage happy customers to share their good experiences online. Such approach will help you in offsetting negative comments and strengthen your online reputation.
- View negative reviews as an opportunity to grow
It may be difficult to believe however there is in fact a silver lining to even the most negative feedback. Analysis of negative reviews can provide your business with some priceless learning, as you may discover re-occurring themes. This is when angry customers turn into your complimentary business consultants, highlighting processes in need of improvement.
It is not always the review itself that can cause the damage, but the business’ response, or lack of. Today’s consumers are not looking for perfection online. What really resonates with them is genuine human interaction. Use negative comments online as an opportunity to respond in a constructive, transparent manner. If you learn to turn bad reviews into a positive reflection, the negative feedback can actually be your key to success.
Beyond Social Buzz can help grow your business. For more information visit www.beyondsocialbuzz.co.uk or call Joanna on 07810 774906