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Online Reviews are Great! … Aren’t They?

Online Reviews are Great! … Aren’t They?

by Jessica Jones

In our recent discussion about online directories we talked about how one of the downsides of having an online presence is that your information can end up spread out widely across the web. This may not sound like a downside – until you change your business address and realize that many of those listings are still showing your old information. Likewise, the idea that your customers can post reviews about your business on sites like Facebook and Yelp and even Google+ may sound terrific, but keep in mind that those reviews might not be positive 100% of the time.

Don't let the stars get in your eyes!
Don’t let the stars get in your eyes!

No matter how excellent your business is, how much effort you put into customer service, how flawless your product is, you could still end up with a dreaded one-star review. To quote my husband, “someone always leaves a bad review because they dropped it on their foot.” This perspective stemmed from reading amazon.com reviews of appliances, and realizing that there are frequently a few negative reviews that list complaints that have very little to do with the actual quality of the product. It is entirely possible that a less-than-ideal customer will drop your product on his or her foot, literally or figuratively, and as a result leave you an undeserved negative review. There is also, as we all unfortunately know, a subset of people who will never be pleased no matter how hard you try, and those particular people do seem to be particularly fond of making their opinions known.

You Can’t Make Everyone Happy

Whatever the circumstance, if your online presence has gained traction, then you may at some point be faced with a negative review, and if you’ve been following this blog for a while you’ve probably got an idea of what I’m about to say: You need a plan.

Fortunately this plan doesn’t have to be complex, but “let’s just ignore it” is not going to cut it, at least not with the large sites. As with directory submissions, I don’t recommend that you obsess over finding every single site that could potentially have reviews – there are just too many out there. However, if your business has a presence on well-known sites like Facebook, Google+ and Yelp – which it absolutely should! – then it’s in your best interests to monitor what people are saying about your business on those sites.

There is generally not a way to delete negative reviews. While this may seem frustrating, it is actually for the best overall. If businesses could simply delete negative reviews, customers wouldn’t be able to trust that the ratings were fair and representative, and would stop using them as a resource altogether. Some businesses deserve bad reviews, and sites like Yelp help potential customers to make informed decisions.

How to Handle the Dreaded One Star Review

So when a bad review does come through, how should you handle it? Some sites, like Google+, allow the business owner to respond to the negative comment. I always recommend that you take advantage of this opportunity. Remember that potential customers are reading these reviews, and your response to a bad review could have a serious effect on the impression it leaves.

When it comes to writing a response, the most important thing to remember is to never argue with the reviewer. Responding with combativeness – even if you are completely in the right and the review is unfair and mean-spirited – will never come across well. State your position reasonably and politely, even if (especially if) the review makes you angry. It might be a good idea to let someone else look over your response before you post it, to make certain that you’re giving the impression that you intend – one of a reasonable and competent business owner.

In some cases, the reviewer’s writing style may work in your favor. If the negative review is poorly written, overly ranty or simply nasty, many readers won’t take it seriously. You should still respond, even if the review seems ridiculous, but in cases like this you’ll want to keep your response brief – polite, but brief. You want readers to know that you take all reviews seriously but you don’t want to overly engage with someone unreasonable.

What do you do if you were in the wrong? If your business made a mistake, had a bad day, or somehow caused the reviewer to have a legitimate complaint? Be honest. Own up, apologize, and do your best to make things right with that customer. Make sure that you’re not just paying lip service – address the issue in the comment, yes, but make certain to follow up offline, too.

The Most Effective Strategy? Outnumber the Negativity!

One of the best ways to detract attention from negative reviews is to make sure that they’re surrounded with positive reviews. If I see that a business has twenty positive reviews and one negative one, I’m going to take the negative review with a grain of salt. If your business only has negative reviews, however, that doesn’t look good, even if there are only a few of them.

While it’s true that unhappy customers are sometimes more motivated to leave a review than happy ones, many of your satisfied customers might be more than willing to leave glowing reviews if you give them a little nudge. Let them know that the reviews would really help your business, and once they’ve left the review make sure to thank them! Seeing a plethora of positive reviews will make readers more likely to question the validity of the negative one.

Grains of Salt are Your Friends

Every business owner has had a negative experience with a customer, but it used to be far easier to put those experiences behind you. Online reviews may make it seem that the few bad experiences will follow you forever. Try to take the reviews with the same grain of salt you’ve used to move on from bad interactions in the past. Although it may feel like they’ve gone on your permanent record, remember that most users who read reviews are savvy, and if you follow the suggestions I’ve given, they’ll see the big picture rather than focusing on the bad apple.