The internet has been an amazing tool for disseminating information which has been both good and bad for businesses. While it can get you noticed and bring you traffic (and subsequent sales), it can also be used as a cudgel by customers who are disgruntled or even, occasionally, vengeful. Consumers, put off by the impersonal and complex nature of telephone customer service, are starting to report their problems and complaints online - directly tweeting or posting on companies’ facebook walls or leaving negative reviews on sites like Amazon or Yelp.
Angry, harsh reviews can be disconcerting, even occasionally frightening, particularly for small business owners whose profit margins tend to be thinner and cannot risk losing future sales to one customer’s bad experience. There are ways for businesses to respond to negative reviews, however, to mitigate or remedy the damage they’ve caused.
First of all, don’t panic! Realize that bad reviews aren’t the end of the world, and can even lead to a net positive result. Researchers at Wharton studied book reviews and sales and found that for “relatively unknown authors, bad reviews caused sales to rise, by an average of 45%. This held even when the criticism was extreme.” What’s more, readers of bad reviews tended, over time, to forget the review, but remember the book or the author’s name, thus positive branding was accomplished even by negative reviews. If your business is small, new, or relatively unknown, you might see a bump in sales driven by the curiosity piqued from a negative review.
Take a minute to determine your strategy in dealing with a disgruntled customer. Does your business have a policy in place for handling this? Do not respond at all online unless you know how you will handle the entire transaction, no matter what turns it may take. Be clear and respectful to your customer and take time to understand his concerns. He may have a valid problem, and if your business is interested in quality, this is an opportunity to improve. Convey clearly to the customer how you will resolve the matter and why future customers will not be affected. While you are mitigating the damage to the affected customer, you are also addressing all the people who will read the review and will consider doing business with you in the future.
If the conversation with the customer cannot be quickly or easily resolved, take it offline - do not let a negative review escalate on Twitter or Facebook. Instead, encourage your customer to vent or share concerns, but privately via email or telephone. Make sure a staff member identifies himself to the customer online, tells him how he may directly communicate with him, then handle it in person or over the phone without an audience.
To avoid future confrontations of this sort, have your employees ask for feedback at the time of service or sometime soon after. Be conscientious about fixing problems and ensuring customer satisfaction. While there are some customers who will never be happy, working to improve customer service and communication will, of course, lower the number of complaints.
Finally, despite the temptation, stay out of the fake review game. Do not encourage friends or relatives to go online and leave positive reviews to outweigh the negative ones, and most certainly do not have them take on a disgruntled customer for you. This looks unprofessional and has a real possibility of making things even worse.
The internet is a tool for communication. Good communicators do not have to fear it. Ultimately, most people understand that sometimes there are problems in business transactions. They just want to know how your business will handle them if they do occur. If you can demonstrate the ability to make a dissatisfied customer satisfied again, you make even pick up new business from a bad review experience.
+Max Friar is a co-founder of Corporate Conversions, LLC. Max enjoys comprehensive website audits and analysis and helping clients with full-scope SEO solutions. Max resides in Grand Rapids with his wife, Cori, and three children, Brenna, Max, and Jack.