How to Handle Negative Reviews Online: Dos and Don’ts for Businesses

Negative reviews are the worst. For many business owners, your work is your baby. Any criticism feels like a personal affront. And it hurts.

Still, the way you handle negative reviews on public forums is a reflection of the way you’ll deal with the inevitable conflicts you’ll face as a business owner.

Handling those complaints with grace, humility and professionalism will demonstrate your adaptability and remind your customers that, behind their bad experience, is a business owner who’s working really hard to improve their product or service for the benefit of everyone who uses it.

So if you’re dealing with negative reviews online, take a few deep breaths, and keep in mind the following guidelines:

Don’ts for dealing with negative reviews

1. Don’t put your head in the sand

You wouldn’t turn your back on an unhappy customer who was standing in front of you, right? In the age of social media and online reviews, ignoring a customer’s concerns is akin to not returning a phone call, or worse, walking away from a client. That’s because your social media presence is, essentially, one huge interconnected conversation.

Whether your Yelp business page or your corporate Twitter account, your online presence isn’t just a megaphone to promote your business. It’s also a tool for responding to customer queries and complaints. Your savviest customers will use it as such, and could feel frustrated or slighted if you fail to respond.

2. Don’t get angry

Try not to get too defensive. We know it’s your business and there are always two sides to every story. Sure, a customer could be misinformed, or there may be genuine reasons why an interaction went south.

But the truth is, none of that matters. A user’s review is his or her personal experience and that reality, whether or not you agree with it, is where they’re coming from. So don’t get angry. Don’t be condescending or rude. Trust us, it won’t help. Take a lesson from the Amy’s Bakery fiasco and try to keep your cool.

See what you can learn from the interaction. Engage in a dialogue. Your customers will appreciate it!

3. Don’t astroturf

Astroturfing is creating (or having somebody else create) fake positive reviews of your business on major review sites. Businesses generally take on an astroturfing campaign in response to an influx of negative reviews in the hopes that they can outnumber a few bad (but legitimate) complaints with a number of positive (but false) raves. See our blog post about the pitfalls of astroturfing and the negative consequences it could have for your business.

4. Don’t use canned responses

Your customer took the time to write about his or her personal experience. If you respond with a canned response (even one inviting them to contact you), it will appear to them (and anyone else reading the review) that you couldn’t be bothered to address their individual concerns. Even one sentence to acknowledge the content of their complaint will go a long way in letting them know that you heard them.

Dos for dealing with negative reviews

1. Do say thank you

Whether or not you agree with the validity of the complaint, the reality is your customer has perceived an event in a certain way, and acknowledging their experience and the role your operations played in shaping that perception is the first step in successfully addressing a concern. Before you say anything else, acknowledge that you’re listening, and thank them for taking the time to offer feedback.

2. Do apologize

Apologizing doesn’t mean you’re agreeing with their assessment of a situation, but it does mean that you’re genuinely sorry they had a bad experience. Even if it’s not the direct fault of you or your business, an apology can go a long way in validating your customer’s concerns; and in letting them know you’re committed to ensuring it won’t happen again.

3. Do be real

Social media and online review sites have given consumers more power than ever before. Now that the playing field has been leveled between customers and businesses, consumers are more adept than ever before at identifying (and blowing-off) marketing-speak. So just be real. Respond to individual posts like a human being and stay away from boilerplate language.

4. Do take the conversation elsewhere

Once you’ve thanked a reviewer for taking the time to offer their feedback, try to take the conversation elsewhere. There’s no use in going back forth publicly with a particularly disgruntled customer, but if you can get them to contact you via email or phone, you can help solve their problems privately. That might mean offering a discount or a refund, but it might also give you a forum to delve further into the matter.

The bottom line is that most people just want to be heard. Taking the time to acknowledge a customer’s concerns shows them that, behind their bad experience, is another human being who genuinely wants to make their service better.

So don’t get angry. Don’t get defensive. And don’t bullshit. Instead, be real. Be humble. Most importantly, just be there.

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