How to Deal with Negative Business Reviews

February 22, 2023

You can’t make everyone happy all of the time. It’s a great life lesson, but also applies to your business. Negative reviews are part and parcel of running an online business, and dealt with in the wrong way, can escalate into a PR disaster.

Do take negative reviews seriously, but don’t take them to heart

Bad reviews do not mean your business is bad. If you’ve built a business from scratch it’s difficult not to take these reviews to heart. Instead, look at them as growth opportunities. Firstly make sure that your business is operating as it should. Everything from your suppliers to your delivery firm. Next check the copy on your marketing materials, are you unintentionally misleading customers? Remember, you can’t please everyone and maybe your customer is simply having a bad day, or finally, they may be plumping for freebies or a refund. It’s unavoidable in some lines of business. As long as you have a cast iron approach to refunds and returns that is displayed clearly on your website, you can negotiate or deny based on these rules.

Although you have to be aware that some reviews or comments may be from trolls, the majority will be genuine negative experiences. You can spin this into a positive light; take on board the complaints, it may expose an area of your business that needs to be improved.

The service recovery paradox

A service recovery paradox occurs when after a bad experience, a customer leaves happier than ever after the fault being rectified or refunded. For example, if a passenger books a flight only to be found out their flight is overbooked and after contacting customer services, they are instantly booked onto another flight on the same day causing no disruption to their schedule and issued with a discount on further travel. The customer will leave happy that any injustice has been rectified and they may even follow up with a shining review. The example below shows that hard work and personalisation can turn a negative experience into a positive one:

How to deal with negative reviews

Speed is of the essence

A fast response not only shows customers you care and value their opinion, it also nips the problem in the bud. Neglecting to respond to critical reviews can lead unhappy customers to branch out on to other platforms if they feel their voice is not being heard. For example, if a customer leaves a negative review on your company website, without a prompt response, they may post their criticism to other channels such as Facebook, Twitter or even consider reporting you to a higher consumer body. A quick personal response is not only the best way to show you care about your customers, but also the easiest way to reverse a potential negative PR issue. Social Media really is a great tool for responding timely, take the example below:

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Where all other levels of customer service have failed, the customer has approached the brand on Facebook and the response is the morning of the next working day. Facebook is consumer facing and any comments should be dealt with urgency, however, the concern here is why the company took over a month to issue a refund or reply to the customer. Just because a customer chooses to use a non-public method of communication to complain, does not make their complaint any less valid. All negative reviews should be dealt with as quickly as possible before they appear online.

Take the issue offline

Public arguments are uncomfortable to watch, everyone has been in the situation of watching a couple or parent argue in the supermarket until the infamous statement “just wait till I get you home”. Online arguments, ignoring trolling for a second, are no different. They can escalate rapidly due to a lack of personalisation and the safety and anonymity provided by being behind a keyboard. Try to reach out on a personal channel provided by the customer, email or phone. Putting a human face to who they’re dealing with and avoids the entire conversion being cemented into your website's history.

Always be polite

Some customers will be natural wordsmiths, crafting barbs and drawing comparisons that are neither fair nor warranted. Deep breaths. This is your business you are representing, and whilst being firm in your policies, you also have to recognise any fault your business has had to play. Being humble, taking responsibility and apologising for any mistakes made can go a huge way. Again, try to move the conversation offline, and if all else fails always remember to be polite and sincere. Whilst there are a few humorous responses from small businesses slamming their critics, it really will end badly for your business.

Do not feed the trolls

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For as long as the existence of mankind and the internet, there have been people with too much time on their hands. Trolls, people who use the comment box to vent their unfounded frustrations at the world, are a part and parcel of running an online business. You’ll quickly become an expert in knowing which reviews are from genuine customers and which are trolls looking for a company to bite. Many review apps or websites will let a business request to remove a review if it’s deemed unfair and if dealing with a troll on a social platform it's best to either ignore them completely or respond courteously and professionally. If the problem persists you can consider blocking them all together. Be warned that by removing or blocking a repeat troller you may inflame the situation, the best response with trolls is to not add any oxygen to their fire, they’ll get bored and fizzle out eventually.

Monitor your online presence and understand the mechanics

There are multiple tools out there to help monitor your social presence, paid platforms and some free options. A good start is to set up Google Alerts for any mention of your business name, and other social media tools such as Hootsuite can track what people are saying about your brand online. This will give you broad scoping real time alerts as to who and what platform you are being mentioned on. It’s also important to understand how each review platform works. Each rating system relies on different algorithms, and some of these are updated and changed regularly. This can range from a simple star rating to a more complex calculation based on how active the user is or if they only leave star reviews and/or comments.

Encourage customer reviews and make it easy.

Customers can spot fake reviews a mile away, and paying for 5-star reviews will get you banned from most platforms if you are caught. Instead, offer incentives for customers to leave a review after purchase. Apps such as Yotpo can help drive valuable reviews via automation and are easy to plug into your Shopify store. They make the process easy for customers to leave reviews by hosting the review within the email, super easy for mobile users, and one less step for your customers to say positive things about you.

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