We’ve all heard, at some point in our lives, someone tell us “They’re only words, they can’t hurt you!”. Oh, but they absolutely can, my friend. Words can implode relationships, ruin careers, and even destroy a business. There have been far too many stories online about the person who tweeted an insensitive joke and suddenly lost their whole career after a massive public outcry, or a business owner who responded to a negative Yelp review with angry curses and insults and soon found themselves without any customers. Words DO matter, and in an online world you never know who is watching and reading. And just as words can break you down, they can also build you up and help you soar LIKE A MAJESTIC EAGLE ON THE FLAMING WINGS OF – okay, I’m getting a little too excited here.
Because we know that many consumers start with looking at online reviews when making a decision on what and where to buy, it can be easy for you, the business owner, to feel like you must do everything you can think of to keep customers from ever seeing negative reviews of your business, but don’t let that fear bring you down, champ! Negative reviews may be scary or disheartening, but they don’t have to be the Mark Of Death, and I’ll tell you why.
Honestly folks, if someone is looking up your business online and they see no negative reviews whatsoever their first thought is likely going to be “Ooooh I get it, they’re just deleting all the negative ones”, and yeah, they will absolutely judge you like a gang of junior high mean girls. And if they see a negative review and see that you’ve responded with name-calling, cursing, customer shaming, or outright out-of-control rage? Nope, they will instantly want no part of whatever you’re selling. If you’re response to criticism is to go haywire like the Tasmanian Devil on eight shots of long-pour italian roast then most people will gladly take their business elsewhere to someone who has shown their ability to remain calm and professional.
“So,” you ask “what can I do to use bad reviews to my best advantage?”. Well I’m glad you asked. WE ARE HERE FOR YOU, VALIANT BUSINESS OWNER!
Step One: Pay attention to social media.
I don’t mean just focusing on Yelp and comments left on your Facebook page, because just like in high school if you only pay attention to the rumors they write on your locker, you’re going to miss out on all the great rumors they’re starting about you in the lunch room at that table where the cool kids sit (I haven’t forgotten about that “Sarah eats her boogers” rumor, Cool Kids. Oh no, I never forget). If you’re not sure where else to to look then I highly recommend using tools like Google Alert to let you know when your business or product is being talked about online, be it on a news site, a blog, or any public page. You can gain so much valuable information when you take the time to really pay attention to all of the online spaces where your business might be a topic of discussion.
Step Two: Remember that it isn’t personal.
I will say it louder for the people in the back: THIS IS NOT PERSONAL. PEOPLE LIKE YOU. YOU ARE GREAT. YOU ARE A FIRECRACKER AND NO ONE CAN DOUSE YOUR MAJESTIC FLAMING – okay, sorry, getting too excited again. Ahem. But seriously, people are going to talk about businesses, about products, about the service they received, the thing they ordered, the employee they interacted with. And yes, sometimes what people say is going to be negative. Sometimes it’ll be angry, or disappointed, or insulting. Or worse. And yes, those words can hurt like a knife in the heart. A knife covered in lemon juice. That is also on fire. I feel you, man. We’ve all been there, we all understand that flaming lemonknife in the heart. But please, whatever you do, don’t react in anger. Don’t let emotion write your words. This could be the worst thing you could do for your business.
Step Three: Respond promptly, personally, and calmly.
Instead of reacting in a state of emotional upset, realize that many times customers can and do have a very legitimate complaint, so take your time to read them and think about what’s been said. Take the time to process, and to get yourself calm if the words were upsetting, and think about how you want to respond. Have a cup of tea. put on some sitar music. There, feel better? Also, always keep in mind that Facebook will track business response times and display that as a badge on your page, so try to respond within an hour if you are able. This is your chance to do two things:
1. By responding personally, with words that acknowledge that person and their complaint (instead of a copy-and-paste canned response, which is like a neon sign saying “THIS BUSINESS REALLY DOESN’T CARE AND JUST WANTS YOU TO GO AWAY”) you are showing your customers, and potential customers, that you are listening and paying attention to their needs and concerns. Even though it might be tempting to build a fort out of sofa cushions and hide until the angry customer goes away, do not do that. Although building a sofa fort for fun is something I absolutely recommend. (Pro Tip: Use bedsheets to create a fortifying wall and towels to make a moat, so as to keep out invading kooties)
2. By responding calmly and clearly, and addressing the specific issue that they’re unhappy with, you are showing everyone online that you’re able to remain cool, professional, and respectful under tough circumstances, and that can drive customer confidence through the roof. Your words on a public page are showing the customers who you are as a business owner, and if you can show them caring, thoughtfulness, and concern for their issue then you are showing people an owner, and a business, that they can trust. Figure out what the issue is and decide what you, or an appropriate employee, can do to resolve it. Let the customer know this, and give them an estimate of how long it will take to resolve it or to hear back from you.
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: In some cases, it is okay to hide or delete a complaint, such as when the complainer is using vulgarities or the complaint is not based on a product or service but is instead an attack against you or your business. On Facebook, it is easy to remove complaints. On Yelp, there are certain rules for which complaints you can remove and which you cannot. Check out ReviewPush’s infographic on What Kind of Reviews Can Be Removed From Yelp for a helpful explanation of these rules.
Step Four: Acknowledge the mistake and demonstrate your desire to make it right.
Make sure that if you or one of your employees made a mistake, you acknowledge that in your response. No need to “Name & Shame”, just an honest acknowledgement. We all know that mistakes happen, and by honestly addressing the issue you will raise people’s respect for you. Arguing, getting into a fight, denying that a mistake could have ever happened, NOPE. Do not fall into that trap in public because it will do nothing but reflect badly on you. If it turns out that the customer was wrong, that can be addressed in private messages. In public, show the world your most professional, concerned, and responsible face. It’s not always easy but you will only benefit from it. And I I strongly recommend against using free products to try to make the customer happy or get them to go away, this habit absolutely will be abused and taken advantage of.
Step Five: Get the conversation away from the public eye.
Once you’ve publicly acknowledged the customer, offer to private message them, or talk about the resolution via email or by phone. In today’s world, the longer you try to converse in a public forum the more time there will be for trolls and troublemakers to jump in and try to start conflict. Let the customer know you heard their concern, publicly acknowledge that you are aware and working on a resolution, and then get it out of the public eye ASAP.
Step Six: Followthrough.
Responding and acknowledging is great, but that alone won’t solve the initial customer issue. Kind of like how staring intently at that pile of laundry on the chair will not make it become clean (Oh man it would be great if that actually worked). You need to follow up with the customer to be sure that their issues was resolved satisfactorily. This assures the customer that your concern is sincere and that you value their business, and it also gives you an opportunity to get feedback that can help you in the future.
Of course we can’t make everybody happy all of the time, but you and your business will only benefit if you take the time to make your customers feel heard, valued, and important. The more professionally you handle issues like negative reviews, the more you can demonstrate your caring, the more likely a customer is to return to you in the future, and recommend you to friends and associates. Word- of-mouth is some of the best advertising you can get, and with a little effort on your part and the part of your employees, with careful communication and a cool head, you can turn negative reviews into great opportunities to learn and gain consumer trust, and that is priceless.