Originally published on July 5, 2018. Updated on April 15, 2020.
We’ve all heard, at some point in our lives, someone tell us: “Words 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. Just as words can break you down, they can also build you up and help you soar – okay, we’re getting a little too excited here.
Want to skip to the part where we help you? Schedule a free consultation today.
How to deal with bad online reviews
We know that many consumers read online reviews when they’re 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! Negative reviews may be scary or disheartening, but they don’t have to be the Mark of Death. I’ll tell you why in a minute.
Truthfully, 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.” Modern consumers are smart and cynical, and they’ll absolutely judge you like a gang of junior high mean girls.
If they see a negative review and see that you’ve responded with name-calling, cursing, customer shaming, or outright out-of-control rage, it gets even worse. They will instantly want no part of whatever you’re selling. They’ll gladly take their business elsewhere to someone who has shown their ability to remain professional.
The truth is it’s possible to use bad reviews to your advantage.
How? We’re so glad you asked.
Read more: The evolution of marketing.
Make your online reviews work for you
1: Pay attention to social media.
Social media can be both good and bad. Don’t just focus on comments let on Yelp, Google and Facebook. Think of it like 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.
If you’re not sure where else to look, we highly recommend using tools like Google Alert to find out when your business is being talked about online. This will send you emails when a news site, a blog, or any public page mentions your product and service. You can gain so much valuable information by keeping an eye on all of the online spaces where your business might be a topic of discussion. It might even give you new ideas!
2: Remember that it isn’t personal.
We’ll 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, we’re getting too excited again. Ahem. Seriously, people are going to talk about businesses, about products, about the service they received, the thing they ordered, and so on.
Yes, sometimes what they say will be negative. Sometimes it’ll be angry, or disappointed, or insulting. Yes, those words can hurt like a knife in the heart. A knife covered in lemon juice. That is also on fire. We feel you. We’ve all been there, we all understand that flaming lemon-knife in the heart. But please, whatever you do, don’t react in anger. Don’t let emotion write your words, because you can’t take them back.
3: Respond promptly, personally, and calmly.
When you’re calm, remember that many times customers can and do have a very legitimate complaint. Take your time to read the comment and think about what’s been said before you reply. 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:
First, respond personally and start by acknowledging the 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”). This will show your customers, and potential customers, that you listen and pay attention to their needs. Don’t build a fort out of sofa cushions and pretend you didn’t read it.
Second, make sure your response is calm and clear. Showing everyone online that you’re cool, professional, and respectful under tough circumstances can drive customer confidence through the roof. Your words on a public page are showing the customers who you are as a business owner, which builds 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. If you’re not sure, contact the platform to ask for help.
4: Show the customer that you care.
If the complaint arose because of a mistake, acknowledge it. Sometimes, mistakes just happen – and by honestly addressing the issue, you will raise people’s respect for you. Do not fall into the trap of arguing 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 it will benefit you in the long run. Also, we strongly recommend against using free products to try to make the customer go away, because this habit absolutely will be abused.
Read more: Rise of the idealistic marketer.
5: 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.
6: Follow through.
Responding and acknowledging is great, but that alone won’t solve the initial customer issue. It’s like staring intently at a pile of laundry on a chair, hoping it will 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 issue 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 develop your products or services 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 still the best advertising you can ever hope to have, and a little effort on your part to protect your relationships with customers is priceless.
Want to turn your online reviews around? Schedule a free consultation today.