So You Had a Bad Day: How to Handle Negative Online Reviews

Business.com / Customers / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

80 percent of consumers changed their minds before purchasing a product due to a bad review, costing businesses their reputation.

All businesses, including online stores, brick and mortar shops or service providers, benefit when customers provide feedback online—provided that feedback is positive, of course.

Research has proven the power of online reviews, with 88 percent of surveyed customers reporting that they are influenced by an online customer service review.

Our connected world allows any satisfied (or dissatisfied) customer to broadcast his or her experience with friends, family and strangers across the Web. There are endless avenues on which customers can review products or services: Yelp, Amazon, Angie’s List, BBB.org, Google+ and almost all social media networks. Some sites, like Ripoff Report, exist solely for customers to post negative reviews.

It’s a tricky area to navigate, as a negative online reputation based on a handful of bad reviews can wreak havoc on a business. A study of online trends showed that 80 percent of consumers changed their minds about purchasing a product or service because they had read negative information online—that’s four out of five of your potential customers.

Related Article: From Zero to Five Stars: Online Reputation Management 101

The General Guidelines

Businesses often do not have a choice in whether or not they have reviews, as many sites accept reviews for companies without the owners’ approval. Regardless of your willingness to participate in online reviews, they will appear—and you will have to manage them.

Identify the Genuine Bad Reviews

It is advisable to respond to all authentic negative reviews, as they actually serve a purpose; the reviews that are best left unanswered are those that are clearly “trolling,” i.e. leaving reviews or comments that are intentional attempts to incite anger or frustration.

These reviews are often inflammatory, profanity-laden or unintelligible. A study from Stanford University and Cornell University advised against responding to or excessively deleting troll activity.

Never Reply With a Hot Head

Instead, take the time to cool down, assess the negative review and do some research. If possible, view the customer’s purchase history, so you are familiar with the situation. Don’t get defensive.

Develop a Game Plan

Writing a reply without outlining the purpose of the response will cause your message to lose focus. It’s important to keep your answer short and simple, explaining to the customer in understandable terms your plan of action to set things right.

The Four Parts of a Reply

1. Apologize

Start off by apologizing that the customer experienced bad service or a faulty product. Acknowledge that his or her feelings are valid and show that you care about the relationship.

2. Make It Right

It is not always expected that a negative reviewer receive something from the company to assuage their disappointment. A response is sometimes enough, especially if there is truly nothing to be done to “fix” the situation—but that doesn’t mean you should not try.

An offer could come in the form of free return shipping and a new product, discounted service or a personalized alternative.

3. Promise a Better Future

Once you have the core reason for their negative review, you can make plans to address the issues for the future. Was the service too slow? Did they experience a shipping delay?

Tell the customer how you will implement a strategy to ensure that they do not have the same experience again.

4. Give Thanks

Thank the customer for leaving feedback even though it’s negative. To ensure that they don’t come back to write yet another bad review, follow through on your promises.

Related Article: When Bad Reviews Hit: Should You Call Legal or PR?

The Specifics

Main Players

Amazon is a huge marketplace and leading resource for shoppers, as 30 percent of U.S. consumers begin their information search at Amazon to read product information and reviews. There are two ways customers can leave feedback: on the seller itself and the product. Amazon can remove vendor or product reviews only if they violate its guidelines, e.g. a product review left on a seller’s profile.

Google+ reviews, though not as widely used as some of the other platforms, are important as they appear directly on the search result page for your business. This set of reviews is often the first that a potential reviewer will see. Google+, like Yelp and Amazon, allows businesses to respond to reviews.

Yelp stands as one of the most popular sites for service providers, and it is home to some of the most scathing reviews. Businesses have no control over Yelp unless they claim the business page—and even then will they have only a modicum of control. Customers can edit, delete and update their reviews and reply to your comments.

Social Media

Surprisingly, only a small number of consumers (35 percent) say that social media had any influence purchasing decisions. Regardless of social media’s impact on buying behavior, the response should be the same short and sweet message that offers to correct the situation. Facebook allows you to delete posts from your business page, but this is inadvisable. Once an angry commenter notices his or her complaint has gone missing, it opens the floodgates for more.

Ripoff Report

Ripoff Report is often the scourge of businesses—once you’re on it, you stay on it. You can go through their “Corporate Advocacy” or “VIP Arbitration” programs, but the comments still stand and appear in searches even with positive and resolved messages above them.

The damage with Ripoff Report lies in its name and its reputation. If a business is listed there, it’s negative. Posting a rebuttal will show others that you have seen and responded to the message; others have come up with alternative ways to remove the Ripoff Report listing from Google with the help of a court order, but these methods can be costly and unpredictable.

Removing a result of Ripoff Report is difficult but reputation management services can help push down its visibility.

Related Article: What Every Entrepreneur Should Know About Ripoff Report

When the Negativity Persists

Sometimes, no matter how sincerely you respond to reviews, negativity will continue to drag down your online reputation. Luckily, there are also reputation management services and tools that help examine and repair your online reputation.

You can use Online Reputation Management Tool to rearrange your Google results to your liking and send them to a reputation management team for analysis. With Google Alert or IFTTT, you can create notifications to alert you when someone mentions your business anywhere on the Web, and Social Mention allows you to keep track of who’s saying what about you on social media.

Coupled with a detailed plan to respond to online reviews, working with reputation management service providers or tools can help manage your reputation on review sites. Online reviews, while helpful, can also be a breeding ground for negativity—if a business responds with courtesy, understanding, and patience, it can reap rewards instead.

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