Reviews have become a key metric for the health of your online reputation, and a persistent feedback meter for your customer experience. Customers regularly use reviews as part of their decision making process, and the feedback that customers provide you in reviews is a critical tool to help you grow and improve your business. So it can be intimidating to run a business in an era where one bad review can feel like a death sentence.
Without question, the best way to protect and grow your business’s reputation is to provide the best customer experience you can. Once the reviews are in though, managing that reputation requires aggressive supervision of online reviews and prompt action. The great news about negative reviews is that they are actually an opportunity for your business—an opportunity to learn and improve your processes, and an opportunity to turn a frustrated customer into a loyal promoter for your business. Think about it—if you take an unhappy customer and solve the problem that was frustrating enough for her to take the time to leave an online review, you have a good shot of turning her into a loyal supporter for your business.
Follow these recommendations to take charge of your reviews and your online reputation.
1. Respond Quickly and Objectively
If you receive a bad online review, immediately attempt to open communication with the reviewer. Respond promptly and professionally. Use the site where the review is posted to send a private message asking how you can fix the problem and what you can personally do to make up for the inconvenience or bad experience. You may also want to reply publicly on the platform so that other customers can see that you are addressing the concern.
Make sure you fully address the issue and find out what caused your customer’s negative experience. Negative reviews are a great way to learn and move forward from mistakes while also building a stronger relationship with your customer base.
Be thorough and attentive to your customer’s concerns, but don’t be drawn into a back-and-forth argument with a reviewer or community. Never insult a reviewer, or speak to her less respectfully than you would if she were standing in your business. The goal should be a single response demonstrating that you care about the customer and are working to resolve the issue.
Your response should always include an apology as well as a question for the reviewer about what your business could do better next time. Thank your reviewer for taking the time to help you improve your business. Your goal should be to resolve her problem and ultimately win her back. If you are successful in doing so, you can ask her to come back to the site and update the review with the resolution. Your ability to resolve a customer’s frustration is a big win for your business and will demonstrate to other customers that you care and are responsive to customers’ concerns.
If the review is abusive or verifiably false, request to have it removed from the site. Most sites, especially Yelp, will not remove reviews, despite sometimes filtering out positive reviews as fraudulent. If you have a good case that the review is libelous, a site might remove it. You may also have the option to flag the comment for review to signal others that the review might not be completely truthful.
2. Learn From Your Reviews
Like any legitimate complaint, a bad review is learning experience. If the customer’s bad experience was the result of oversight or an off-day, be honest. Mention what steps have been taken to resolve the issue and invite the reviewing customer to return to see the improvements or receive a small restitution. Once the situation is resolved, take steps to ensure the bad experience won’t be repeated.
If you notice a pattern in your negative reviews, take action. Your customers are giving you free feedback on how to improve your business.
If many reviews reference unpleasant interactions with the same employee, look into their attitude and take corrective action. Be direct about the source of concern: acting on customer complaints sets an example for your employees and lets them know that customer feedback is valued. If multiple reviews point to a problem with a particular process, use it as a training opportunity to revamp that process. For example, in the hotel business, many negative reviews highlight a specific process like slow check in or lack of coffee makers in the room. Many of these are easy fixes so smart hotel managers are always monitoring for key themes like this as opportunities to improve their service delivery.
3. Highlight Positive Aspects of Your Business
While it may not seem like it, responding to reviews gives you an opportunity to speak positively about your business.
Reviewers are more likely to post reviews after an unsatisfying experience than a satisfying one, but positive reviews, especially unsolicited testimonials, are precious currency. Use your social media platforms to draw attention to positive reviews. Highlight your favorite reviews on Facebook or Twitter. Repost a few sentences of a great review on your business’s homepage for everyone to see. Most sites allow this, as long as you clearly label the content as belonging to the review site and use a “read more here” link. Simply asking your customers to review can make all the difference: encourage them to “like,” “follow,” and “check in” when they’re pleased with your service.
4. Law of Numbers
Overwhelm negative reviews with positive ones. Don’t worry about optimizing review content for search engines; instead, focus on getting a high volume of positive reviews so your overall search results reflect well on your business. The search engines will do their work if you do yours.
Don’t be tempted to generate positive reviews yourself or pay others to do so. These are easily seen through by experienced review-site users, and the revelation that you’ve bought or written a five-star review yourself can be damaging to your brand’s credibility.
Many hotels and restaurants remind customers to leave a review at the end of their stay. Sandbar, a popular restaurant in Santa Barbara includes a flyer requesting Yelp reviews in each end-of-meal billfold. While Yelp discourages this, they do recommend using free Yelp signage to remind customers your online reputation is important to you.
Reviews overall are critically important to business success, but any one review shouldn’t keep you up at night. Do what you can to fix those that can be salvaged, and accept the others as constructive criticism. When reading customer reviews, objectivity is key. Remain calm and seek a positive solution. By staying focused on damage control and positive interactions, you can turn most negative reviews into positive learning experiences for your business, and best of all, even win over new supporters.
Victoria Treyger is CMO of Kabbage. She is passionate about scaling high growth companies and building world class brands like Kabbage that revolutionize how products are delivered to customers.