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  • Writer's pictureSeth Flora

How to handle negative online reviews like a pro

Every successful business has had to deal with negative comments and reviews on their site, social media, and on review sites. It can be frustrating as a small business when you get these because you are putting everything you have into making your business work and providing the best experience for your customers or clients. It can be easy to let these negative reviews get you down or cause you to blow your top and reply in a way that may lose you more business down the road. That’s why it is so important to know how to handle these negative comments and reviews without losing any future business from anyone. There are many different ways to handle this situation and each one is unique to you, your business, the comment, and the person who wrote it. But, with these tips and tricks, you will have a better understanding of how to respond.

In this blog, we will cover the strategies we use when helping businesses tackle unflattering social media comments, Google reviews, and more. We will show you examples of mean comments, vicious reviews, and straight-up lies and how they were dealt with.

Decide if it needs a response

The first thing you should do when you see a negative review or comment on social media, Google, Yelp, or any other online platform is to decide if it warrants a response. Sometimes this is easier said than done. A major component in making this decision is whether the person leaving the comment is doing it because they truly had a bad experience/service or if they are doing it to be rude and harmful. If they are doing it because they have a real complaint then you should respond. If they are doing it to be mean and harmful then you have to take a deeper look into the possible outcomes from a response. You have to ask yourself if a reply is going to make the situation better, worse, or do nothing to change it. If the answer is to make it better, then you should reply. If you think that engaging with this person is going to make things worse then leave it be. If you think that nothing will change or that a reply will have no impact on their view or the view of others who come across the comment/review then leave it be. This is a difficult skill to learn. It isn’t always easy to know when to interact or not. One way to make this choice easier on yourself is to look at your competitors' reviews to see if they have similar comments and what their choice was. Here is an example of a negative review you would probably want to respond to and one that you should probably leave alone.

Don’t get defensive

Ok, so you have decided that the best way to handle the bad review is to reply and interact with the user. Great. Now what? There are plenty of positive ways to deal with this. There are plenty of negative ways to deal with it as well. One thing you want to make sure you never do is to get defensive. That may sound easy but it can be a challenge and many business owners make this mistake every day. What does it look like when you get defensive? Here is an example: A customer leaves a review for a local restaurant that they visited with their family. They were not satisfied with how long the wait was to get their food and the servers were not as friendly as they had expected. Because of this they take to Yelp and leave the following review:” My family and I came here to celebrate my daughter's graduation from high school. We came in at 1 and didn’t get to order until 1:30. We then had to wait another hour before our food came out. The food was cold and our server was rude. Don’t think we will be coming back.” This is a valid negative review. When they came in they did not receive great service. It happens, especially now with the food industry struggling to find workers. After reading that review you decide to comment and engage with them. Here is how you respond: “Hi, our team is always fast and courteous with customers. We provide a great service and meal here at XYZ cooking.” Why does this type of response not work? Well, you got defensive. Instead of addressing their complaint, you stated that your crew is always on time and nice to customers. Even though that was not the experience that this family had. Now, if you were the family that came into XYZ cooking to grab lunch left a review only for the owner to not address your complaint in an attempt to defend their image, you are most likely not going to be eating there anytime soon. Not to mention that you’re probably going to tell all your close friends about all this. See how getting defensive is not the answer here?

Don’t get into a battle

The only thing that is more harmful than getting defensive is getting into a battle. Battles can be worse for your company than being defensive and be more harmful than just letting the negative review stand alone. When you get into a battle with an online user who leaves a negative review it makes you and your business look childish, unprofessional, and may make people considering shopping, buying, or eating with you think that you are overcompensating for poor service by picking fights with those calling out that poor service. Not only does getting into an online battle guarantee that the person leaving the review will never spend another penny with you, but when their friends see the thread you will lose their business too when people researching your business see that instead of acknowledging the poor service or issue at hand you decided to pick a fight. Now they know that if they shop with you that if they have a poor experience like that person did they are not going to get any help from you to make up for it. They will most likely look at your competition and spend their money with them instead.

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Acknowledge the issue and apologize

Most of the time when someone takes the time out of their day to leave a negative review of a place they recently visited it is because they have a valid issue that they want you and others to know about. That’s why it is so important that you acknowledge the issue and apologize to them. This not only makes them feel validated and appreciated but also that they can trust you and your business to own up to a mistake or poor service instead of getting defensive or picking a battle it also shows others looking at your reviews that you can be trusted. If someone leaves a review that states: “Came in today around 10 to buy pet food and when I asked for help no one helped me. So I left and took my business elsewhere.” You notice this review and respond: “Hello, sorry that our team was not able to help you today. Can you tell me what you needed help with so we can make sure that our team is educated on this for the future?” This comment is going to shock the reviewer. It demonstrates your ability to know when you messed up and that you are more than willing to work on that so it doesn’t happen again. As someone who has had similar issues when out shopping, if I left a review that the company then responded like this I would be going back.

Answer quickly

Letting a review just sit on Yelp or Google with no reply for days or weeks before answering is not helpful. By that time the person who left the review had already made up their mind about you and your business. You might think that taking time to address the issue in the house then getting back to the reviewer is a good way of handling the situation. Addressing the issue is always a great way to deal with things but you should respond as soon as you can once you get a negative review. You don’t have to have an outlined plan to show them how you are going to change or fix the issue they had. Just replying with a simple apology and informing them that you will be looking into it and working to address these issues so they don’t happen again is enough.If need be you can come back after some time to inform them of the changes that have been made so they know that you did what you said you were going to do. This will build trust with your customers making them more likely to be repeat customers.

Be thoughtful

With each review both good and bad take a moment to put yourself in their shoes to ask yourself how you would feel after the experience they just described. Obviously, with the good reviews, you will feel as if you did a good job. With the reviews that aren’t as good, you should feel displeased. Imagine if you were that person and had that experience. How would you feel? How would you want the situation to be resolved? What would it take for you to bring your business back to this location? With those questions and your answers in mind, start crafting a response that tackles each of these questions. If you feel let down then incorporate that into your response. If you know how to resolve the situation then mention how you plan on doing that. Incorporating these feelings is how you answer thoughtfully and in a way that relates to the person leaving the review.

Take it offline

You might be asking yourself right now “Why would I take this offline? I want others to see how well I handle this negative review so more people will do business with me.” By taking this offline, that is exactly what you are doing. By simply replying to the reviewer apologizing and letting them know that you are more than willing to have a more in-depth conversation about the problem in the store or over the phone demonstrates your commitment to resolving issues that customers have without making a big public ordeal out of it. By doing this you are building trust with that reviewer as well as those who see that you are willing to have a face-to-face conversation about this instead of a digital one.

Go the extra mile

Going the extra mile can really change the way a customer views your business and makes them feel important. Here’s an example: A few years ago I was at a local restaurant with a friend. I ordered the ribs meal. Once our food came out to us I noticed that it was cold, freezing actually. I asked to speak to a manager about my freezing food. The manager came out to speak with us. I informed her about the cold food, she apologized, took responsibility, covered our meal, and gave us a coupon for a free meal the next time we come in. She didn’t have to give us the coupon. I would have been more than happy and felt like a winner with not having to pay for cold ribs. But since she gave us that coupon, I felt that she valued us as customers and that we matter to her. Because of that, I eat there once a month. If she had just covered the meal I would maybe eat there once every few months or so. By going the extra mile she now has a customer for life. If you can afford to go the extra mile you should do it. If you are a struggling business still trying to get your footing then look for cheap ways to go the extra mile that still provide a quality service or are good to the reviewer. You’ll be surprised by the results.

Use each review as a learning experience

Each review has the potential to be a learning experience. When someone leaves a positive review you can learn that something you are doing is working. When you get a negative review you can take that and analyze the situation to determine if you can make improvements that will create a better experience for your customers or make things more efficient and easy for your team. If a customer leaves a review saying “everything was great! The workers at Big Larry’s fish barn know their stuff.” Then you just learned that your team is well informed. If someone else leaves a review that says “The employees were very rude to me.” Then you know that you need to have a team meeting with everyone and remind them about how important it is to be kind and courteous with customers.

I hope that these tips and strategies will help you avoid handling a negative review in the wrong way.

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