Turning a Bad Review Into a Positive Connection

Turning a Bad Review Into a Positive Connection

No matter how hard you try, you can’t please everyone. No business is immune to a bad customer experience or to bad reviews posted online for the world to see. That bad review can certainly sting, especially for small business owners who pour their hearts and souls as well as a lot of sweat equity into their businesses. As a Yelp guide to managing reviews notes, for these folks “a negative review can even feel like a personal attack.” A bad review or online comment, though, can actually strengthen your business’s online presence if you manage bad reviews correctly, so take a deep breath and read on.

Why Responding is Important

Before we delve into how to manage bad reviews, let’s first consider why people post negative comments. The vast majority of comments—both positive and negative—come from customers and are based on their personal experiences. Disgruntled or former employees and even competitors, however, also have the ability to post negative comments about your business. Regardless of who is posting the comment or why, you must respond. Ignoring the comment will show potential customers who are reading reviews that you are not responsive—and being responsive is a quality most customers want in a business.


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Moz’s blog on “Responding to Reviews” outlines why a good response matters: online responses can reach thousands of potential customers as a free form of advertisement for your company, you might save the customer relationship and save the money you’d spend acquiring a new customer, and your response reflects your company’s commitment to customer service. Social Media Today compiled some statistics that also support the need for a timely and well-worded response in an article about responding to negative reviews on Facebook. The statistics cited suggest that at least one-third of customers post bad reviews after a negative customer service experience, that 88% of customers use online reviews to decide where to do business, and that 65% of customers are more brand loyal to businesses that respond to their customers online. Since responding to reviews, including the bad reviews, can add value to your online presence, there’s really no reason not to respond. You certainly wouldn’t ignore someone in a face-to-face situation who brought a problem to your attention, and online concerns are no different.

It’s Personal . . . But It’s Not

Don’t take bad reviews personally. That’s hard to do when you own and run a small business and are intimately involved in the day-to-day operations. At the same time, it is personal. A bad review is an opportunity for you to reach out to a customer on a very personal basis and address that customer’s concerns. Making the interaction personal in such a public realm can have positive ramifications for your business and your online presence. Potential customers will see that you took time to address concerns in a personal manner. Treating each online review as a face-to-face, respectful encounter in a public setting may help in addressing negative comments.

Customer service gurus have long used the acronym HEAT when training staff to manage customer service complaints. HEAT stands for Hear, Empathize, Apologize, and Take action, and the same principles can work in the online world. The “hearing” part is often the most difficult to do, but it’s also the most crucial part of resolving any customer complaint. After all, maybe the bad review has merit. Does the bad review point to a weakness in your products or services that you know you need to correct? Does the bad review point to a customer service flaw that you can remedy? We never want to hear negative feedback, but negative feedback may help us make improvements. Even if the bad review is unfounded and without merit, people still want to feel that their opinion matters. We all want to be heard even if we’re just venting.

Empathizing means putting yourself in the customer’s shoes. If you were the customer and the service or product didn’t meet your expectations, how would you feel? Likely, you’d at least want an apology, which is the next step. At best, you’d want to hear that the business is taking some action to rectify the situation. While that’s easier for a business to do when a complaint is made at the time of purchase (for instance, not charging for a product or service), you can still craft an online response that suggests actions you can take as a result of the feedback.

Using the HEAT acronym, here’s what an online response might look like for a retailer that got a negative review about a customer’s shopping experience.

Thank you for letting us know about your experience at our store. We want our customers to have a great shopping experience, and I’m disappointed that we didn’t meet your expectations. Your feedback is important since we continually look for customer service training opportunities for our staff. Please contact me as I’d like the opportunity to regain your trust as our customer. [include name, job title, and email contact]

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In addition to thinking of the online encounter as a personal, face-to-face encounter with public witnesses and using the HEAT technique, you’ll also want to consider a few more elements of a great online response. The timing and length of the response are critical factors in acknowledging your reviews.

Timing is everything. Social media allows us to be in immediate contact with other people and with businesses at all hours of the day. Small businesses likely don’t have dedicated staff to track and respond to online comments and reviews, but you also won’t have the volume of online comments that a large company has. Smaller businesses can usually monitor their social media and online reviews once or twice a week, depending on the volume of online traffic and the type of business. A Review Trackers survey found that a little over 40% of customers don’t expect a response at all, but of the more than half who do, they want a response within a maximum 7-day time frame. Larger companies that receive thousands of comments and social media “tags” each day may not have the luxury of waiting a week to reply.

Keeping responses short is also important. If you focus on keeping the response short, you’re forced to keep your comments simple as well. That means you’re less likely to say too much when you’re hot under the collar or leave yourself open for further negative comments. Plus, potential customers who read your comments will be able to see at a glance that you’re responsive and concerned about customer service.

Though you can’t take bad reviews personally, you should definitely make your response as personal and as genuine as possible. Using pronouns such as “I” and including your name and job title give the reviewer a sense that he or she is connecting to another person rather than to an anonymous online marketing machine. Paying attention to the specifics of reviewers’ feedback also makes them feel that they’ve been heard on a personal level—that you care about what they have to say, and listening is fundamental to any strong relationship.

No One is Perfect

Keep in mind that no one is perfect, and neither is any business. Having a couple of bad reviews can make your business more appealing. Most customers realize there’s always someone who is unhappy and that every person or business has the occasional off day. As the Moz article on responding to customer reviews points out, for this reason “the consumer public may actually feel more trust in a business with 4.5 star rating than they do in a business with a perfect 5.”

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While a legitimate bad review may not actually be bad for business, you may also get an online review that is offensive or otherwise inflammatory. If you do get that kind of online review, you can always report it to the platform and request its removal. Online entities and social platforms are often slow to respond to those requests, so asking for positive feedback from other customers may be the best way to reduce the negative effects of such a post. With more positive feedback, you push the offensive review to the bottom of the pile where it’s less visible and causes less damage.

While no one is perfect, the old saying that practice makes perfect is good to remember. The more you respond to online comments, the more comfortable you will become. You’ll hone your skill of responding in genuine, personal, and tactful ways that ultimately make you and your business more appealing to potential customers.

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