SEMA News—July 2014

By Joe Dysart

8 Ways to Deal With Bad Online Reviews


A Harvard study found that higher ratings on Yelp resulted in increased business.
A Harvard study found that higher ratings on Yelp resulted in increased business.

While negative online reviews can be completely unsubstantiated, businesses must face a hard truth: The Internet never forgets. Without a detailed strategy in place for dealing with negative reviews, a thumbs-down from a customer—or a series of customers—can stay on the web forever and consequently erode profits forever.

Indeed, according to a Harvard study released in 2011, a simple one-star ratings increase of Seattle restaurants on Yelp spiked a 5% to 9% increase in revenues, said the study’s author, Dr. Michael Luca, a professor at Harvard Business School. Moreover, another study by Cone, a PR and marketing agency, found that 80% of people will change their decision to purchase an item or service based on a bad online review.

Of course, the easiest way to head off bad mouthing from customers is to solve the problem before it happens. Generally, consumers contact a business with a grievance before resorting to a flaming rant online.

One of the easiest ways to put out an antenna for this kind of customer is to send an auto-generated e-mail after each purchase or service asking the customer how the business did, and volunteering to solve any misunderstandings or mishaps. Solve the problem at this juncture, experts say, and you’ll be dealing with someone who does not yet feel that he is past the point of resolution and is not eyeing his keyboard with thoughts of vengeance.

Of course, even with this tactic, some bad reviews will still slip through, threatening to permanently damage your online reputation. Experts recommended the following best practices:

Use Free Accounts to Manage Your Reputation on Review Services: Most of the major online review services, including Yelp, offer free accounts to businesses that they can use to monitor positive and negative reviews and respond accordingly.

Keep Cool: While it’s tempting to lambast a negative reviewer—especially if the review is unsubstantiated—resist the temptation and work to restore your reputation only after your emotions are in check. “Give yourself a cooling-down period,” said Luther Lowe, director of public policy at Yelp. “When someone is using a public forum like Yelp to attack something you’re pouring your heart and soul into, a very natural response is to get emotional. Don’t. The last thing you want to do is overreact to someone online.”

Stay Completely Positive, If Possible: Generally, the best solution is a private, offline response to a consumer offering a concrete solution to the complaint and essentially turning a negative customer into a positive one. And if your business is in the wrong, own it and make authentic amends. “On Yelp, a business owner can respond privately or publicly,” Lowe said. “We recommend starting with a private, diplomatic response.”

Specifically, Lowe recommends using the following script:

Introduce yourself. (“Hi, It’s Bruce, the owner of ....”)
Thank the customer for the review. (“Thank you for sharing your feedback....”)
Apologize. (“I’m deeply sorry you didn’t have a five-star experience....”)
Acknowledge the complaint and explain what you’ve done to address the problem.

Don’t be too defensive. As tempting as it is to try to convince reviewers to see things from your vantage point, it’s easy to come off as dismissive of their accounts.

Invite the customer to return. (“We hope you’ll consider joining us again.... Here’s my direct contact information if you do....”)

Added a wry David Tucker, co-founder of RightNow Communications, a search-engine optimization marketing firm: “Remember, it is vital to be professional and ingratiating.” Or to put it another way: Embrace that time-tested mantra, “The customer is always right.”

Go Public If You Must: Inevitably, there will be some complaints that are unresolvable via back channels, and you’ll have to go public with a response. Take care in these instances to come off as a consummate professional who is truly looking to satisfy customers. “You shouldn’t view the public comment feature as an opportunity to nitpick at slight inaccuracies within a review,” said Lowe. “Instead, it’s a chance to demonstrate to would-be customers that you’re on top of your customer service.

Don’t Be Defensive: “Getting your side of the story out isn’t as important as demonstrating that you can keep your cool when problems arise and that you care about customer feedback,” Lowe said.

Counter-Balance Negative Reviews With Your Own Online Reviews Domain: Given that there will probably be instances when you’ll deal with a belligerent customer who cannot be pleased not matter what you do, the next best thing is to maintain your own online reviews domain on your website. There are a number of service providers with turnkey solutions that will enable you to do this, including Zuberance.

Secure Positive Reviews From Happy Customers: Sometimes all it takes is a request from a pleased customer to see a glowing review pop up on your website minutes later. “If you have a customer who is beside himself with glee over your service, you need to take advantage of that,” said Tucker. “Ask him to write a brief testimonial and then place it in on a special testimonial page on your site. You can link this page to your Google Maps page quite easily. Look for the ‘Link to this Page’ link that is found on the bottom right corner of your reviews page. Add the link to your testimonial page, and you’re done.”

Solicit Reviews From the Keyboard-Challenged: Customer Lobby, an online reviews service provider, includes a service that calls your customers, solicits their feedback over the phone and then transcribes the reviews to text for easy posting online. It also syndicates these reviews—as well as those it secures from people who know how to use keyboards—across the web, including on Facebook, Twitter, Bing, Google and Yelp.

Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan.
Voice: 646-233-4089.

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