<< by on January 11th, 2013
One of the first things we tell any of our clients dealing with an online reputation issue is that our primary objective in any engagement is to have their online reputation mirror the one they’ve created offline. And while negative reviews might hurt, organizations need to start looking at them as invaluable market research into the wants and needs of your customers.
If your offline reputation is terrible, don’t expect all puppies and kittens and rainbows online. Yes, there are myriad tactics online reputation management agencies like Search Mojo can take to push bad reviews out of search, but if your organization isn’t proactively doing anything to fix the problems that sparked negative reviews in the first place, it’s likely that negative reviews will continue to pop up.
Now this isn’t to say that all negative reviews are valid. Case in point, the wonderful meme: “Real Actors Read Yelp.” Here’s a new(ish) reading of an actual Yelp review of a local fro-yo shop that seemed to have a slight spoon problem:
You may at times have to deal with snarky reviews, but it’s pretty unlikely potential customers will take such complaints seriously. It’s the review, comment, or negative press that looks valid that businesses should worry about. But here’s the kicker: don’t obsess over it. Pay attention to it, decide if it’s legitimate, and do something about it. But don’t obsess over any ONE review.
So here’s my take on responding to the nasty online review that has some grain of truth…
- Don’t get angry. Think about online comments the same way you think about face-to-face customer interaction. If you can’t get past anger, step back and take a day or two to reassess before responding.
- Own it. Even if you don’t think the problem warranted such a scathing review, accept it and let the customer know that you want to fix it. The worst thing to do is get into an ONLINE SCREAMING MATCH.
- Keep it brief and non-defensive.
- Know that even your private response can very easily be made public.
- Show the customer that you value his feedback and you’re sorry he had such a negative experience. Next, offer a way for him to contact you directly (over-the-phone is ideal) to try to fix the problem.
- And, if your only option is to respond publicly, remember that you’re responding to all future customers, not just this one person.
BUT what if the complaint is valid, but not something that can be fixed immediately?
This is where diplomacy comes in ten-fold:
- Number one: own the issue. No excuses, just own it.
- Once again, thank the reviewer for the feedback, and explain what is currently being done to fix it (this is for future customers more than the reviewer).
- You’re not going to be able to fix every bad experience, but as long as you look like you’re making a true effort to resolve it, customers are usually forgiving.
Now with all of this said, the best defense is often a very good offense. Negative reviews will always crop up. There will always be one person who doesn’t like you, or one day that doesn’t go your way. Businesses are run by people, and people are far from perfect. Accept it. To reiterate, one negative review will not kill your business—as long as you look like you care about that person’s problem.
So, to defend against the inevitable less-than stellar review, begin ramping up your positive online presence now, and make sure it ranks in search. Think about your online reputation as an extension of your offline reputation; make it a key part of your customer service strategy. Your goal is to push up desired search results for queries about your business, and push the bad ones down, especially when the bad reviews just won’t go away (either because they’re fake, or the person just won’t agree to reconcile).
I’m convinced the majority of legitimate negative online reviews stem from a lack of communication at the time of service—either from the customer failing to voice their concern, or the business not responding correctly when approached with a complaint. Either way, communication is key. And monitoring your online presence and responding to customers (both positive and negative) is a quick and effective way to keep the communication flowing and ensure you’re viewed as positively as possible. You will not be able to catch or respond to every negative review, but a good online reputation management strategy will protect you against defamation if it ever crops up.
I urge organizations to view these reviews as free market research; providing valuable insight into the preferences of your customer base. If everyone appears to be complaining that your spoons are far too large (see video above), you should probably buy smaller spoons….
I’d love to hear your take on online reviews in the comments below! Or feel free to connect with me on Twitter @mdough_tea