4 Rules for Handling Negative Reviews on the Web

Caitlin McElwain

While business owners welcome glowing reviews with open arms, they’re often dismayed by more critical online feedback and not sure how to handle it. And that’s an important matter to address, since eight out of 10 people are affected by negative feedback! Here are four rules for how to effectively handle negative reviews.

1. At your place of business: Don’t ignore dissatisfied customers

Most customers who take the time to write bad reviews on the web are more than just dissatisfied – they’re downright angry. Generally speaking, they don’t feel that way only because they think they paid for a product or service that wasn’t right. 

There’s a deeper issue at play: the customer feels that the company ignored his or her issue. Diffuse this negative impression on the spot, before the customer walks out the door. Even though it can be unpleasant, hear the customer out and try putting yourself in his or her shoes. This will significantly reduce the customer’s level of frustration and the likelihood he or she will post a damaging review. If possible, come up with a solution that works for both of you.

2. Online: Offer polite, tactful replies

When it comes to the web, an attack is not the best defence! If a dissatisfied customer writes an unfavourable review, waging a war of words would be a fatal error. Even if you’re completely right, you’ll give your company a bad name. And who wants to do business with someone who publicly slams their own customers? Such a public dispute will make the complaint seem that much bigger to potential customers. 

So only respond if you can do so with exceptional tact. Start by thanking the customer for the feedback, and make it clear you’re sorry the customer wasn’t completely satisfied. Ask the customer to contact you directly so you can get a better handle on the problem and come up with a win-win solution.

3. In your operations: Deal with the problem

After working insane hours getting a company up and running, spending sleepless nights worrying and using up all their savings, business owners aren’t always amenable to criticism. Unfortunately, bad reviews that customers post online are often at least partly true: they reveal the company’s shortcomings. Denying there’s something wrong won’t help fix things. If there really is a problem, have the courage to admit it and then address the root cause.

4. In your web strategy: Make sure you have a lot of positive reviews

Two negative reviews can be catastrophic, especially if those are the only two available. Cushioned by dozens of positive reviews, those two negative comments will have less of an impact. But how do you do that? Read Get (Positive) Reviews from Your Customers to find out.

Using this kind of plan to handle negative reviews can have direct benefits for your small business. According to a 2011 study by Harvard Business School, for independent restaurants, a one-star increase (out of a total of five stars) in a Yelp rating leads to a 5% to 9% increase in revenue.

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