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Social Media for Small Business – How to Deal with Online Customer Reviews

April 21, 2016

Spring is a time of awakening and renewal, so you may be thinking about renewing your small business marketing. Consider adding a plan  strategy for generating positive customer reviews and dealing with negative ones into your marketing plan , if you haven’t already done so.

How to Generate Positive Reviews
Some companies think it’s unethical to ask customers to review their products and services. While paying or offering an incentive for a good review certainly crosses the line, most online marketers agree that asking for reviews is perfectly okay. It’s the digital equivalent of that sign at the dry cleaner that says ‘If you like our service, tell a friend. If you don’t, please tell us.’

Use Creativity when Asking For Reviews
Use care when asking for reviews. If you have a retail store, you could have a sign near the cash register that suggests that customers may want to share what they think on Yelp, Google+, Yahoo Local, CitySearch and others. You could also print it at the bottom of your receipts, or just have your salespeople mention that customers can share their experience on any of these sites.

If you look at some of these sites, you’ll see that reviews tend to be more negative than positive. This is simply because people tend to write reviews when they’ve had a negative experience,  but not when they’ve had a positive one. This is a good reason to suggest that your customers review your business—they may not think of it otherwise!

Dealing with negative reviews
Despite best efforts, every company eventually has a dissatisfied customer or two. When this happens, you may find that you get a bad review online for all of your prospective customers to see. The worst online reviews arise when your company has made a mistake in delivering its products or services. Such situations can lead to a lawsuit (even if you haven’t made a mistake), which is why  you should always carry professional liability insurance.

As bad as this may sound, you may be able to turn a negative review around through by having a strategy that helps you deliver thoughtful responses.

Context Counts
The online review site Yelp offers advice on dealing with bad reviews by posting a reply. In doing do, they remind business owners to be careful, because your words can be misinterpreted or taken out of context if you’re not careful. Be sure to have someone else read a response before you post it. And don’t post a reply you wrote right after seeing a negative review for the first time. Let your reply sit for a day or so, then revisit it. If you’re angry about the bad review, you don’t want that to come across in your reply.

Responding Publicly vs. Responding Privately
You can respond publicly or privately to a Yelp review. If the review is negative it’s usually best to respond publicly since the review is public and you cannot remove it. If you need to respond privately to protect the customer’s privacy, you should also post a public response indicated that you sent the reviewer a private message.

When to Ignore an Online Review
There may be times when it’s best to ignore a negative review. If the review is extremely nit-picky, or the customer is clearly overreacting, your best bet may be to just let the review die a natural death. You don’t want to get into a protracted back-and-forth with a disgruntled customer.

When you write a reply to a negative review, keep your response simple. Don’t make excuses or justify the action that caused the bad review. Don’t dispute what the reviewer says. Focus on what you will do to satisfy the customer.

A Simple Formula for Responding to Negative Reviews

1. Take responsibility. Acknowledge that the reviewer had a problem, even if their complaint is exaggerated or even fabricated. Don’t diminish the issue—your reply should not include any language that could be construed as, ‘yes, but.’ Suppose a customer wrote a review of your restaurant complaining that the soup was cold and that complaints to the server were ignored. Your review might begin, ‘I am sorry that the soup you were served was not hot enough, and that your server did not resolve the issue to your satisfaction. Our policy is for servers to involve a manager if there is a customer complaint, and clearly that did not happen in your case.’ Even if it was the server’s first night, or if they’ve since been let go, leave the server out of it.

2. Explain what you will do to make the customer happy. If your response includes an offer to reimburse the customer for something consumable, you may want to ask that they contact you directly without being specific about what you’re offering. The last thing you want is a bunch of customers posting bad reviews in order to get a free meal. Your reply to the customer with the cold soup might go on to say, ‘Please call me at (phone) so that I can arrange to compensate you for the cold soup.’ You may be willing to comp the entire meal, but you may not want to advertise that.

3. Describe your solution to prevent a recurrence. Explain the steps you have taken to ensure that future customers won’t experience the same problem. For the restaurant customer, you might say, ‘We’ve added thermometers to all our soup pots to make sure that we’re serving each selection at the optimal temperature.’

Keep in mind that many people judge businesses on the way they handle problems. If you can show in your response that you will go the extra mile when there’s a problem, you may convince prospective customers to give your business a try.

Replying to positive reviews
It’s important to be careful when responding to positive reviews as well. You don’t want to be seen as gratuitous, and you don’t want to use your response as a sales pitch. Your response should not include a request for the reviewer to spread the word about your establishment, since they’re already doing that by writing a nice review. You could add a subtle invitation to return, by saying something like, ‘We’re so glad you liked our French onion soup. We just added clam chowder to the menu for the summer.’

Generally, when responding to a positive review, the message should be simple: Thank you. That’s it. And before you even do that, read the review again to see if it can just stand on its own.

Keeping on top of your reviews, negative or positive, well will help prospective customers make an informed decision about whether to do business with you. You can’t remove bad reviews but you can certainly decrease their impact and maybe even turn a disgruntled customer in to a fan.