Nowadays, online reviews are everywhere, from Google to Apple Business Connect to Homestars, and dozens of other sites as well.

Smart business owners make sure their online reviews are answered quickly. The reason? Your next customer is reading your reviews right now: as of 2015, 92% of customers use online reviews to make purchasing decisions. Without local SEO help, it can sometimes be overwhelming.

“Everyone wants to be heard, which is why it’s so important to take the time to answer reviews, both good and bad,” says Mark Wardrop from Copperstone Kitchens. “We use reviews to show our clients, and other potential customers, that above all we value their feedback.”

It’s especially important to answer the bad reviews. They can either chase away new sales or actually help you close. It all depends on how you deal with them.

Some businesses are understandably afraid of negative reviews. When some customers think they’ve been unfairly treated, they can be really vicious. I’ve worked with a few business owners who feel they’ve bent over backwards to satisfy a customer, with a public complaint as their only thanks.

Mark Coffin from Calgary’s Knight Plumbing and Heating (one of our home services digital marketing clients) believes that reviews are just as important to the company as they are to consumers. “Without bad reviews, we’d never grow as a company. We use bad reviews to learn what we can improve. We respond to the reviews to demonstrate that we are taking the matter seriously, and learning from it.”

Some companies have used reviews to help make decisions around their product offerings. Ritu Ashrafi, Director of Advocacy at Toronto based Logojoy states “We take bad reviews seriously. We reply to bad reviews within an hour and email the reviewer directly asking how we can make it better for them. The information we collect from these sometimes uncomfortable conversations has helped us immensely. We recently made a big change in our product and the price of our Basic package because a large majority of the negative reviews were coming from that. In the past it’s something we probably wouldn’t have done if we didn’t have an open dialogue with our clients.”

The good news is that most sites allow you to respond. Here’s how to make even the worst fail of your entire business history and turn it into something good – for your unhappy customer and for you.

Rules For Dealing With Your Bad Online Reviews

Rule 1: Always Take The High Road

You must burn this into your brain with letters of fire: no matter how unfair, malicious, or untrue the review is always take the high road. Even if they’re rude or lying, don’t descend to their level. Be as polite and as friendly as possible.

You’re partly responding to the unhappy customer, but more importantly, you’re showing potential new prospects how you deal with customers if they have a complaint.

As potential customers, readers will naturally identify with the reviewer first: your goal is to prove to them that you truly care about your customers. If a prospect sees that you provide great service even if something goes wrong, they will be much more likely to trust you and buy from you.

Rule 2: Always Respond Online

Even if there are some private discussions between you and the unhappy camper, in the end you must always have some sort of response to the online review.

Why? Even if you privately satisfy the customer in the end, the bad review is there forever. If there is no response it will look like you don’t care to other readers.

If the review is real (we’ll get to fake reviews in a moment), try the following:

  • Take responsibility and apologize. Sometimes the problem is that the grievance isn’t even acknowledged by the business.
  • Where possible, try to work it out with the customer. Try to amaze and delight. Fix it, replace it, or give them a new one for free. Give them the experience they think they originally signed up for, if you can.
  • If you can’t give them what they want, be honest about what you can or can’t do for them.

Here’s an example of how one business dealt with a complaint:

Google Bad Review

Rule 3: If You’re Able to Fix it, Ask Them to Update the Review

Here’s the amazing thing: even the worst review can be edited by the reviewer. That zero-star character assassination can become a 5-star rave review.

In most cases, you need to ask them to do this. Be humble, be polite — after all, they are doing you a favour they may not feel like doing.

If you’re lucky, you might get a turnaround like this one:

Google Review Turn Around

Rule 4: Rule 1 Still Applies to Fake Reviews

Fake reviews are a fact of life.

Some sites, like HomeStars, will ask the reviewer to email a receipt to prove they were a customer. Google, however, will not arbitrate. If a reviewer violates their policies, they will remove the review when flagged. If a reviewer stops short of swearing and hate speech, however, you have to deal with it.

Before you respond, remember rule 1. What’s that mean in reality? Here’s the kind of thing some of our customers have used when hit with a fake review:

Google Fake Review

What this does is point out that the review is probably fake, without actually calling the person a liar, which just makes you look bad.

Secondly, it gives the name and phone number of a real person they can contact.

Rule 5: Prevent it From Happening Again

We’re all human, and mistakes happen. If the customer has a legitimate grievance, put systems in place to prevent the problem from recurring.

Try and figure out what went wrong. Does your website make promises you can’t keep? Does your customer service team even know what your promise is?

Then make sure your whole team knows what to do. Don’t just send an email, have a meeting to make sure everyone understands the issue and what to do next time. Remember, don’t blamestorm and don’t humiliate. The goal here is process change (make sure the issue is addressed in your training program too).

An Ounce of Prevention

One of the best ways of avoiding negative reviews is to do a follow-up call with your customers as soon as possible after their purchase. This will help you identify issues in advance, and give you a chance to fix it before they become angry enough to go online.

Rule 6: Bury the Bad Review with Good Reviews

Every business runs into an impossible customer sooner or later. The important thing is that the occasional bad review is fine. In fact, many people don’t trust a page of perfect reviews. It looks fake — in fact, there are tons of articles that help people spot fake reviews.

If you’re providing a great experience to almost all your customers, that follow up call we mentioned is a great time to ask for a review. Just don’t offer any incentives, or violate Google’s review guidelines (or those of any other review site, for that matter). That includes asking your employees for a review!

Remember, while Google almost always refuses to remove reviews if you ask, they do remove reviews they feel are unacceptable or have a conflict of interest.

The Happy Ending

Almost every market is a competitive one these days, so it’s customer service that will make the difference between success and failure. If you get better at customer service, it will lead to more delighted customers, and some of them will share their experiences online.

When all those great reviews get posted, they will bury that bad one like it never existed – and you’ll have happier customers and more word-of-mouth referrals as a reward.

Want to learn more?

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A Life Worth Celebrating

Ellie is a budding fashionista, an aspiring equestrian, and an avid dancer and gymnast. She also has a rare metabolic disorder, but she doesn’t let it define her.