Unfortunately, negative customer sentiment is unavoidable for any business, regardless of the quality and service it offers. While dealing with dissatisfied customers in one-on-one conversations can be challenging, dealing with dissatisfied customers who publicly report their complaints online adds to the complexity – potential customers will be able to see the entire exchange.
Because of this, it is imperative to be wary of negative reviews. Here are some prudent steps to take if you encounter negative reviews online as part of your online reputation management strategy.
Before Responding to Negative Online Reviews
It can be tempting to jump in and defend yourself once you see an unflattering review posted. But before you start writing, take a few minutes to follow these steps so that you can prepare yourself with a more compiled and informed answer:
1. Take a Deep Breath
Negative reviews can be annoying, but it’s important not to take them personally. Take a few minutes to calm down so that no negative feelings show up in your response. Very few responses in the heat of the moment have produced positive results.
2. Search for the Customer in Your System
Based on the information left in the reviews, try to find the customer’s order or account information in your system. This may not prove helpful, but it might give you some additional background information about their experience that you can use to fix the problem.
3. Determine the Root of the Complaint
Read the review multiple times to fully understand why the customer is upset and what they hope to acheive by leaving a negative review online.
- Is the product poorly suited for their needs?
- Did something fail in your process?
- Did the customer have unrealistic expectations?
- Is it a complete pack of lies?
- Is it a fake review from someone you don’t know?
Put yourself in their shoes and decide what type of response would satisfy you if the roles were reversed.
4. Aim for a Quick Turnaround
If possible, try to respond to the review within 24 (office) hours. However, don’t rush with an answer – having a thoughtful strategy is more important than reacting quickly. If the issue takes a few days to resolve, publicly reply that you are working on a solution and then keep working to resolve the issue offline.
How to Respond to Negative Reviews
With a calm mind and the basic information you need, you are ready to formulate an informed response to your negative review. Be sure to include the following concepts when writing what you want to say:
1. Using a Professional, Yet Sympathetic Tone
When you start writing your response, make sure you approach it in a way that fits your business and makes the customer feel heard, understood, and valued.
Of course, if your company’s general tone is a little more playful than professional, you can approach the same, as long as you do it right (think KFC’s relatively well-received 2018 apology advertisement).
2. Address the Reviewer by Name (If Provided)
In a world where personalization takes pride in all areas of customer service and marketing, this adds a personal touch to your responses. Plus, it helps customers feel like you see them as a person rather than a completed sale.
Whether you’re apologizing for the misunderstanding, inconvenience, or mistake, apologizing can go a long way. It doesn’t mean you’re wrong, but it doesn’t hurt to admit you’re sorry that the person had a bad experience.
By taking this approach, it further shows potential customers that you care about their brand experiences.
4. Don’t be Defensive, Accusatory, or Aggressive
There have been many instances where business owners reacted this way and it failed, resulting in everything from lawsuits to the loss of the beloved business they were just trying to protect by keeping first place. It also just looks bad – ask yourself if you would want to hang out with someone who reacts that way.
5. Keep it brief
It will help you avoid getting defensive if you tend to react like this. The main purpose of a response is to let the customer (and others) know that you are ready to improve the experience of someone who is dissatisfied — you don’t have to explain everything that happened.
6. Take the Discussion Offline
In our opinion, the best way to move forward, you can interact with the customer replying to their review to resolve the issue to their satisfaction, but the rest of the internet doesn’t need to see every aspect of that interaction.
As long as the audience feels that you’re ready to work with the reviewer in some way, it will go a long way in shaping their opinion of your business.
7. Do Your Best to Resolve the Issue
It should go without saying, but make sure you really do everything you can to make the customer happy offline. Some people just can’t be pleased, but as long as you’ve made an effort to meet them in the middle, they should have some appreciation.
After all, if you promise to work offline with the customer and never follow through, they may very well leave a second opinion and call out your response for empty promises.
You should also work with the reviewer to convert their negative online review into a positive online review.
Handling Responses to Your Online Review Responses
The last thing you want to do is an endless public exchange with a customer who can’t be satisfied. However, some unfortunate people will do their best to have the last word and make your business look bad.
If you are unable to reach a resolution with the client and they continue to publicly respond negatively, leave a final note politely apologizing that an agreement could not be reached and stating that you consider the matter closed.
Do not respond to additional comments or responses. If the customer’s demands are unreasonable, potential customers are likely to recognize it themselves from the conversation.
Learn from Your Negative Online Reviews
While negative reviews may sound terrible, they can provide valuable learning opportunities on how to improve your business (and prevent future negative reviews).
With each negative review, consider whether something can be done ahead of time to avoid it. If a problem is easy to avoid, adjust your process to enable a solution. If you see the same complaint repeatedly and it is not a small solution, you may need to make some major changes.
While you may not always be able to keep your customers 100% satisfied, it is important to understand that most customers simply want their frustration to be heard.
As people increasingly turn to the advice of other buyers when making purchasing decisions, treating negative reviews positively is important to business success. Remember, your customers are your best learning tool for discovering opportunities for improvement.
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