The idea of customers posting reviews for the world to see makes a lot of business owners nervous. While they believe in the quality of their product and service, they fear that competitors or mean-spirited people may post unfair or inaccurate information online that could damage their business. It’s certainly possible that, despite sterling quality, a disgruntled person might post a negative review. However, according to Yelp’s own analytics, the vast majority of reviews posted are very positive. Most people posting reviews want to alert readers to their favorites, not trash companies.
What if someone does post a negative review? If you find a negative post online, take a deep breath and let yourself calm down, then read it again to see if there is any truth to the customer’s disappointment. Business owners can post replies to reviews, but you should do so carefully and strategically to avoid making a bad situation worse. If the customer had a bad experience, you can make a public apology, offer them a replacement, and try to make it right. You may not sway the unhappy person’s opinion, but you’ve publicly demonstrated that you heard, you listened, and that you attempted to correct the situation. Most consumers realize that mistakes happen; they just want to know that you care enough to fix it. You may not win back the disgruntled consumer, but you’ll go a long way toward preventing one comment from souring the opinions of others.
If the comment is minor, saying nothing may be the best way to handle it. If the customer didn’t like the seasoning in your soup, for example, you probably can’t change their opinion without changing your recipe. People are entitled to their opinions, so if it’s a matter of taste and not quality, readers will probably take it for what it’s worth and make their own judgement. By replying or trying to argue with the consumer, you just draw attention to the post, turning a minor comment into a major argument and making yourself look argumentative.
What if someone posts a really bad comment? If the comment is abusive, uses vulgarities, racist language or profanity, it’s likely that you can appeal to the site owners to have the comment removed. Many sites include internal filters to remove over-the-top comments or to push them far down in the results, making it less likely that an outrageous comment is seen. It is also possible to contact the user who posted the comment and politely ask them to remove it. If that doesn’t work, and the comment is truly both malicious and defamatory, it is possible to bring legal action for slander. How far you take it depends on just how much damage you believe the comment can cause. Another way to deal with negative comments is to ask your loyal customers to help you out by posting their own positive comments, which will push an unreasonable review so far down the queue that it will be seen by fewer people. And, you can ask your friends to also request that a truly objectionable review be removed (sites may pay more attention to multiple user requests).
In my experience, companies worry far too much about the possibility of negative comments. Does your company operate in an ethical manner? Do you offer a quality product that lives up to your claims? Do you strive for good customer service and follow through on your promises? If so, there should few reasons for your customers to say anything bad, and lots of cause for them to sing your praises. Here’s something else to consider: consumers have talked about businesses to their friends and neighbors since the beginning of commerce. With today’s online directories, you now have a chance to hear what they’re saying, and if the comments to reveal areas for improvement, you can make the changes necessary to avoid future problems. View comments as feedback, and recognize that it’s impossible to make everyone happy. The positives of visibility and good user comments far outweigh the negatives.
Excerpted from 30 Days to Virtual Productivity Success by Gail Z. Martin