Irrespective of how well you run your business, you will occasionally find yourself on the receiving end of negative feedback. As they say, you can’t please all of the people all of the time, so don’t be surprised when a bad review is thrown your way.
If it’s your first time dealing with negative feedback, it can be hard to avoid the classic knee-jerk reaction. You take offence, you’re 100% convinced the complainer is wrong and you’re determined to set the record straight. The problem being that in all three of these instances, you’re missing the point entirely.
The Three Types of Negative Reviews
Before moving on, let’s take a brief look at the three primary types of negative reviews you’ll encounter while doing business online:
- Bad Experiences. These are the genuine complaints that come from those who have not been satisfied with their experience. In which case, you need to make the effort to view the matter from their perspective.
- Mistaken Identity. This is where a customer has a bad experience, only to then mistakenly leave negative feedback about an entirely different company. Something that happens surprisingly often and calls for an immediate and appropriate response.
- Scam Reviews. Altogether less common than you might think, you may still occasionally fall foul of a review left by someone who’s simply out to get you. One of the reasons why monitoring for mentions of your brand continuously is essential.
Here’s a fact to chew on – approximately 94% of consumers say that a negative review about a business is enough to discourage them from buying their products or services. But what’s interesting is how the vast majority of consumers also show preference to companies that actively, empathetically and professionally respond to complaints – promptly and publicly.
Running an online business of any kind means accepting the inevitability of bad reviews. Though it’s how you handle this negative feedback that will ultimately determine the outcome. Social proof is playing an increasingly important role in all types of online business, making now the time to take your reputation management efforts to the next level.
With this in mind, here’s a brief overview of the five-step process for handling negative feedback in a positive, proactive and professional way:
Step 1 – Monitor Your Reviews
First and foremost, nothing matters more than keeping a close eye on the reviews you receive. This means scouring the web in its entirety for mentions of your business, ensuring nothing slips the net. There’s automated software that can help with this aspect of reputation management, but you’ll still need to invest the necessary manpower in the process.
From Google Reviews to social media to mentions in forums and elsewhere, you need to know what’s being said about your business, who is saying it and who they are saying it to. This should form a core part of your combined long-term branding, marketing, PR and reputation management strategy.
If necessary, think about listing third-party support to simplify the process.
Step 2 – Read Between the Lines
When you come across a scathing review from a dissatisfied customer, it’s natural to be disappointed, offended or even outraged. Particularly if you’re 100% convinced you’ve done nothing wrong. However, it’s important at this stage to read between the lines and attempt to see things from the perspective of the dissatisfied customer.
Their complaint and criticism is unjustified and inexplicable in your mind, but does this really matter? The short answer is no, it doesn’t. We all have our own unique expectations, preferences, priorities and personalities. Hence, what you consider to be acceptable (even admirable) could be quite the contrary to someone else.
Bear in mind that when the vast majority of people complain publicly, they aren’t doing so simply for the sake of it. Instead, they’re genuinely dissatisfied, unhappy or downright disgusted with something for any given reason. In which case, it’s worth thinking about the last time you yourself were deeply unhappy with something you bought, or a brand you did business with.
That’s how they felt about you at the time they wrote their comment – who’s ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in the conventional sense therefore being inconsequential.
Step 3 – Create a List of Templated Responses
They’ll be edited and personalised before being published, but a list of templated responses can be extremely useful. In the heat of the moment when you’re blindsided by rage, having the basics of a few calm, cool and collected responses available can prevent you from saying something you’ll later regret.
Templated they may be, but these response frameworks should be as genuine, professional and polite as possible. Nothing that gives the recipient the indication it’s simply been copied and pasted – something that only stands to enrage them further.
Particularly when responding to negative feedback publicly, the importance of ensuring every response is unique cannot be overstated.
Step 4 – Reply Publicly
Even if you’ve the option of responding to a complainer directly, it’s usually better to do so publicly. Otherwise, the rest of the world will have no verification that you even bothered to read the complaint in the first place. Though of course, replying publicly call for an extremely careful and cautious approach.
Nevertheless, get it right and it can work wonders for your reputation. Even today, research suggests that only 53% of people actually expect replies when submitting negative reviews. The rest assume they’ll simply be overlooked and ignored.
Choosing the right response isn’t always easy, though can be simplified by (again) putting yourself in the complainer’s shoes. It’s a case of thinking carefully about what you would expect if you were in their position. Would you want something specific out of the exchange, or are you simply looking to make a point and vent your frustrations?
At which point, you can go with one of three different types of responses:
1. The Basic Apology
This is where you empathise with the customer’s situation, accept responsibility and apologise. Not in a sarcastic or dismissive way, but in a manner that suggests you’d appreciate the opportunity to restore their faith the next time around.
A genuine apology can go a long way – particularly when accompanied by a pledge to take action to avoid such eventualities in the future. You apologise, you indicate you’ve learned important lessons and you publicly declare that the same won’t happen again.
2. The Offer of a Solution
In this instance, you combine a genuine apology with some kind of tangible solution. The most obvious examples of which being the offer of a refund, an exchange or a free-of-charge ‘peace offering’, if the customer is willing to give you another try.
This can be particularly effective in a PR sense, as it demonstrates to your audience that you are unwilling to accept dissatisfaction. And in the unlikely event that someone isn’t happy, they’ll either get their money back or be offered some kind of incentive of equal value.
3. The Request to Get in Touch
Often just as effective as the above can be the invitation for the customer in question to contact you directly, during which they can propose a solution they are happy with. You apologise publicly and state that you’d like to discuss the matter further to reach an amicable resolution, providing the customer with the information they need to contact you directly.
In the meantime, however, it simply makes sense to make attempts to contact them. There are no guarantees they’ll respond to or even read your reply, so you may as well make the effort. One less disgruntled customer is a small price to pay for a quick call or email at the right time.
Step 5 – Return to Step 1
Perhaps most importantly of all, it’s essential to view the reputation management process as a cyclical. There’s no beginning or end to the process of monitoring for mentions of your brand and dealing with negative feedback accordingly.
The size, nature and popularity of the business you run will determine how much time and effort are required to oversee its reputation management requirements. It’s worth remembering that where disappointed and angry customers expect a response, they expect it quick. Anything more than a few days and you only stand to enrage them more, while at the same time sending entirely the wrong message to the rest of your audience.
If you simply do not have the time or resources necessary to invest in an ongoing reputation management campaign, it may be worth considering outsourcing. The ROI on a strategic PR strategy like this often comfortably surpasses the initial and ongoing costs, while at the same time protecting your business from the potential consequences of negative press.
If you’d like to discuss any of the above in more detail or have any questions on the importance of proactive reputation management, contact a member of the team at Tait Pollack today for an obligation-free consultation.