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As consumers, we know the importance of online reviews. As entrepreneurs, our relationship with them is, well, complicated. Because nothing feels better than getting positive feedback from a customer. And nothing can ruin our day quicker than a bad review. But the reality is that despite all your hard work and good intentions, bad reviews happen. Here are 5 strategies for how to handle bad reviews.
The influence of online reviews
As business owners, it’s impossible to ignore the influence of online reviews. Surveys show that 70% of people use ratings to filter out what local businesses they even consider. And over 92% of consumers rely on reviews to make purchasing decisions. A McKinsey study found that a small shift in rating makes a big difference. Just moving from 4.2 to 4.4 stars has the power to boost sales. So every review matters, and asking for feedback should be built into the customer experience journey.
The problem of fake reviews
At least 10% of online reviews are fake. The World Economic Forum estimates that fake reviews influence USD$152B of global online spending. From bots to review farms, it’s big business to create fake positive reviews to boost sales, and fake bad reviews to bring down competitors. Governments now recognize this problem, and in 2022 the UK announced reforms to protect consumers. More recently, the US Federal Trade Commission also proposed new rules. But legislation takes time to roll out, and enforcement can be challenging.
In the meantime, there are actions you can take to cope with the soul-crushing experience of negative reviews. Here are 5 strategies for how to handle bad reviews.
Strategy 1: Create a Boundary
The first thing to do is create a boundary to protect yourself from the impact of negative reviews. This means setting up the communication flow so that you don’t get dinged with the notification of a bad review just as you are about to head into an important meeting, or out for dinner with friends.
This can be done using email settings, to send all review platform notifications to a special folder. Or, you can set up a new email, like “[email protected]” or “[email protected].” Use this email in all the places where your business is listed for reviews. Google, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Booking.com, OpenTable -whatever makes sense for your sector, in your area.
The point is to create a boundary between your usual activities, and review notifications. Then you don’t get your workflow destroyed by a 1 star review popping up and stealing all your attention. Instead, you can build into your schedule time to check in on reviews, and deal with it in a methodical, controlled way. Or, if your company has a bigger team, monitoring reviews can be assigned to an operations manager, administrator, or marketing manager.
Strategy 2: Don’t Make it Personal
This one is tough. Because when it’s your business, it feels personal. But you are not your business. And sometimes, people leaving bad reviews are frustrated by more than whatever just happened as a customer of your business. They may have experienced a whole list of crappy things, and that small mistake set them off. People need to vent, and leaving a bad review online can release stress and annoyance. Accept that, and build up your own system to support you. Journaling is an excellent way to vent. Share with other entrepreneurs, who will certainly have their own stories of nightmare fake reviews and heartbreaking negative comments.
Strategy 3: Respond to Every Review
Yes, even the bad ones. How you respond to reviews is an opportunity to demonstrate the ethics of your company. Reasonable people know that things are not perfect 100% of the time. Therefore, how you handle problems and complaints can be a deciding factor in whether someone wants to buy from you.
While it’s ok to have a standard line like “please reach out to our customer care team at [email protected]” don’t cut and paste the same response to every review. The point of the review is to show that your company is paying attention, and your team genuinely wants to do right by your customers. Using the same response for everyone looks like it’s automated and doesn’t come off as authentic.
For example, when I was running my household management franchise, a disgruntled former employee went on a binge with his young mates on a Friday night, leaving 3 1 star reviews within the space of an hour. In my response, I stated that we had no records of booking services for them, suggested they had left the review for the wrong company, and invited them to contact us to discuss. We actually landed a client out of this – she told us that the reviews seemed fake and that she respected the professionalism of our response.
A real life example
Here is a story. When I was running my household management franchise, a disgruntled former employee went on a binge with his young mates on a Friday night, leaving 3 1 star reviews within the space of an hour. In my response, I stated that we had no records of booking services for them, suggested they had left the review for the wrong company, and invited them to contact us to discuss. We actually landed a client out of this! She shared that she felt the reviews were fake. And that she respected the professionalism of our response. The way we handled that bad online review built trust with our target audience and turned into sales.
Strategy 4: Research and Investigate
Sometimes, it is easy to spot the real reviews from the fake ones. Specific details may be clear that it was left by one of your customers. Be open to this opportunity to learn and improve. Research and investigate the circumstances. Even if it mentions a staff member that you think is a star. Because everyone can have a bad day. The review could indicate a chance to improve your processes, or training. And include this in your response, to show that you are taking steps to ensure the situation doesn’t happen again.
Strategy 5: Build Other WOM Tactics
As explained at the start of the article, online reviews are an important part of the customer decision process. But social proof and word of mouth (WOM) can come from other places. A referral program to encourage your customers to tell people about your business is effective for bringing in more revenue. Also, be aware of positive feedback from your communication channels. If you deal with customers in person, on the phone, or over email, watch out for comments expressing satisfaction and happiness. Ask them if you can use their comment, and share it on your website, social media, and marketing materials. Finally, be proactive and create a customer feedback survey. Include this in after sales followup, or in newsletters. Statistics like “98% of our customers would recommend our company” can be pulled from survey data, and this is a powerful social proof for your audience.
The Bottom Line
To conclude, it is impossible to avoid bad reviews. It’s just a fact of doing business. So these 5 strategies for how to handle them are valuable. First, protect yourself from the flow of reviews to your phone and desktop. That way, you can control when you sit down to look at them, and prevent the stress of a surprising 1 star review when your focus is needed elsewhere. Secondly, understand that it isn’t personal, and build your own support system. Then, respond to every review. This demonstrates your professionalism and willingness to do the right thing for your customers. And this can also highlight the fake reviews. Next, take a moment to investigate, to see opportunities to improve processes, systems, and training. Finally, build your own sources of testimonials and feedback. Customer surveys and normal customer interaction can provide a wealth of data that can be used across different marketing channels. This gives authentic, positive information for consumers researching their purchase decisions.