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Small Business Digest


Turn Negative Online Reviews Into Positive Reactions

When customers/clients give a supplier bad online reviews, the natural instinct is to fight back.

One expert believes this is an opportunity to learn and improve.

In today’s Internet-connected world, the ability for customers to share their online reviews of businesses and services they receive can often pose a challenge or be upsetting to small-business owners and managers who haven’t had a lot of experience in dealing with the situation.

Josh King, general counsel of Avvo Inc., a medical- and legal-related Q&A Web site where consumers get their questions answered by a community of rated lawyers, says that the first reaction is anger, frustration and thoughts of defamation lawsuits.   But King says there are better ways to respond and offers tips for dealing with negative feedback:

Don't Overreact. “It’s tempting to want to sue everyone involved when you see negative commentary online,” King says.  “But review sites – like Avvo, TripAdvisor or Yelp – are immune from defamation liability for third-party comments under federal law. And even if you sue the reviewer, you may find that your lawsuit brings far more attention to the review than it ever would have received otherwise.  Plus, lawsuits are expensive, enormously distracting and uncertain.”

Don’t use fancy tricks. Thinking of trying to get consumers to sign agreements not to comment or writing your own positive reviews to counteract the negative? Don’t do it. Those techniques run the gamut from ill-advised to illegal, and can well make matters much worse for the company.

Consider the Merits of Negative Reviews. Critical feedback, while disheartening, can be a blessing in disguise. It offers a form of client feedback and research that businesses have not previously had visibility into. It is critical to view negative feedback as objectively as possible. It may expose a blind spot in a professional’s approach, problems with staff or rough edges around the office that the business was unaware of. Rather than dismissing negative reviews out of hand, businesses should first consider whether this feedback is flagging problems – a broken process; a surly employee – that the business needed to become aware of.

Before online reviews, disgruntled customers would simply vote with their feet, and business owners wouldn’t know why they didn’t return.

The Credibility of Negative Reviews. Companies should also consider when trying to eliminate negative online commentary how credible that commentary might be. Just as no consumer will view as highly credible the vacuous, gushing comments of a nonspecific positive review, brief negative reviews that are short on detail are not likely to be given much credence by potential clients.

The Golden Opportunity to Respond. In addition to the credibility-enhancing benefit, negative reviews also provide a unique opportunity to showcase a businesses commitment to client service. How? By posting a brief response to each negative review. While some businesses are concerned that responding to a negative review raises a client-confidentiality issue, that is true only if a business wants to argue the substance of the review. And that, of course, is the worst possible thing to do. A response to a negative client review should simply reiterate that the businesses is listening, has heard the complaint, is sorry about it and would like the client to contact the business directly to address any remaining concerns.  Some businesses can even use negative reviews in their marketing, to highlight that their uniqueness is not for everyone.

King offers an example of the right way to respond to a negative review: “We strive for the utmost in client satisfaction, and we’re sorry to hear that you had this experience. Please contact us directly so we can address your specific concerns.”

An example of the wrong way would be: “If the person who wrote this review is not making a false statement, I will pay them $20,000. Come and get the money if you are a real client and not a lying crook. My clients get great service.”

Look for the silver lining.  A sprinkling of negative reviews actually enhances the credibility of your positive reviews.  Consumers are naturally suspicious of a site that contains nothing but uniformly positive reviews.  They know that not every product or service is uniformly perfect – or at least that members of the public are not uniformly reasonable in their expectations.  

“Businesses and professionals worry overmuch about negative online feedback, when in fact the vast majority of online feedback is positive,” King says.  “But as word of mouth moves online, every business is going to face some level of negative feedback.  The trick is to be calm and objective about it when choosing how to respond.  And those that have really mastered the use of social media will come to see negative feedback as a gift that allows them to demonstrate, in a public, authentic way, that they are passionate about providing great service.”

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