Dealing with the time-consuming and oftentimes challenging task of addressing negative online customer reviews is becoming a more necessary small business chore. If you own a small business, it is almost certain that at some point one of your customers will have an unsatisfactory experience.
Prior to the rise of business review websites, a small customer service misstep would have a minimal effect on your business’s reputation. However, these days each negative customer rant that finds its way online has the potential to seriously harm your business. Your ability to effectively manage this criticism, and use it to improve your company, can make the difference between business longevity and business failure.
Don’t Ignore the Situation
Ignoring even one negative review can harm your business. Not every person is going to take the time to read a negative review and carefully consider whether you or the customer is in the right. More often than not, that one negative review can create enough doubt or uncertainty to send your potential customers into the arms of your competitors.
This is why it is important to have a set game plan of how to deal with online complaints. You will find that it’s very difficult to simply get a negative review removed. Most review sites do not allow reviews to be removed unless you can prove that the reviewer has violated that site’s guidelines.
This is also a situation where lawsuit threats are of no help. You cannot sue the review site for hosting a customer’s negative review, since the Federal Communications Decency Act prevents lawsuits against sites for publishing third-party content.
The only thing you can do is subpoena the site to try to obtain the IP address of the offending reviewer — that is, if you wish to bring a personal suit against them.
The smarter (and in many ways more effective) option is to learn how to effectively reply to negative reviews, especially as you’re sure to get another one down the road. Here are 3 consecutive steps to follow when confronted with damaging customer criticism online:
1. Offer an Apology and a Solution
The first step is to try to identify the customer and fully understand their grievance in order to better prepare your response. With that information in hand, reply to the review, politely acknowledging the mistake and offering them a solution, whether it be a full refund, expedited shipping, a replacement product, etc.
It’s important to include unique details of the issue and not make your reply sound like a canned response. This helps frame the situation as an out-of-the-ordinary occurrence that you’ve taking a personal interest in resolving — not simply “business as usual.”
Make sure that your customer support lines are active and operational. Do not tell someone to call a number or email support when there is no one on the receiving end to handle their issue. This will only result in a more damaging follow-up customer review.
2. Invite the Customer to Amend Their Review
If you are able to resolve your customer’s issue, the next step is to encourage them to return to the site and remove their negative review, or at least amend it with a follow-up message describing your help in resolving the problem.
This may require some incentives on your part, but clearing up a negative review is definitely worth any immediate costs. If the customer refuses to do so or is unable to remove their review, then follow up with your own summation of the events.
Explain that as a business owner these things are unfortunate but do happen and that the customer received a full refund or whatever action you took to address the issue.