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Negative reviews happen—that’s an undeniable fact of the business world. It’s how you respond to those negative reviews that matters. Improper handling of customer complaints, especially when made in a public forum, can be napalm to your business’s reputation, and thereby your sales.

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The TRUE Impact of Negative Reviews

The truth is customers tend to focus more on your negative reviews than your positive ones. Consumer buyers look to reviews to relieve the perceived risk of their purchase. The problem with no or poor responses, then, is a failure to resolve that perceived risk, and risk turns customers away.

It's not necessarily the reviews themselves that determine the true impact of negative reviews; it's your response. As a bonus, sometimes if an issue can be resolved, an unsatisfied customer can be retained rather than lost.

So, how do you handle negative reviews to ensure a positive impact? There aren’t so much top ways to manage negative reviews, more three steps with an additional need to check for malice reviews.

Step 1: Calm Down and Collect the Facts.

The adage, "you can't please everyone," is a dangerous mindset to have when handling negative reviews. Instead of viewing negative feedback as an insult or merely an effect of customer preference beyond your control, take every criticism as a learning experience.

If you can, try to find a record of the interaction including order numbers, tracking information, or receipts. Speak to your staff and check any recordings or records from customer service. There might not be a great deal to go on in all cases, but do your best to determine: what went wrong? Why was the customer displeased? Was there anything you as a company could have done to avoid the situation?

It’s important to see the things from the perspective of your customer to appropriately respond with an empathic solution and likewise prevent the issue reoccurring in the future.

Step 2: Be Polite and Begin to Form a Response.

Once you know the who, what, why, and when of the review you can begin to form a response.

Again, perspective goes a long way. Ask yourself, if this was my complaint, what would make this right? Your ultimate goal when responding to customer complaints is to make it right, even if you don’t feel wrong was done.

Above all, even when dealing with aggressive customers, it’s essential to maintain a polite, professional tone. Be apologetic. Be informative. Facilitate a solution. Even if you fail, customers who read the review will see that you tried, and that’s a testament to your organization’s customer service.

Step 3: Have a Third Party Review Your Response

It can help to have a neutral third party review your response before submission for tone, grammar, and professionalism. Simple typos can reflect poorly on your company, but an overly robotic or “canned-response” can be just as harmful.

It’s easy when you’re trying to separate your emotional response to lose that authentic, human sound that tells customers the problem was addressed individually, and your company truly cared to make it right. It’s not enough to just respond so there’s a response, and an outside opinion can be a great way to gauge the effectiveness of your reply.

Likewise, keep in mind this should also happen rather quickly. A prompt response is vital to mitigating the negative impact of bad reviews.

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Get a second chance with unhappy customers

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Request Malice Reviews to Be Removed

All that being said, not all reviews are genuine, fake reviews happen just as frequently as the real deal. A malice review is one made with the sole intent of harming your business rather than providing feedback.

A competitor, disgruntled ex-employee, an enemy of an employee, or a less-than-honorable consumer trying to get free services or products may leave a malice review. Regardless of why, in that instance, it's a good idea to attempt to get the review removed. Some online review forums, such as in the case of negative Google Reviews, allow you to flag reviews for removal.

This should be done in cases such as reviews that contain:

  • Personal information of employees beyond, say, a first name
  • Inappropriate or offensive content such as racial slurs, sexual comments, etc.
  • Harassment or threats.
  • Spam or links to outside sources (ex/posted multiple times from different accounts)
  • A conflict of interest.

Attempts at removal should not be used simply to try to remove reviews you don’t feel are accurate. Even if you request a review removal, you should also still respond. This is because the review may not be removed or may not be removed in a timely manner. In the meantime, it still has the potential to do damage without a proper response.

On the note of personal information, if a proper response to a review would require customer details, be sure to make that response in private. However, a quick note on the review itself, something along the lines of, “in order to resolve your issue we need to share some personal details with you, we’ll be in touch via X, and hope to hear back from you soon!” This lets those who may read your reviews see that you responded without posing an ethical or legal issue by sharing sensitive information publicly.

Some of the Best Practices for Handling Negative Reviews

In summary, here are the best practices for managing negative reviews at a glance:

  • Calm down before you make a response but respond in a timely manner.
  • Gather all the necessary information on the complaint.
  • Avoid making excuses or shifting blame.
  • Be empathic, apologetic, and polite.
  • Be authentic, and avoid canned responses/common phrasing.
  • Offer solutions, not just condolences.
  • Be sure your response is free of errors and professional.
  • Keep your response brief, but complete.
  • Take personal information to a private conversation, but publicly inform the reviewer you’ll do so.
  • Have a third-party review your response.
  • Evaluate the review for authenticity and request removal if necessary.
  • Keep watch for any follow-up responses.
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Page Cherry
Page Cherry is co owner and Social Media Manager of Visibly Connected. She is active in our community and loves to network with other business owners.
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