From restaurants to plumbers to corner retail stores, local small companies can see a nice increase in business if they receive positive recommendations on popular user-review sites like Yelp. But what happens when a business gets a negative review? Or several? Bad user reviews are like a smudge on a business's reputation, showing up when potential customers search online.
Yelp relies on an algorithm that determines which reviews will be displayed on a business's page on the site. Even when a review is flagged by Yelp's software, it's simply moved to a "filtered" section on the business's page where readers can still view it. The problem is, a number of legitimate reviews wind up in this filtered section, and negative reviews that business owners think have been deleted actually have only been relocated here.
While it's unlikely any automated review process will be perfect, business owners should know what options they have for dealing with not-so-nice comments. We interviewed Darnell Holloway, Yelp's manager of local business outreach, who offered these three steps for handling negative user reviews on the site:
1. Keep your cool: When deciding how to handle a review, avoid a virtual screaming match, even if a review is completely wrong or even just off base. "When deciding how to handle the review, we suggest thinking about what your customer service policies are for face-to-face interactions and applying that same logic to your written response," Holloway says.
If you find yourself too emotional to calmly address online reviews, Holloway suggests appointing an office manager or another employee you trust to manage them. If you think a review violates Yelp's terms of service you can flag it for evaluation by Yelp's user support team.
2. Respond diplomatically: When you do respond to an online review -- negative or positive -- be civil and professional, and make sure to offer a solution when appropriate. Using Yelp's free review response tools, businesses can respond publicly or privately. A private message is similar to sending a personal email directly to the reviewer. A public comment posts directly under a user's review and is visible to any Yelp user.
"[Responding publicly] is a great route to take when you want to shed more light on a situation, or demonstrate that some action has been taken to address the reviewer's feedback," Holloway says.
3. Be consistent: Actively reading and responding to user reviews can accomplish at least two important things. First, it can provide insight into how your product or service resonates with customers, as well as ideas for how you can do better. Second, it can show users that you care and are engaged.
"You won't hear back from every person you reach out to, and that's OK," Holloway says. "If you regularly implement feedback from your reviews, and engage diplomatically with your customers, you will be in a much better position over the long term."