When Customers Call Your Baby Ugly: Handling Negative Online Reviews

When Customers Call Your Baby Ugly: Handling Negative Online Reviews
Image credit: Yelp
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You worked hard to build a company you are proud of. You take care of customers and clients with efficiency and attention to their needs. Yet, when you check your online reviews, your customers complain about unmet expectations, disappointing service or lackluster customer care. Those negative comments on online review sites feel like a gut kick -- as if your customers have just called your baby ugly.

Related: Yelp Shares are Tanking and a Kickstarter Project Could Be the Reason

Here are three things you need to know about reviews in order to respond intelligently.

1. Customers have expectations.

Even before customers cross your business' threshold, they will have formed expectations about the experience they believe they will have. They have seen your website, flyer, coupon or reviews online; they have spoken to your other customers and perhaps even to employees; or maybe they've just driven by your business on their way to work. From those interactions they have formed a perception of who you are, what you value and what you offer. This is called branding and it sets the emotional expectation of an experience they will have with your business.

Back before the internet, customers who had a great experience with a business would tell a neighbor over the backyard fence. Friends shared restaurant suggestions, passed along the name of a favorite CPA and even recommended that others stay away from a particular plumber with whom they had had a bad experience. Today, in contrast, customers are handed a megaphone -- in the form of review sites -- where they can share that same referral, compliment or criticism, not with one friend at a time but with thousands of people they have never met but who take their feedback as gospel.

Online reviewers build trust with audiences when they share real testimony and post details about their experiences. Nielsen’s 2012 Global Trust in Advertising Report shares that, of the 28,000 Internet respondents surveyed, “Online consumer reviews are the second most trusted source of brand information and messaging,” having more influence than traditional forms of advertising. The online review space has significant impact on business, whether we like it or not.

2. Why customers write reviews

In my experience as a reputation-management specialist, I find that online reviewers post reviews for one of five reasons: 1. To share the good news of a wonderful experience with other consumers they believe will be delighted to have the insight; 2. To attach positively to a business many others find favorable; 3. To vent frustration or anger they feel was not resolved in the business; or 4. To save fellow consumers from a negative experience they endured. The last group of reviewers often feel a social duty to warn others, so they “don’t have to go through what I went through.” And No. 5 works: Descriptive negative reviews will certainly turn off many customers.

Related: How to Get Online Customers to Find You and Trust You

3. How to handle negative reviews

While negative online reviews feel personal and hurtful, there is often valuable feedback to be gained. First, remove the need to defend or combat the review. Someone took the time to offer you input, and lessons can be learned, even if their method of delivery method has been less than ideal.

Second, consider whether your critic(s) is/are offering insight that is truthful and could be impacting the experience of other customers as well. Is the reviewer complaining that your salon is dirty? That’s remedied with a broom and some bleach. Are your reviews indicating unresponsive or rude customer-service representatives? A change of staff or serious training is warranted. Are online reviewers posting that your business practices are questionable? Maybe you need to set clear expectations with new customers in advance of delivering services.

It’s important, however, that you not engage in public battles with customers online. While it is natural and tempting to want to defend your position, online reviewers can be skeptical and defensive of their own kind. A back and forth argument between a restaurant and its customers, who are passionately asserting their position, is not a pretty sight. Instead, encourage customers to contact you offline, so you can resolve the issue to their satisfaction. You may be pleased with the results.

And you'll be showing other viewers of the complaint that you care and are trying to rectify the issue.

Related: How to Spin a Bad Online Review