How to Get Positive Results from a Negative Review

by | Sep 7, 2012

Negative Review, Positive Review, What do you do with a negative review?

Let’s face it, no one likes to be criticized, especially in public. If you’re a small business owner you feel a biting sting when a negative review pops up on social media or online search sites like TripAdvisor or Yelp. After all, that’s your pride and joy – your baby – they’re berating. But strive as you might to be perfect in every way you are bound to fall from that lofty perch a time or two. It’s how you handle that criticism that really counts. So what do you do with a negative review?

Respond Don’t React

If you receive a scathing review it is important that you Respond to the review rather than React to it. Give yourself time to process the content instead of acting on your visceral gut reaction. Demeaning, undermining or ridiculing your customer is never a good solution. Negative reviews can grow legs. And that kind of reaction will run all over your reputation. Respond by considering the content of the review. Start by dissecting the review with these questions.

  • What specific issues were raised?
  • How did they make the customer feel?
  • What did you or your company do in response at the time?

Remember, the negative review is the result of an experience at your business or with your product. Ideally, you want every experience to be the best. When you receive a bad grade you’re failing to accomplish one thing: making that one customer happy. If you can resolve this issue, improve the way the customer feels about it, or address it so it doesn’t happen again, you are truly Responding to the review. Online search sites like Yelp allow businesses to respond directly to their reviewers. They suggest you keep the following things in mind:

  • Your reviewers are your customers;
  • Your reviewers are human beings with feelings and sensitivities;
  • You reviewers are vocal and opinionated, otherwise they wouldn’t be writing reviews.

Experts recommend you contact the reviewer privately first to discuss their issues and see if things can be remedied. In some cases this can lead to unearthing the root of a problem that might actually need addressing. An unfriendly employee, inaccurate signage, a faulty product or bad customer service may be the real source of the complaint. In this case your reviewer could be an insightful third party.

Seek Their Suggestions

Sometimes it takes an outside perspective to bring problems to light. Knowing your product inside and out you may forget that it’s new to someone else. They may see holes in your logic that you never noticed. And unfortunately they want to be the first to point them out to the masses. If these critics are so bold as to call you on your mistakes, perhaps they have a solution to offer as well. It never hurts to ask. For those who just want to complain, they may be forced to realize you have thought this through. And perhaps they were indeed…wrong. If it feels a little like, “Thank you sir may I please have another,” you’re right. But taking your lumps, and swallowing your pride, is all a part of business. So put you big girl panties on, bite your tongue and listen first. There are also times when the reviewer is just plain wrong. When an online review gives readers a false impression of your product or services there are times when a response in the form of a public rebuttal is necessary. For instance, claims regarding the safety and security of your customers should be addressed publicly. And remember, you are addressing past, present and future customers. Use this opportunity to clarify the issue at hand, accept any responsibility you or your business had in the misunderstanding, and show what you have done to rectify the situation. Here’s an example: While hunting through listings on TripAdvisor for resorts in the Caribbean I stumbled upon a very alarming review claiming this particular resort had bedbugs. There was little description on the part of the reviewer, just a screaming headline that would make any tourist leery to book a room at that resort. That’s a deal breaker for most travelers. What I found encouraging was the response from the management of the hotel. Here’s what they did right:

  • They responded immediately and addressed what they felt was an untrue statement about their establishment;
  • Despite the negative tone of the review the response was serious but not critical of the reviewer;
  • They discussed their process for responding to such claims which included a significant amount of work on the part of their cleaning staff to search the room in question, as well as the rest of the resort. Acknowledging how seriously they take these accusations and illustrating how they are handled made me feel better as a potential customer.

After reading their response, as well as searching through other reviews looking for any similar claims, I felt that the review was probably written by a disgruntled crab apple and not likely true. However, if management hadn’t responded, or if they had attempted to delete the review, I would have been hesitant to book a stay at that resort.

Accentuate the Positive

One voice spewing bile can be drown out by a cheering crowd. We all know the negative Nellies out there have no trouble expressing themselves. And they certainly don’t lack motivation. Which means they are the first to run to a review site and start airing their grievances. That’s why you have to send your own band of supporters to tip the scales back in your favor. Most of you with small businesses hear on a daily basis from your customers about how much they love your product, were happy with your service and will tell their friends how great you are. Now it’s time to say, “Prove it.”

  • Ask your customers to review your product or service online
  • Share the positive emails, notes and comments you receive from guests as posts on your social media pages
  • Find a way to collect testimonials that can be included on your website, in email newsletters so customers and potential customers see what kind of reaction the public has to your business

If you’re having trouble collecting testimonials consider offering an incentive for anyone who provides a review. Here’s a suggestion. Host a weekly drawing from all reviewers who post a comment on social media or review sites and offer them a coupon or free service. To be fair encourage all feedback, positive or negative, and draw often to encourage repeat entries. Reviews are a learning opportunity for you and your customers. How you respond to negative reviews says a lot about your personality and how you want to run your business. Did you react in anger and frustration? Or did you respond with class, patience and an open mind? If the source of the problem is addressed you may have found the secret to turning a negative review into a positive experience. And perhaps you’ll earn those 5 stars after all.

1 Comment

  1. all good points. and sometimes your other clients will stand up for you in the comments, too

About the Author

Brandy Wheeler

Brandy Wheeler is the Creative Director and right-brained partner at Visitors Media. She’s a pysanky-making figure skater with a knack for finding Petoskey stones at the beach. Armed with an Albion College degree in visual art and 25 years of experience in graphic design and marketing she loves to share her expertise in writing. You can also find her on-camera as the founder and voice of the Traverse Traveler brand.

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