We wandered across an extremely negative online review for one of our clients this week. It was completely at odds with what we had experienced working with the business and with what we had heard others say who had used their services.
So what does a small business owner do who gets such a negative review online? There’s no way to delete such potentially damaging information, even if it isn’t accurate. And it doesn’t only happen to businesses that engage in social media – in fact, this particular firm has no Facebook fan page, no Twitter account, not even a blog.
The truth is that, sooner or later, someone is going to write a poor review about you. The real question is, how do you respond?
Managing your reputation online is not easy. The Internet is a vast place and there are hundreds or thousands of places where someone could comment negatively about your business. Plus, you’ll find that people who could have asked for help or resolved an issue quickly on site in your business will sometimes not say a thing, but will write a bad review later and use more vitriol than they would to your face. Here are some thoughts on how to handle the issue.
Search for your company online. Know what’s out there already. Has someone created a blog post or is there a public forum conversation about your business? Do a basic Google search to uncover any obvious issues. If you do find a bad review, even if it is an old one, find out how you can respond. Some review sites make you sign up for an account and verify that you own the business before letting you respond. If you’ve found it in Google, chances are that others will, so take the time to give your side of the story or at least apologize.
You also want to see if there are other businesses out there with the same or similar names who may be amassing bad reviews. If you think people might be confused, you need a separate strategy to deal with this issue.
Keep constant tabs on what’s said about you. There are many available tools for checking your business name and industry keywords online. Google Alerts is free – you can sign up with your chosen words and phrases. When those are found online, Google will send you an email with the link. Go to Google.com/alerts to sign up.
Some great free and inexpensive tools exist, and they’ve been discussed and reviewed in detail online. Do a search or try this recent blog post from Logo Design Consultant that covers 6 online reputation management tools a small business can use.
Check Craigslist. A local community’s Rants & Raves section on Craigslist can be a place where anonymous jerks say nasty things, and you want to make sure they’re not saying nasty things about you. If they do, respond quickly and professionally, just as you would on any other review site. Don’t waste a lot of time worrying about the bad comment, and never ever get into an online argument. Just respond with an short explanation and apology, and leave it at that.
Always reply to negative reviews. Some experts suggest that you only respond to some negative reviews – if something is clearly unreasonable, let it go. Actually, it’s probably a good idea to respond, because then it looks to those reading that review page in the future that you truly care. Remember, your goal is not to get into a fight with the reviewer. Simply say, “All of us here at XYZ Business are sorry you had a bad experience. I hope you’ll give us another try in the future.”
If there was some truly constructive criticism that you can build on, write a response that indicates you’ve found value in the review and plan to implement some changes. Keep it short, thoughtful and professional, and always end by asking the reviewer to try your services again.
Talk to your employees about how to identify negative customer experiences early. If you know a customer is going to leave unhappy, is there something you can do before he or she walks out the door? By simply acknowledging that the customer had a problem and apologizing, you may be able to prevent a bad review.
Ask your happy customers for good reviews. Reasonable people know that you can’t please everyone, all the time. If you have three positive reviews and one negative one, it’s easier for a potential customer to shrug off the bad one than if you just have a single negative comment. Stop short of giving bribes, but do ask for positive feedback.
The good news is that it is much easier than it used to be to know what others say about you. And while a bad review can sting, it is also better to have a chance to understand the issue and respond than never to know. In the past, if people didn’t like you, they’d tell their friends and neighbors and you’d never know about it, but now you have a chance to make your case and come across as a reasonable and professional small business.