It’s risky to open yourself up online. It can be even more risky to open up your small business online – to feedback, to reviews, to opinions. After all, not everyone is going to love you, and some people are going to say so.
The small business owners we work with are worried about social media because they don’t want someone to offer a critical post on Facebook or a nasty review on Yelp. But negative reviews can sometimes be a good thing. Here’s why:
Criticism gives you immediate information on what you can do to improve. Rather than be offended by the idea that someone doesn’t think you’re perfect, look for the grain of truth in what they are saying. Is your service slow? What could you do to speed it up? Did you fail to communicate a key point well? How could you improve that for the next customer or client? Criticism can help you make short-term changes for the better.
You can show that you’re committed to making things right. Don’t delete or ignore criticism; instead, demonstrate that you take input seriously. Suggest a solution and make sure you provide the commenter with a way to contact you (usually through your public business phone number or email address). Then follow through.
You can communicate with customers in a way that was not possible in the past. Maybe someone didn’t like your product or service, so they went back home and told all their friends and neighbors for the next 10 years about why your company is absolutely terrible. You’d probably never know! If that person, instead, writes a negative review online and gives you a chance to respond, you may be able to make it right. At the least, you can be aware of the problem and reach out, making most situations a little better.
You can clear up misconceptions or downright lies. A great example is a recent issue that Taco Bell had: A customer sued them for using “fake” meat. Instead of keeping that hush-hush or denying a problem, Taco Bell used the opportunity to educate their customers about their meat and how it is prepared. They ran full-page ads in newspapers, started a social media campaign and put up posters in all their restaurants explaining what is in their taco meat. The lawsuit was withdrawn and Taco Bell had a great opportunity to publicize good information about the quality of their food.
You can react to criticism in the same way – if someone unfairly criticizes the quality of your product or service, you can calmly explain the facts. Expand your response to a blog post, an article, an ad or even a video.
Too many good reviews look fake. Maybe your business never screws up; maybe you are perfect in every way; maybe you give every customer a unicorn and a rainbow before they step out the door. But we bet not. Look, we all know the world isn’t perfect. What matters more than if you are perfect is how you respond when you’re not. Your business looks more genuine and dedicated to good service if you have a few thoughtful reviews with responses where warranted than several “Wow this business is the best!!!” types of reviews. Encourage customers who do leave negative feedback and then get a resolution to their concern to post follow up comments to explain what was done to make it better.
When should you ignore or delete bad reviews? Not very often – but there are a couple situations where it is acceptable.
- If you’ve reached out once and offered a solution, but had no luck, don’t get into a dialogue with a clearly angry customer. You’re unlikely to make much difference. Simply reply with a solution and a way to privately communicate with you, then leave it.
- If the person is using profanity or other crude or offensive language and you have the ability to delete it, you might consider doing so. When possible, explain your policy of deleting such comments, or leave a note that says, “Comment removed for use of offensive language.”
Above all, stay calm and rational. If you are likely to be defensive in your replies to negative feedback, enlist an employee or friend to assist you. Write a response and let it sit for an hour or two before you post it. This will help you take the right approach to feedback of any kind.