These days, online reviews can make or break your business. Though most sites require user registration and a real name, reviews can still feel like the lawless Wild West of the web. Great reviews can give your business a major boost — new customers don’t have to take your word about how great your business is, they’re seeing a testimonial from a Regular Joe just like themselves. On the other hand though, that also means negative reviews can really hurt you when it comes to getting new customers. With so many people searching for local businesses on the web and through apps (like the Yelp app), your reviews might be the first thing a potential customer sees. Not your website, not your storefront, but content over which you have little control. What’s the best way to wrangle those bad reviews, and show off your business’s best side online?
Determine If the Review is Real
It’s not especially common, but fraudulent reviews do happen. Though review sites have rules set up to avoid this, it’s not unheard of for an unscrupulous business to try to use negative reviews to take down a competitor. If you have no record of this customer ever having done business with you, you can ignore it or attempt to have it removed (more on that in a minute). If it is a legitimate review though, you’re going to have to deal with it — no response can imply that your business doesn’t care if a customer has a negative experience.
Flag It or Remove It — If You Can
If a review violates the terms of service of the review website or uses objectionable or obscene language, you should be able to flag the review and possibly get it removed. That said, this is much easier said than done — each review site has its own process, and the onus is on the business owner to provide proof that a review is fraudulent or inappropriate. You can also generally ask for a comment to be removed if a statement is factually inaccurate (it can’t just be something you disagree with, it has to be something that’s literally untrue).
What makes getting a review removed so tough? One, each review site has its own system for flagging and evaluating reviews. Two, the review sites’ true constituents are really the reviewers, not the businesses being reviewed. Yelp, for example, will not remove reviews except in extreme circumstances (for example, if you could prove that a negative review was left by a competitor). Google My Business has improved its system for flagging reviews — you can add a comment explaining why the review is problematic — but in general, Google does not want to be involved in arbitrating disputes. With any of the review sites, even if you are able to get in touch with an actual human being (and not just an online form or automated email response), chances are the review will stay up. So what’s next?
Respond the Right Way
Responding to a negative review feels daunting, and it can be a bit of a minefield. After all, your business is your baby — it’s easy to become emotional. You need to keep your response as professional as possible, so a good rule of thumb is to give yourself a 24-hour “cooling off” period before you reply. A quick response in the heat of the moment will live on the web forever, so you’d be taking a negative review and making it worse.
On many sites, you have the option of responding publicly or in a direct message to the reviewer. Though you can use the message option to keep matters private, in many cases it’s preferable to publicly respond — that way, potential customers can see you being proactive. If the reviewer received poor service or is unhappy with a product, is there a way you can fix it? If the reviewer has made a statement that is factually inaccurate, can you politely note the facts? Keep it professional above all else — if you publicly address a reviewer in a passive-aggressive, sarcastic, or belittling tone, other site users are likely to pile on. Don’t let one negative review turn into a PR nightmare!
Another option, if you know the customer or client, is to respond off the site either with an email or a phone call. The customer may want to vent a bit, but you can also ask questions and offer solutions. Online reviews do stay online forever, but they aren’t set in stone — on most sites, reviewers can go back and revise their previous review. It’s possible that negative reviews can help you spot shortcomings in the way your business works, helping you in the end to grow stronger.
Get More Good Reviews
Another way to eliminate the negative — accentuate the positive! Remember that every customer or client that you encounter is a potential reviewer. If your business has a large number of negative reviews, you need to take a proactive approach to gathering new reviews. You likely also need to take an honest look at your operations and customer service. One idea: Instead of waiting to see what customers might say online, follow up with a quick phone call to get feedback. Taking that time can help you better understand your customers and gives you the chance to rectify any issues before the customer vents about them online. Again, be professional: Acknowledge that a mistake was made, ask how you can resolve the situation, and don’t get emotional.
This kind of approach can help you head off bad reviews before they even happen. Similarly, if you have a consistent, professional online response to negative reviews, potential customers can see that you care about your customers and you’re engaged — it can actually turn those negatives into a positive. It’s also important to get clients that you know love you to give you reviews. While people tend to gripe instantly about bad service, they don’t always necessarily take the time to write about a positive experience. One tactic is to give customers a handout with a quick overview of how they can leave you feedback on different review sites. That little bit of encouragement can go a long way toward boosting your reviews.
Don’t Try to Fake It
Beware companies offering to provide you with positive reviews for money. It might be difficult to get review sites to remove reviews you dislike, but the sites are proactive about removing reviews that they believe are not legitimate. For example, on Yelp “filtered” reviews show up beneath real ones — these are reviews that Yelp software found suspect. Though sometimes real reviews will wind up here, often they’re reviews from bots or paid-review services. Even more reason not to fall for paid-review services: Yelp will actually publicly shame you. A La Mesa business had a “consumer alert” added to its profile that says “We caught someone red-handed trying to buy reviews for this business.” If you think a customer leaving you a negative review is bad for business, try getting one from the review site itself!
Another poor tactic: Creating multiple accounts for “customers” to give your business good reviews. Again, you’re likely to get caught, and the blow this will give to your business’s reputation is not worth it. The best way to counter negative reviews is to deal with them. If one customer disliked something enough to complain about it online, there are likely more who feel the same way. Fixing the issue, or taking the time to explain it, will improve your reputation not just for the complainer, but for all of your customers.
Stay on Top of Reviews
That said, you can’t please everybody all the time. Some people are born complainers, and especially if you’ve got a high volume of customers, it can be difficult to ensure that every single person is happy. Search alerts can help you deal with that one unhappy customer before it becomes a big issue. A Google Alert, for example, will send an automated email anytime your business is mentioned online, whether it’s on a social site, a review site, a blog, or elsewhere. That way, you can quickly deal with a negative review or a customer service issue, and you don’t need to waste time constantly checking review sites.
In the end, even if you’ve done everything you can to deliver exceptional service, at some point your business will receive a negative review. Dealing with the bad news proactively and professionally, however, turns it into an opportunity to improve your business not only for the reviewer, but also for future clients.
Do you need help managing your business’s social media presence, or claiming your listings on review sites? Higher Power SEO can help! Call us today at 760-881-4736.