How to deal with negative online reviews

Developing an online review management process, which will not only help in managing negative feedback for small businesses, but potential turn it into a positive for the organisation.

Negative online reviews from customers can be devastating for hard-working business owners and their staff. The key question is: How should you respond to them?

We live in a world where customers often share negative feedback about a transaction, product or online service. Indeed, it’s likely few businesses have not been subject to negative and at times, scathing online reviews.

A research study conducted by software-as-a-service (SaaS) company MOZ found that businesses risk losing 70 per cent of potential customers if four or more negative articles about the business or its products appear in Google search results.

“Negative online reviews can reduce the likelihood of a customer buying from a business, particularly if there are no positive reviews to provide balance,” says Dr Adrian R.

Camilleri, senior lecturer of marketing at the University of Technology Sydney Business School.

In today’s digital age, Camilleri says “negative reviews are particularly detrimental to businesses that do not have a strong, well-established brand reputation”. 

For new or lesser-known businesses, bad reviews lower customers’ level of trust.

“Many customers have a minimum review threshold – mostly 3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars – for making a purchase,” he says.

“If the average review score is below that number, then customers won’t buy from that business.”

Create a review management process

“Customers who have engaged with a business are entitled to voice their opinions in an honest and constructive manner – whether the feedback is positive or negative,” says White Pages executive general manager Stephen Palmer.

“However, the way a business deals with a negative review defines their brand value in the eyes of the customer who posted the review and for all the people reading the review online.”

Palmer advises businesses to develop an online review management process, which will not only help in managing negative feedback but even turn it into a potential positive for the organisation.

5 tips for dealing with negative online reviews

1. Do not delete a bad review

Palmer says the worst response to a bad review is to “lose it” online in the heat of the moment or simply delete it.

“By deleting negative reviews, a business is purposefully being dishonest and deceitful to its customers by removing their opportunity to provide honest and genuine feedback on an experience,” he explains.

The best way to extinguish the fire is by responding in a considered, professional manner.

By responding to a bad review, you are demonstrating to the customer who posted it – and others reading it – that you take feedback seriously, Palmer says.

“You show that you are the kind of organisation that provides good service, not just talks about it.”

2. Respond quickly to reviews

The online world operates 24/7 and people expect a quick response.

“It is important to deal with negative reviews promptly before they escalate and more potential customers read the review,” Camilleri advises.

Sometimes customers post bad reviews on third-party review aggregators like Google, Yelp or TripAdvisor, making it difficult for a business to be aware of them and to respond.

Palmer suggests having “a mechanism or a tool in place which notifies you when a review has been posted online”.

3. Keep it factual

He also emphasises the importance of responding objectively – especially if the customer has left a nasty review without context.

“Write up a brief, factual response and post this in response to the review,” he says. “This way, your customer can understand the real situation and see your open and honest approach to customer service.”

When dealing with customers online, Palmer suggests abiding by the adage: the customer is always right (even when they’re not).

4. Don’t ignore fake reviews

According to True Local’s 2017 Small Business Digital Reputations Report, 33 per cent of business owners have seen competitors post fake news or negative reviews about their business or service.

But how do businesses identify a fake review? “It is extremely difficult for an average person to spot a fake review, but there are some signs to look out for,” Camilleri says.

He suggests watching out for reviewers with new accounts and limited profile details.

“Fake reviews tend to be relatively short and filled with product details that can easily be looked up online by the fraudster,” he adds.

Be they authentic or fake, you still need to respond.

“People feel unfairly targeted by a negative review left by a competitor, but the same review management approach should be applied to fake reviews – acknowledge and respond in a timely manner,” Palmer says.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) offers detailed advice on handling misleading or fake reviews.

5. Learn and improve

Not every customer can have a five-star experience and acknowledging that shows the humanity of the brand, Palmer maintains.

“If a customer posts a negative review, it is important to understand what went wrong in the customer journey and offer a solution, which in turn could turn a negative review to a good one and regain the customer’s trust.”

The most important thing is to learn from negative feedback or “rectify an internal issue [and therefore] improving your business for the better,” says Palmer.

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