The Do’s and Don’ts of Handling Bad Online Reviews

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Handling Bad Online Reviews

You know that pain. You put everything you have into your business, spend countless hours to put out the best product with the best service and open your doors and people love you and then one day some bozo on the internet goes on your company’s Yelp! page and says “1 star. This place was terrible.”

And, you don’t even know why. But, your stomach just sank.

Sadly, you can’t really control what people say about you on the internet. Some may have never even been to your business, or some may just be irrational, crazy people. Or, maybe they’re right. No matter the case, the importance of online review sites can’t be ignored by small businesses. It’s the 21st century’s version of word or mouth, and an excess of bad customer reviews can sink your business no matter how hard you work.

So, how do you handle the haters? And, how do you make sure you don’t go online and make your business look even worse? Here’s some quick Do’s and Don’ts to handling bad online reviews.

DO

Monitor sites regularly – Not just Yelp!, but Google+, Yellow Pages, TripAdvisor, or any local equivalent. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but it’s an invaluable tool to improving your business.

DON’T

Ignore them because you think they’re “corrupt” or “full of stupid people.” – They very well may be, but that doesn’t change the fact that people rely on those reviews to decide whether or not to give you business.

DO

Respond diplomatically – Even if a customer personally calls you a “Big Fat Stupid Head,” the best way to respond is something along the lines of “Thank you for your feedback. We’re sorry that you got the impression we are big fat stupid heads, and would like a chance to fix that…..”

DON’T

Get into an argument – Because saying “No YOU’RE a Big Fat Stupid Head,” just proves the bad reviewer right, and pretty much makes you look like a 3rd grader. Being professional and diplomatic will, if nothing else, show the public who the big fat stupid head really is.

DO

Ask for ways you can improve – Look at the bad review as a chance to fix a shortcoming you didn’t know you had. It’ll also give the public the feeling that they have a say in how your business runs.

DON’T

Tell them to go elsewhere – “If you don’t like how we do things, you can just leave” is only an effective response on people under 10.

DO

Explain what you are doing to remedy the situation – If a bad reviewer is specific enough to state things your business did wrong – like slow service, shoddy repair work or bad food – explain to them that you’re reviewing your ordering process, instituting new QC procedures or having your chef come up with some new recipes. It’ll show the public that whatever the reviewer complained about won’t be an issue in the future.

DON’T

Go on forever about it – Keep your responses short and to the point. If you’re changing something, just say it’s changing. No need to go into that much detail as rarely will anyone read that much.

DO

Solicit positive reviews – 99 percent of the time you can’t undo a negative review. But if it’s surrounded by dozens of good ones, it won’t sting so hard. Ask customers who enjoyed their experience to leave good reviews, you can even offer small discounts much like you would for “liking” a Facebook page.

DON’T

Pay for good reviews – Discounts are one thing. Hiring people to write reviews is another. Yelp! will actually publicly shame you if you are caught doing this, not to mention it’s the kind of dishonesty you don’t want your business associated with.

DO

Correct inaccurate information – Most reviews are inherently subjective, and you can’t correct an opinion. But if someone accuses you of charging $50 for a bottle of wine that’s $35 on your menu, make sure that information is corrected publicly.

DON’T

Tell people they’re wrong – As we said above, make sure it’s diplomatic. Saying “Do your homework before you start talking trash online” will make you look bad. Avoid using the word “you” at all, and just say “The bottle indicated in the review is actually priced at $35.” Keeping it impersonal prevents a comment war.

DO

Take conversations offline when necessary – The Internet doesn’t need to know every back and forth you have with a reviewer. After the initial issue has been publicly addressed, take detailed conversations to a private message, especially when giving out personal contact info.

DON’T

Respond only via private message – At least one public response must be made so readers don’t think you’re ignoring the problem. When you get to the point you want to take the conversation offline, publicly state “I’m sending you a private message to address this issue.”

DO

Flag false reviews – Yelp! and other review sites have specific terms of use that if violated can result in a post being taken down. This is about the only situation where they will take down a bad review, so take advantage of it if you feel a post is in violation.

DON’T

Insist every bad review is false – Those terms don’t include “saying mean things.” It’s the internet, and people can say what they want even if you don’t think it’s true. If you go flagging every bad review, you’re going to make a lot of people even angrier.

DO

Claim your business page – See that tab on the page that says “Is this your business?” Click on that. It’s the only way you can moderate and control your business’ voice on that reviewing site.

DON’T

Start writing good reviews yourself – Responding is fine. Sticking up for your business when necessary is great. Starting 15 Yelp! accounts to boost your good reviews? That’s just unethical.

DO

Make it clear you read the entire comment - Be brief, but be sure to make it clear you listened. Just like with active listening, starting out with “I understand you had an issue with the large amount of cheese on your burger, and that you think it drowned out the meat…..” Paraphrasing is always good.

DON’T

Send a response that looks or actually is automated – It may be tempting as a time saver to just have a cut and pasted “We’re sorry you didn’t enjoy your experience but please be assured we are doing everything we can to fix the problem” response. That makes you look even more apathetic than not responding at all.

DO

Respond quickly – Within two weeks is the generally-accepted timeframe.

DON’T

Take a month to reply – Your average online reader might not know the 28-hour-a-day schedule of a small business owner. So taking a month to address a bad review just makes it look like you don’t care. If time is an issue, delegate the monitoring and responding duties to someone you trust.


Matt Meltzer

Matt Meltzer is a professor of business communication at the University of Miami. He is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps and holds a bachelors degree in business administration from UM, as well as a Masters of Mass Communication from the University of Florida.

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