Managing Your Online Reviews

The other night I was watching an episode of Hotel Impossible on the Travel Channel (one of my few Reality Show guilty pleasures) and host Anthony Melchiorri confronted the hotel’s Marketing Director for answering negative online reviews sarcastically.  The Marketing Director’s response was that he was trying to bring some levity to the situation and thought that a sense of humor would help.  Needless to say, Anthony was not happy.

Google, Yelp, TripAdvisor and other popular review sites started allowing business owners the ability to retort poor reviews (or acknowledge the good ones) over the past few years.  This has been both a blessing and a great Achilles’ heel for business owners.  Some business owners and CEO’s should step away from the keyboard.  Others have the constraint and wisdom to follow basic best practices when managing online reviews:

1) Don’t get bad reviews in the first place
No company is perfect.  Ultimately a day will come when a customer will be angry or disappointed enough about something you or one of your employees did to post a negative review about you online.  But if you provide quality products/services and you have a strong customer service model you should be able to mitigate bad reviews from the start.  When the inevitable happens and a displeased customer complains, listen to your customer and try to make amends.  Sometimes turning around a bad situation well can turn a displeased customer into a raving fan of your company.

2) Praise the positive reviews
When people say nice things about your company take time to reply and thank them for their business.  This encourages repeat business and also shows potential customers you are just as loyal to your customers as they are to you.

3) Check the validity of a bad review
If someone does post a bad review there are a few things you can do to check the validity of the review:

  • See how many other reviews the person has done.  If this is the only post they’ve ever done and their account is brand new, it may be reason to give you pause.  Or, it could be they were so pissed they decided to create an account just so they could express their displeasure online!
  • If they do have other reviews, do they go around bashing a bunch of other companies in your same industry?  Or do they throw around technical lingo that only an industry insider would know?  If so it could be a sign the person is a competitor.
  • If you truly feel the review is not legitimate you can flag it and request removal.  Don’t hold your breath though.  It may be even wiser to write a short  reply stating you are sorry they had a bad experience, and invite them to call you directly to discuss it so you can immediately address their concerns.

4) To reply or not to reply
Not every bad review may warrant a response.  Use your judgement:

  • Some reviews are so blatantly fake that other people reading the review can see right through it.  Sure, it hurts to have your rating reduced illegitimately, but that should motivate you to encourage your customers to do even more reviews to diminish it and push it down.
  • You may have offered an amiable solution and your dissatisfied customer didn’t feel your offer was good enough. If you know in your heart you did your best to mend the situation you may want to reply you are sorry about their dissatisfaction and mention you tried your best to make the situation better and you  are sorry they did not agree with your solution.  If the situation caused you to change internal processes to insure it doesn’t happen again, mention that too.  No need to go into any sort of detail, just keep your remarks broad and non-specific.
  • In some situations you may know exactly who wrote the review, and you may know that to respond will begin an all-out barrage of nastiness from your dissatisfied customer.  Leave sleeping dogs lie.
  • Sometimes your loyal customers will come to your rescue for you, especially if a review seems to be outlandish or fake.  This can be the most powerful retort you can get.

Reviews are playing a much heavier role in your search engine optimization as Google continues their shift toward Local Search.  Reviews are easily accessible on mobile devices when people are searching for you online.  Reviews sometimes can make or break a business.  So you should encourage your customers to review you online and be prepared to monitor and respond when appropriate to your reviews.  Be prepared for good and bad reviews alike. But remember: how you handle bad reviews can often go a long way to define your company.

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