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Word of Mouth Woes: 3 Tips for Handling Negative Online Reviews

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Stephanie Davis

How often have you heard that word of mouth is crucial to the success of a business, particularly a small business? Living in a world where you carry the internet in your pocket has greatly expanded what word of mouth means and how quickly it can spread—it’s no longer restricted to friends, relatives, neighbors, and colleagues. 

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We will be exploring reviews in a 2-part series, with this first installment focused on what to do with negative feedback.

If a consumer has a less than stellar experience, they are quick to post about it on their social media profiles and they may even take it a step farther by writing a negative review about the company. As a small business owner, how are you supposed to get ahead of this and tackle those negative reviews?

Understanding Review Culture

Today there are many ways across an ever-growing list of channels and platforms for consumers to leave feedback on a business. Common platforms for online reviews include Facebook, Google, and Yelp. However, the feedback across these different platforms can greatly vary.

Some review platforms seem to collect more negative reviews than others, Yelp coming immediately to mind. It’s believed that part of the reason for this is the anonymity provided by some review sites. As you’re likely aware, in today’s digital world, people feel safer complaining online than in person and are often harsher than they would be in person because they are, for all intents and purposes, anonymous. For a small business, negative Yelp reviews can really hurt.

Sometimes negative reviews are not entirely accurate. In one example of skewed review behavior, a restaurant manager shared her experience with reviews saying she would constantly field negative reviews and the blame fell on her in the restaurant because of those reviews. In one case, she noticed an unhappy guest, offered to help her and get her a new meal, the guest said everything was fine, but hours later posted a lengthy negative review saying nobody offered to fix her negative experience. The manager’s leaders were upset and didn’t understand why the manager didn’t step in, even though she actually had. Anonymity also allows competitors to place fake reviews on your business profile, which can be hard to prove and respond to.

How to Handle Reviews

The best thing you can do for any review, positive or negative, is to respond. But how you respond is equally important.

You want to thank the customers who do leave you a positive review and turn them into return and perhaps even lifelong customers. Perhaps you have a standard message like “Thank you for the feedback! We are glad to hear you enjoyed your experience with our business. We look forward to seeing you soon.”

Negative reviews can be a bit harder to approach. In these cases, you want to take the conversation offline to address their feedback and/or concerns one to one. You will also want to leave a standard response so that readers know you are open to even negative feedback and that the customer experience is important to you. Perhaps something like “Thank you for your feedback. We are sorry to hear our service didn’t meet the mark on your visit and have reached out to hear more about your experience and see how we might make it up to you.”

Take it as a Learning Experience

Another way reviews can be helpful for your business is that they provide valuable feedback on how you’re doing. You can usually bucket reviews, positive and negative, into broader themes and categories. For example, if negative reviews are always complaining about long wait times, you could think about hiring some new people to cut down on that issue. Flip side, if one aspect of your business is always getting positive reviews, like customer service or a particular dish on your menu, take that into consideration and make sure those positive aspects don’t slip.

Bottom Line

Reviews are a double-edged sword. You should neither let positive reviews make you complacent nor get too discouraged by negative reviews. It is easy to think that reviews can make or break your business, but consider them a constant feedback loop to health-check your business and seek out areas for improvement.

In part 2, we will focus on ways to increase your word-of-mouth presence and how to encourage customers to share their positive experiences.

How do you handle negative reviews of your small business? Tweet us @SurePayroll to share. 

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