Updated March 20, 2018
Nobody is perfect. You’re only human!
As a local small business owner, procuring online reviews is a vital part of doing business in the digital age. However, despite your best intentions, as a human being, you will make mistakes. It happens. We all do. So while you may get it right 90% – 95% of the time, the few times you don’t meet your customer’s expectations can earn you a bad review. Now what? In this article, we will explore the best practices on how to respond to online reviews. Be they good, bad or downright ugly!
Why respond to online reviews at all?
You may be thinking to yourself “What purpose does it serve to respond to my online reviews. What’s the point?” If it’s a positive review, it doesn’t get any better. If it’s a negative review, responding will only make things worse!
This attitude is not only foolish and naive, but it is preventing you from taking advantage of a great opportunity.
You should respond to every review as soon as possible. Why?
This is because every review is an opportunity to promote your business in a positive light – yes even the bad and ugly ones!
Furthermore, as we referenced previously, BrightLocal’s Local Consumer Review Survey found that 20% of respondents factored in the business’ responses to their reviews when selecting a business. Don’t ever let an opportunity to showcase your business positively go by!
You met or exceeded your customer’s expectations garnering a positive review. Hooray! Now’s your chance to make a great situation even better and respond!
– It’s the proper thing to do: In your day to day interactions with people and customers, you’d say thank you for a compliment. Online should be no different. A customer took the time to give you a compliment, the least you can do is acknowledge and thank them for it.
– Others will read it too: Remember, it’s not just to the customer who left the review that you are responding. Its potential future customers as well. Responding to your good reviews is an opportunity to subtly slip in some marketing as well.
– It can boost your search ranking: By incorporating the right elements in your review, there’s an increased chance that this review will actually show up in a SERP (search engine result page), which is always a good thing!
How do you do respond to online reviews properly? Remember these four steps.
Step 1: Thank the customer.
Thank the customer for the review and address your comments directly to their points and personally. [Example: Thanks for taking the time to leave us a review, Melissa! We’re so glad you think our receptionists Megan and Tiffany are so great. We do too!]
Step 2: Boost your SEO.
Incorporate your business name, keywords, and location to boost your SEO potential and rankings. [ Example: All of us here at The Healthy Smile Dental Center strive to make every dental implant procedure the very best implant experience in Lake County. We are so pleased it came through!]
Step 3: Add some marketing.
Include a bit of marketing. Remember that others will be reading this so it’s an opportunity to further promote this or other aspects of your business as well. [Example: Dr. Gross’ ‘gentle dental touch’ is legendary for a good reason!]
Step 4: Urge further action.
Encourage the customer to take action. Ask them to spread the word, bring a friend or try another product the next time they come by. [Example: Your recommendation is appreciated. So please tell your family & friends, and spread the good word!]
For the most part, the people who leave reviews don’t usually leave negative comments. However, due to the lack of people who actually leave a review (only 6% leave reviews – Modern Comment Case Study), a negative review can have a disproportionate amount of impact on your online reputation. That said, it’s important to respond to the disgruntled customer properly.
Understand that generally, people leaving a negative review are not being spiteful or mean. They have a legitimate grievance and are looking for a meaningful response.
Just ignoring an unpleasant review will only make things worse! Anyone, including potential customers, will be reading this. You need to demonstrate professionalism and conscientiousness. It’s an opportunity to acknowledge and validate the customer’s concerns and demonstrate a willingness to make things right. It can actually turn a negative into a positive.
How do you do respond properly? Remember these four steps.
Step 1: Apologize and empathize.
Acknowledge the customer’s concerns. Even if they are unfounded, show sympathy for their bad experience. “I’m sorry to hear about your bad experience.”
Step 2: Include a little marketing.
Explain what your customers usually experience. “We’re normally known for our exceptional service, and we regret that we didn’t live up to yours or our expectations”.
Whatever you do, you don’t want to include your business name or relevant keywords. The last thing you want is for negative reviews to show up in search results.
Step 3: Move the conversation offline.
Supply contact information with someone at the business so they can discuss the problem in person. “My name is [name] and I am the [Manager/Owner]. I am eager to make this right. If you’d like to discuss this further, please contact me at [phone number/email].”
You don’t want to be airing your dirty laundry in public.
Step 4: Keep it short and sweet.
Avoid going into too much detail or ask any questions. This will help you avoid saying something that might cause the customer to add even more negative feedback by replying to the review. There is nothing worse than arguing back and forth with a customer online for all the world to see. Even if you are right, it’s a bad look. Keeping your whole reply to three or four sentences is a good rule of thumb.
By doing this you give yourself an opportunity to right the wrong. Play your cards right and it may even result in a retraction or positive review update!
& The Ugly
As much as we’d like to avoid it, every once in a while you will come face to face with the ugly side of the internet. As a small business owner, this can have dire consequences. It’s bad enough having to deal with a legitimate bad review. Dealing with malicious, vindictive or outright fake reviews is even worse. These frustrating situations are compounded by the fact that they are not deserved and can be very damaging to your reputation.
The first thing you should determine is the nature of the review. Often times a malicious, vindictive, or fake review will manifest itself from one of many types of sources.
– The Internet Troll: An Internet troll is someone online who deliberately tries to disrupt, offend, or generally cause trouble by posting certain comments, photos, videos, GIFs, or some other form of online content. In the case of a reviewer, they are just looking to get under your skin – often not realizing the negative impact they may have.
– The extortionist: Some people use their review influence & blow things out of proportion to coerce business owners to give them free goods or services. This has been known to occur between ‘Yelpers’ and restauranteurs knowing that a negative review from an established Yelper holds a lot more weight and influence. If the business owner capitulates, they agree to remove their critical review.
– The malicious saboteur: Usually coming from your competition, the malicious saboteur is deliberately trying to undermine your reputation and damage your business. It is underhanded, petty, and pathetic. Unable to compete on an even playing field, they resort to these desperate measures to drive business away from you.
– The revenge seeker: Running a small business is not always pretty, and sometimes employees get fired and relationships dissolve. A disgruntled former employee or business associate may try to get back at you by posting fake negative reviews and attempting a smear campaign.
In all of these and other instances of fake reviews, receiving a bad review that your company did nothing to earn it is both awful and shocking. You may feel outraged and incensed – and rightfully so! But don’t lose your temper: you’ll need a level head to deal with this situation.
How do you do respond properly? Remember these four steps.
Step 1 – Monitor for fake reviews:
You can’t fight the fake reviews you don’t know exist. At the very least, set up ‘Google Alerts’ for your company name, and regularly check in with review sites where you have a presence to make sure that you’re staying on top of every new review. Signing up with a review monitoring service is the simplest most comprehensive & effective way to know what’s being said about you online.
Step 2 – Attempt removal first:
The best way to fight fake reviews is to work with the reviewer or the review sites to get them taken down. This isn’t always possible, but many review websites have policies that will allow you to remove fake reviews, provided you have sufficient evidence to back up your claim. Collect the evidence and make your case!
(Google has guidelines on how to flag and fix inappropriate reviews here. For Yelp related issues, Review Push has a helpful blog post – What Kind of Reviews Can Be Removed From Yelp. Check out their useful SlideShare infographic below at the end of the post!)
In addition, very often, fake reviewers will violate the terms of service. If so, flag it and you can get the review removed that way. Flagging any suspected fake review is a good idea even if no explicit terms of service were violated because hey – you never know!
Dealing with Fake Competitor Reviews
If you believe the fake review is from a competitor, it should always be dealt with swiftly, thoroughly, and carefully. If you have real evidence, contact the Better Business Bureau to let them know of your competitor’s nefarious actions. Get in contact with the local Chamber of Commerce, or any regulatory authorities applicable to your industry.
Next, contact and confront the business owner directly to inform them you know of their illegal actions and will not sit idly by as they attempt to damage your reputation — but be careful not to start a quarrel. Simply state that you’re fully aware of what’s happening and explain you are pursuing all available legal channels. Include a polite request and suggestion that they stop the practice immediately. This should get the fake review removed. If the problem persists, it may be a good idea to consult a lawyer to discuss legal action.
Remember, the most effective method for preserving your online reputation is to minimize your negative reviews as much as possible. So removal should always be your first option.
Step 3- Respond to the review:
If removal is not an option, don’t simply let the fake review sit there — defend your business!
Avoid being argumentative or antagonistic with the reviewer, as this only reflects poorly on you. Dispassionately point out, as a matter of fact, that you have no record of engaging with the reviewer and encourage them to contact you directly to resolve whatever troubling situation they have. Furthermore, simply calling the review into question will make any fake review seem less trustworthy.
Example: “We take these incidents very seriously. Nevertheless, we have no record or recollection of any customer experience fitting your story and description, nor can we verify anything about your identity from your Google+ account, which appears to have just been created for the purpose of disparaging our firm.”
***Pro Tip!*** While responding immediately is typically the best approach, Yelp’s filters will often remove negative or fake reviews on their own. However, they will not do so if a response is entered. Wait 10 days before responding!
Step 4 – Drown out the negative with the positive:
You may attempt to have them removed, respond to them, and even contact malicious reviewers directly, but, after all is said and done, there may be some fake reviews that just won’t go away. Even after exhausting every possible defense against them, fake reviews may linger and damage your reputation, but you don’t have to let them ruin you.
Ultimately, the best defense against fake reviews is to simply drown them out with positive real ones. Target the particular review site with the fake review and drive positive reviews there to overwhelm the negative one. Your customers will be able to see the bigger picture when the majority of your recent reviews are positive. Remember, this is only possible when you make customer service the company focus not a department.
Hopefully, we have provided you with enough tips and best practices on how to properly respond to online reviews – be they good, bad, or ugly! If you’d like more information on any of the services or solutions mentioned in this article or have some tips and tricks of your own that you’d like to share, please reach out and contact me anytime!