A 2013 survey by Zendesk found that customers are much more likely to leave a bad review on social media than they are to sing its praises. And 88 per cent of the more than 1,000 U.S. respondents said negative reviews affected their purchasing decisions.
This evidence points to a pretty jarring conclusion: Bad reviews can really hurt your bottom line.
One of the most daunting things for new business owners is getting used to hearing the plain unvarnished truth directly from their customers. Entrepreneurs may initially receive feedback from investors, family and friends but ultimately their customers (who can raise issues that are unflattering) are one group that new business owners shouldn't run away from.
Know how to deal with consumers and deal with them. Ignoring a bad review is to admit defeat and simply allow consumers to be influenced by the writeup. Business owners don't succeed by admitting defeat.
So how do you turn things around?
1. Respond to a bad review, but 'count to 10' first. Reply to negative feedback without the response coming from a defensive or angry place. That can be hard to achive because negative feedback can rile someone up, either through the wording or if the comments have little to no basis in reality.
A knee-jerk impulse is to respond in kind by telling a customer just exactly what you think of him or her. While this may be tempting, it's never a good idea. No matter how justified you may feel you are, you'll come across as petty and small.
2. Recognize the feedback as a marketing opportunity. Someone left a negative review on Yelp or Facebook. You now have an opportunity to do something positive that everyone can see. This is a marketing opportunity – directed not so much at the reviewer but at other consumers who find the review.
Use this opportunity to shine as the bigger person. People will read the bad review but if they see you've responded to it, there may withhold judgment until they read your side of things. So make it good.
3. Apologize and own the mistake. You're not going to convince someone that she actually had a good experience after she left a bad review, so don't try.
Instead spin that experience as having been an outlier (assuming it was).
Apologize that the customer's experience was bad. If the reviewer had a legitimate complaint, own the problem. Address this fact in your response and explain how you're going to fix things moving forward. Then ask the individual to return as a customer and offer a significant discount for him or her to do so.
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People reading the review will probably love to see this. Why? They see that a business owner cares about good customer service and perhaps if they, too, have a bad experience that you'll try to make it right. This gives customers what I call "spending security," the knowledge that doing business with your company will either be a good experience from the start or that you'll work hard until it is.
This eliminates the inherent risk that consumers face every day when choosing to branch out from their normal spending habits.
4. Move on. Once you have cooled off, responded with a great apology and took the requisite marketing steps, move on. If the consumer replies negatively again, fight the impulse to engage with him or her. If you're successful, that customer will be the one who come across as small and petty.
And this will diminish the credibility of the initial bad review and readers will probably automatically discount the complaint and the reviewer. Meanwhile, you will still score points by having replied and tried to make things right.
The truth is that pretty much every company will receive a bad review at some point, no matter how excellent the products or customer service. Sometimes people just aren't going to be happy. And though it might violate terms of service agreements, underhanded competitors could leave a nasty review using a fake persona.
Businesses that are nimble and willing to do the right thing after receiving constructive criticism are the ones that stand out and live on. Whether you think the review is fair, fake or completely unreasonable, when you respond well (rather than keeping silent), you'll have a fighting chance at landing the business of other customers.
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Gabriel Bristol is president and CEO of Intelicare Direct, a customer-service solutions company in Las Vegas. He has been involved with turnarounds of several large corporations as well as helping to establish startups.