Four tips on how to handle online customer reviews

kate conroyIn this guest posting, Google’s Kate Conroy offers brands some advice on how to handle online customer reviews.

What to do with a bad review?

Even if your products are spectacular and your service is exemplary, at some point it will happen to you. The Bad Review. Somewhere in the growing world of online feedback will appear something like this:

1 star – Worst experience I have ever had in my life. Do NOT buy from [Insert Your Business]. We waited over 10 minutes to be served, were overcharged by more than $50 apparently due to a ‘software error’ and it took them another 20 minutes to work out the refund. Also the air-con was set to about -57C and we nearly froze to death in the middle of summer. Avoid!

-’Frozen Solid’ of Bondi

Consumer feedback is a valuable thing – in this case the business might re-consider their air-con setting – but every small business has bad days when it gets busy or the cash register dies. When these result in a bad review it can seem a bit unfair – dozens (even thousands) of potential customers are now going to see this record of your worst day ever, permanently displayed on sites with reviews like Google Maps, Eatability, ProductReview.com.au & Rayv. And a bad review will turn customers away in droves. So what do you do?

1. Stay Cool

Remember that you’re replying to feedback about an experience, not about you as a person. Reply in a way that addresses the overall experience, and remember that there’s a real person on the other end. Responding in an abusive way will only encourage them to write more negative reviews about you.

2. Respond, Respond, Respond – publicly

A bad review won’t go away if you ignore it. And trying to convince the customer to take it down often won’t work (they’re entitled to their opinion, after all). The best option is to respond in a calm, professional way. If the issue has affected more than one customer, try to respond publicly as this shows other customers you take feedback seriously. Sites that allow businesses to respond to reviews include Google Maps (for reviews by Google users) and Urbanspoon.

3. Remember who your audience is

It would be great if you could always contact the upset customer, shower them with apologies & roses and have them re-cant their review, but this isn’t always practical. You may not know how to contact them, roses cost money (that you need to fix the cash register!), and a really upset customer may refuse to change their opinion. A simple apology often goes a long, long way, but never forget that your main audience is the future customers who are reading the review. The explanation of how you fixed the problem should be directed here – and the best place to put it (wherever possible) is right next to the original review, like this:

Dear Frozen Solid,

Sorry to hear about your poor experience in our store. We just wanted to apologise for the trouble and let you know we’ve made changes based on your feedback to make sure it doesn’t happen again, including:

– opening 30 mins earlier on Mondays to prevent long queues in the morning

– upgrading our cash register software

– training staff on how to process refunds more quickly, and

– setting our air-con to a more comfortable 24C in summer (thanks for the tip!)

Simply the fact that you (a) read your reviews (b) care what people think and (c) responded is often enough to negate a bad review, especially if most of your other reviews are positive.

4. Respond to your positive reviews as well

The most underutilised feature of many review sites is the option to respond to a review – because most businesses never use it until they have a bad review, when the real value lies in being able to respond to a positive review, like this:

4 stars – Only place to get a decent cup of coffee in this neighbourhood, would die without this place – also like that they use fair trade coffee.

Caffeine Junkie of Randwick

Dear Caffeine Junkie

Great to hear we’re keeping you awake (and alive) with our coffee. We love Fair Trade coffee too! You’ll be pleased to know that in March we’re taking part in Fair Trade Week and will have a different single-origin Fair Trade coffee to try every day (as well as our trusty regular brew). Hope to see you then.

Suddenly you’ve doubled the screen-space devoted to putting your business in a good light, you’ve formed a bond with one of your best customers and you’ve had a chance to promote your upcoming event – all for free, and in under 5 minutes.

So when (not if) a bad review happens to you, stay cool and respond professionally – it only takes a few minutes and will actually enhance your online reputation.

  • Kate Conroy is an SMB expert and AdWords product specialist at Google Australia

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