How to Address Bad Online Reviews
In “How to Monitor Yelp, Other Review Sites,” I offered strategies for monitoring online review sites such as Google Places for Business, Yelp, Yahoo! Local, and Citysearch. In addition to simple solutions like Google Alerts, I suggested social media-based applications such as TweetDeck and HootSuite, and introduced eight online review-monitoring services.
Yet none of what I presented could help businesses manage bad reviews. Now that you have an idea of how to monitor online reviews, it’s time to learn more about your options in the unfortunate event that somebody gives your business a terrible review. Whether your business deserves it is not the point. A bad online review can tangibly harm a business, and whether it’s warranted or not is rarely considered by readers.
For example, consider this article from The Atlantic Cities, a digital subsidiary of The Atlantic. In explaining the importance of a Yelp score on a restaurant’s business, researchers explained that the average scores of two different restaurants could be within decimal points of each other to place each one in a different score category. But reservation rates were decidedly better for the restaurant that resided in the higher score compartment, even though the average review scores were very close.
This shouldn’t be a surprise. Even before the Internet was born, entrepreneurs agreed that the power of word of mouth was substantially more valuable than conventional advertising. But what can and should you do if and when that bad review comes along?
Consider It an Opportunity
Sometimes, a customer posts a bad review with legitimate claims about service, appearance, or product quality. These are potential learning opportunities for business owners. Instead of letting your emotions reign with an angry retort, try to make contact with the reviewer with the spirit of a problem solver. Ask for more information about the reviewer’s displeasure. Determine whether there is anything you can do to rectify the situation, such as refund.
If the customer’s problem has been resolved, ask if they would reconsider his or her review, perhaps editing it to reflect problem resolution. Even if the customer is unwilling to give your business a perfect score, an improved mark with a note about the lengths you went to resolve an issue will help soften the blow of an imperfect score. Better yet, tweaking a bad online review makes it disappear eventually.
Consider SEO Options
If you don’t have time to provide one-on-one customer service for each disgruntled reviewer, posting a thoughtful reply with a link back to your website is beneficial to your search engine optimization efforts. The purpose isn’t to plant keywords, phrases or links for the sake of doing so. Try to help the person who left the bad review, but leave a URL. It can’t hurt.
Dealing with Fraudulent Reviews
Research firms such as the Gartner Group estimate that businesses will produce fake positive reviews to the tune of 10-15 percent of the online review market space by 2014. In the world of online reviewing, the one unpardonable, dishonest act is planting fake reviews on behalf of your business. You will get found out, and you will get called out, and it will have a damaging effect on your online reputation.
But what about fake negative reviews? For example, what if a disgruntled employee or a competitor posts an unwarranted, untrue bad review about your business? Luckily, online review sites such as Yelp and Google Places for Business have mechanisms for account holders to report fraudulent reviews, and the Federal Trade Commission has recently set precedent by punishing companies that post fraudulent reviews. The focus is on businesses that post fake positive reviews and review sites that don’t disclose relationships with those who provide products or services.
There is nothing wrong with encouraging your clients to write reviews on behalf of your company. You just can’t tell them what to write. Many companies make review solicitation a part of their business process, and it encourages customers who have had a negative experience to say something before they post a negative online review. Any opportunity to ensure that paying customer is a happy one is worth the effort.
However, under no circumstance should positive reviews be coerced, bought, or faked.
Whether your business gets a bad review isn’t a matter of “if,” it’s likely a matter of “when.” Whether that bad review truly has a long-term impact is up to you. Perhaps you can’t make it go away, but with some tact and some effort, you can work to resolve the customer’s issue and hope for the best. And if you’re the victim of fraudulent reviews, not only are review sites there to help, so is the federal government.