Love Your Haters: Responding to Online Reviews

Online comments and reviews allow consumers to educate other consumers and to give feedback to the establishments they frequent. We like to think that most consumers give this feedback to help the establishments improve, but occasionally there are folks out there who just want to vent their anger and frustration in a public forum

This article is about how to deal with those people we refer to professionally as "Crankypants."

We’re often asked if we can delete a comment or a review for a client, and the answer is no.  What value would reviews have if businesses could simply delete the ones they didn’t like?  On some platforms you can turn off or hide, but remember that you aren't the only person who has seen that comment or review. Your other clients, prospects, and competitors are also watching your social media platforms. If you simply delete or hide negative comments, guess what happens? Crankypants comes back and says "Not only did I have a bad experience, but when I complained, they deleted my complaint!" Double-whammy.

In every instance you should respond very promptly to negative reviews and comments with some kind of "how can I make this right for you" offer. The customer then has to acknowledge that you publicly apologized - or at least acknowledged their perceived issue - and made an effort to fix the situation, plus all those other folks who are watching will see your proactive customer care and be impressed. You’ve taken a bad situation and turned it into a positive PR opportunity.

Exception to this rule: If a comment is genuinely bizarre, profane, or incoherent, then it’s acceptable to request that the platform delete it. I sometimes see comments that are clearly spam and not from legitimate customers. That is the only instance where hiding or deleting is appropriate, and a response is not required.  My mother always said “there’s no reasoning with some people” and that’s a fact. You never want to escalate a Crankypants.

The problem with reviews on sites like Yelp is that you can't delete them, even if they're erroneous, as in the famous case of the Spa Diner in Hoboken. In case you don't know the story, some guy wrote a scathing review about the worst breakfast he'd ever had in his life. The Spa Diner owner reached out promptly.  After some communication back and forth, the diner owner and Crankypants come to find that he's reviewed the wrong diner. The reviewer can update their post, but how often do you think THAT happens? The best part of this story is how the diner owner responded (see our cover photo). Marketing genius. Lemons into lemonade.

Most consumers are reasonable and easily placated with a quick and deferential response. Be there and make it better, humbly and sincerely.  You can turn that frown upside-down pretty quickly in most cases.

So, word to the wise: while you can't control online reviews,you MUST respond to them. If you can throw in a good sense of humor, that's mega marketing bonus points.

Here are a few more tips for managing your reputation online:

1) Setup Google Alerts for your personal name and your business name and stay apprised of all mentions at all times. My motto: No Surprises.

2) Immediately respond to comments / tweets on your accounts and never become defensive when doing so. Just try to make it right, publicly, so that everyone who Follows you SEES your efforts and recognizes that your reviewer is a Crankypants. Being able to manage your Crankypants without losing your cool makes you look GOOD. 57% of consumers say they would be 'not very' or 'not at all' likely to use a business that doesn't respond to reviews at all (https://www.brightlocal.com/research/local-consumer-review-survey/).

3) Ask for positive reviews! The truth is, many people don't bother to comment or leave a review unless they have had a bad experience. You need to balance those negatives out with positives, but you'll likely need to remind your happy customers to take the time to review you on Yelp, Google, or their platform of choice. Collect email addresses and send links to review sites with a coupon or special incentive included. Some retailers and those in the hospitality industry might keep tablets handy at key locations to facilitate positive reviews on the spot. Is that worth the time and investment? A study by Berkeley economists showed that a half-star improvement on a restaurant's rating makes it 30-49% more likely that a restaurant will sell out its evening seats.

4) Don't sweat it. Everybody gets a bad review sometimes. If you have all five star reviews, people might suspect that your friends and family are your customer base. Having said that, do be sure to hop on anything less than five stars to find out what you could have done better. Grovel, offer the customer some incentives to come back and try again. Consumers will see that and be glad to know that you want to earn that five star review.

In short, when it comes to managing customers online, the process is very much like managing your customers in person: Be humble; the customer is right. Ask happy customers to refer friends. Stay on top of it.  If you need help, hire an agency – but don’t just “let it go.” 

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