Online reviews are risky. An analysis by the consumer magazine Tænk shows that 86 percent of Danish consumers have much or some confidence in user reviews. Considering the great impact that negative reviews can have on a company’s online reputation, it could be tempting to take legal action if you feel unfairly described and misunderstood by customers – but that is rarely a good idea.
The damage legal proceedings do to your company’s reputation cannot be repaired, even if you win the lawsuit. That is why you should deal with it before it happens. Here are five tips on how to tackle negative online reviews:
1. Safeguard against your customers having to write negative reviews
Do everything you can to prevent your customers from reaching the point where they write a negative review. Regardless of how well-functioning your company is, there will always be customers who are dissatisfied with the product or service they received.
Some of those customers will inevitably write a user review to express their frustration – with the intention of warning other customers and/or in the hope of getting a reaction from you with an offer of a replacement product, discount or similar. However, dissatisfied customers almost always contact the company before they end up airing their frustration online as a last resort – so it is important to be ready.
Particularly with difficult customers, you should always try to keep the customer engaged and work at obliging the customer’s feedback before the customer resorts to writing a negative review. You can do this in different ways. For instance, you can talk with the customer personally via phone or email.
By keeping a positive tone, the customer feels he/she is being taken seriously, allowing you to reach a kind of compromise, which is generally preferable to negative word-of-mouth or online reviews – even if the matter ends up being an expense for your company, per se.
Negative reviews that remain online for an indefinite period can cost your business far more than it otherwise would to accommodate a dissatisfied customer. Nowadays, the customer always has the last word on social media, and many customers recognise that new power and use it to their advantage. The cost of dealing with dissatisfied customers before the dissatisfaction spreads online should be considered as a necessary and calculated expense for protecting your company’s digital reputation.
2. First cool off, then write directly to the customer
A natural reaction to a negative review is to overreact emotionally. This can lead to long-term public disputes about the details of the case. Consumers normally take the customer’s (‘victim’s’) side in a case and do not have much sympathy for defensive and unprofessional responses.
Therefore, when answering negative reviews, start by taking a deep breath, then assess what has been done and what can be done to resolve the customer’s problem. Write a concise and positive response – via an online platform or email – acknowledging the customer’s problem and proposing ways in which to remedy the situation.
Generally, it is best to talk directly with the customer about a negative online review, to avoid attracting additional unwanted attention. Therefore, try to communicate with the customer offline. If successful in resolving the problem, you can then politely ask the customer to revise their review by adding that the complaint was resolved or to delete it entirely.
3. If the negative review remains unchanged, consider a public response
There are two scenarios where you could be forced to react publicly to a negative review:
1. If the problem has been resolved with the customer without the customer changing or deleting his or her review, it makes sense to write in a short response that you are happy to have helped resolve the problem. Optionally, you can briefly add what steps were taken – did you offer a discount, a replacement or the like?
2. If the customer is still dissatisfied, and you believe the claims in the review are untrue, you can write a short response, correcting them and describing the actual circumstances, but without going into detail.
Remember, it is more important to seem sympathetic and accommodating than to insist on your side of the story, as readers typically take the customer’s side.
4. A lawsuit is the last resort
Taking legal action should be the last resort, because the result of the lawsuit is unpredictable and even positive results can have major negative consequences. The media attention on the lawsuit can draw the company into hot water, from a PR perspective, which it can be very difficult to get out of again, regardless of the outcome of the dispute.
5. Promote positive reviews, so the negative reviews are drowned out
Encourage customers with positive experiences to write positive reviews, in order to create a buffer for the negative reviews. It is much more likely that a customer with a negative experience will take the time to write a review, so you should actively urge your satisfied customers to express their satisfaction publicly. Good reviews help balance out the bad reviews and make consumers less likely to consider the bad reviews as credible.
For instance, you can ask your customers to share their experience after completed delivery of a product or service. Also make sure to have links to online review sites such as Trustpilot.dk on your website and the social media. Naturally, if your company does a good job, it is more likely that your customers will be willing to take the time to write a review – but a little nudge in the form of encouragement may be needed before that happens!