No one likes to hear anything bad about their company, but is unavoidable as an entrepreneur or even a as person doing business online. Your reputation online is almost like a form of currency because people will read about what other people have said before they work with you. If you have been around long enough, someone has probably reported some type of problem with your products or services.
You do not have to be perfect, but you should be on track to improve as a business in the face of criticism. Here is an outline of some steps you can take when these things happen as well as some additional facts to consider before you take action.
Trolls vs. Legitimate Complaints
Many businesses tend to assume that any type of complaint against them is from a troll. Sometimes this is true, but the you have to know how to distinguish a legitimate complaint from that of a troll. A troll is usually someone that completely slams your business, your products, and your services. They may not have a legitimate complaint at all in the midst of their remarks and everything they say about you is negative. Surprisingly, some of them may have never done business with you in the first place because they may be spammers or even competitors in disguise. Some people will have this type of reaction if they have had negative experiences, but the difference is that a troll will be inconsolable. A normal customer will usually accept your offer to rectify the situation, but a troll will not. They will continue to complain until the very end. That is the difference. If you are indeed dealing with a troll, then the most that you can do is apologize, make an offer, and then move on. Continue to be the good guy and allow their own actions to speak volumes about who they are. Also, remember that trolls are out to make you look bad by enticing you into saying or doing something inappropriate. People love to hide behind a screen to spout negativity, but few of them have the gall to say anything in person. This goes without saying, but never stoop to their level to make threats, use profanity or inflammatory language.
Should I Call My Lawyer?
That is a good question. Sometimes you should call your lawyer depending on what was said, but it usually is not that serious. People are entitled to their own opinion, but they are not allowed to spread slander, lies, or intentionally try to say things online or offline to destroy someone’s business. Saying that you had a negative experience is one thing, but trying to ruin someone is taking it too far. If someone has left some extremely inflammatory remarks then you may be able to contact the website hosting the reviews to have that particular comment removed. Unbeknownst to many, you have a lot more control than you think on websites like Yelp, Yahoo, and Google Maps because you can not only respond, but have them removed. However, if that does not work then you may need to consult with your attorney to have them contact the web hosting company or even pursue a case of defamation if necessary. You do not want to give people that impression that you are overly litigious or too sensitive, so this should be looked upon as a last resort for a troll, not a dissatisfied customer.
What To Do When You Have A Negative Review
Step 1: Assess the situation
Read the review carefully for a couple of times to assess the situation. You will likely get sort of angry when you read anything negative about yourself, so give yourself a moment to think and reflect before you respond. Ask yourself why this person decided to write a negative review about your product or service. Yes, there are some trolls out there, but that is usually not the case for most of the negative reviews online. Many of the people that leave negative reviews have done so because they felt like they were not being heard. They felt as if they had no choice other than to complain elsewhere because business would not do anything to help them. It is not a poor reflection of you or your businesses’ products and services because it is still one person’s opinion.
What You Ignore Persists?
Ignoring negative reviews and feedback is not to your advantage. If you ignore what people have written, then it may perpetuate a cycle and encourage others to chime in. There have been a number of complaints that were ignored in the beginning, but actually went viral because so many other people got involved. Ignoring these types of remarks will not remove them nor help you improve your business, so you have to say something to correct the problem or it will continue to haunt you.
Step 2: Write a response to the complaint
Only approach the written response after you have cooled down for at least an hour to a couple of days depending on your emotional state. It is better if you respond sooner rather than later, but it is disadvantageous to say anything if you are not in the right place emotionally. It does hurt and it could feel like a personal assault on you, but it is not. Write a response in a writing program like Word or Open Office Writer first because it will enable you to plan out your response better. You do not want your response to have any type of grammatical or spelling errors whatsoever. After you have proofread your text, read it as the customer and think about how you would react to it if you were in their position. This is really important because saying the wrong thing could hurt you more than if you had ignored the comment altogether. It may be a good idea to even have a few people read it over to see how they would respond to it.
Step 3: Apologize for the inconvenience
You must have an apology in your written response even if it was the customer’s fault. There is no way that you can look good as a business owner if you blame your customers. Since you are the entrepreneur, you automatically have to take the fault for whatever happened. Part of the being your own boss means that you have to take responsibility for everything whether it is good or bad. The customer is always right and it never looks good to criticize customers in any way.
Step 4: Discuss your plan to improve going forward
A lot of companies often forget to take this step, but it can actually go a long way. One of the things people want to hear is that you will implement some type of change to improve in the future so that this will not happen to them or anyone else again. For example, if you made an error, let them know that you will change your policy going forward or mention that you or your employees will receive additional training in the area. Follow through with the changes because it will make you a better company because of it.
Step 5: Make an offer
The best thing you can do to improve the situation is to make the customer an offer. You do not have to give anything away, but you should. You want your customers to walk away from the situation satisfied because they will continue to spread the word about your company long after the ordeal. If you can change their opinion now, you may be able to win them over. Offer to do something over again, give them something for free, give a refund, or at the very least offer them a discount. People love free stuff and something like that will usually be enough to help sway their opinion. What would be really impressive is if you got this same person to come back and write a more accurate assessment after they have taken you up on your offer.
Step 6: Learn from the experience
Once you have apologized and made your offer, take some time to evaluate the your performance and improve. Think about the good that can come out of it and notice how you have changed for the better as a result. Encourage future clients to come to you first before they post a review online.
Step 7: Accentuate the positive
Since they have already written a review online, there is little that you can do to get it removed. Accept it for what it is and then focus on the positive aspects of your business in more than one way. Not only make a mental shift, but literally put a spotlight on your positive achievements online to displace the negative reviews. This can take a while, but start creating more listings that talk about new products, services, news, discounts, and partnerships. You can do this via social media posts, blog posts, or even press releases. The more of this you have, the more likely it is that this information will come up first in the search results before the negative feedback. Also, request that some of your satisfied customers write supportive reviews as well. Adding testimonials to your website will also add more credibility to your business.
Never Fake It!
Although it is quite tempting to pay a company to give you positive reviews, that is not really a good idea. It is one thing you have actual customers that are leaving remarks, but it becomes manufactured when you just start paying people. Truthfully, a lot of companies do pay for reviews, but you do not want to be one of them. People can tell if a review seems to be a little over the top and they will likely overlook most of the positive reviews because they may think that all of them are fake. It could backfire on you because they may just believe the negative reviews just because they seem more honest than some of the overwhelmingly positive reviews. Only solicit reviews from legitimate customers and ask them for completely honest and balanced feedback that will be informative to your future customers.
Step 8: Monitor all feedback
People are not just leaving reviews on places like Google Plus or Yelp because most of them will just tell their friends on Facebook and Twitter. If you do not already monitor social media websites, you should because that is usually one of the first places that they will go when they get angry. You can set up alerts to notify you anytime the name of your business is used like Google Alerts. There are also sites like SocialMention and Hootsuite that let you perform searches on a number of social media websites at once. Actively look for people talking about your company and get involved in their conversations even if it is not overtly negative. Some companies will actually give stuff away to people that are caught giving positive publicity to the company if they send a photo of their new product or just tell their friends what a great experience they had.
What More You can Do
Have A Proactive Customer Service Policy
Customer service is really about stopping these types of issues before they start. Check to see if you even have a way for customers to contact if you they have any problems with their order. It could be an email confirmation, contact form, your website design & navigation or even a physical slip that you send them in the mail. Let them know upfront that they can contact you to correct any problems that may have. Also, allow people to provide tips and suggestions regarding your business. Let people feel welcome to discuss their concerns without fear of retribution.
Build Allies and Partnerships
Having allies and partnerships online will help buffer any damage to your reputation. It helps that you have these things in place before any negative attacks, but it is never too late to start. You want to have people on your side who are loyal readers or followers on social media websites or blogs. Try to find at least a few influential bloggers or social media leaders to support you. Getting these types of people on your side is not always easy, but it is worth it in the long run because they will be at your side if and when something happens. Reach out to people gradually and give them something in exchange for supporting you.
Bolster Your Self-Esteem
On a personal note, it is challenging to deal with any type of negative feedback whether or not it is warranted. Everybody makes mistakes even if they happen to be a multinational corporation, so realize that you are not alone. These types of issues can get to you after a while, so go a step beyond just learning from the experience and actively boost your self-esteem in your personal life. This could mean pursuing some projects just due to your personal interest, taking some time off to relax, meditated, or spend time with your friends and family.
Dealing with negative review is not very pleasant, but necessary to your growth as a business. Any time there is a negative review, look at yourself first and think about what you could have done differently. Acknowledge that a mistake has been made and then address the problem with the customer. Just apologize, give them a peace offering, and vow to do better in the future by implementing new policies or procedures. If the situation escalates, then there may be a need to look into legal solutions for the problem, but again it should considered the very last resort to a very serious problem. All businesses make mistakes, but the difference is that the good ones learn from them.