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Alex Sholem

As a business owner there are few worse feelings than reading bad reviews of your business online. It seems so unfair. All of those hours, all of that sacrifice, and it takes just one person to tarnish your reputation and potentially affect your business.

Don’t worry, you’re not powerless. Read on for our guide to turning customer frowns upside-down and making the most of negative online reviews.

Why You Need to Take Online Reviews Seriously

Online reviews are the new word-of-mouth and the data shows that they can have a sizeable impact on your bottom line.

According to a 2014 survey, 88% of consumers read online reviews to get a feel for a local business before making a buying decision. Indeed, a study by Harvard Business School’s Professor Michael Luca found that a 1-star increase in a business’s Yelp rating translates to a 5-9% increase in revenue.

Dealing with a Bad Online Review

Take a Breath and Depersonalize the Issue. Nearly every mistake that business owners make when responding to negative online reviews could be prevented simply by allowing the sting to fade before responding to an unhappy customer.

Try to see things from your customer’s point of view. The picture they paint of your business may be unrecognizable to you, but bear in mind that once a customer has been on the wrong end of even a small mistake their whole experience can become skewed.

Do some digging. Yes, you need to react quickly, but you should take time to consult with staff members or check the data trail to see if you can work out what went wrong. Your goal here should be not to “prove” the reviewer wrong but to be as informed as possible about the situation.

You may find that a staff member acted contrary to your guidelines or you may even find a route to a potential resolution. Either way, it’ll give you more time to think things over and will reiterate to your employees how much importance should be paid to providing good customer service.

Reach out privately. If possible, the best thing to do is to contact the reviewer via private message. Depending on where the review appeared, this may not be immediately possible. In that case, the best thing to do is to respond publicly and leave an email address for them to continue the conversation away from public eyes.

It can’t be stated strongly enough: Be very careful about how you communicate with a dissatisfied customer. Don’t be aggressive or too defensive. As Yelp reminds business owners in its guidelines: Your reviewers are paying customers who have their own sensitivities. If you get the tone of your reply wrong you may find the situation spirals out of control. Being empathetic can go a long way to reaching an understanding with your customer that could make a big difference to the eventual outcome.

Try starting with these three steps to get the ball rolling:

Try to make amends. If you want to make the best of a bad review, words alone may not cut it. If the solution is as simple as offering a refund or replacement, then it is money well spent. As mentioned above, review scores can have a real impact on your business earnings, often many times the cost of making amends. But more than that, you should always be seeking to improve the quality of your customer service, even in situations where you think you’ve acted reasonably. In the internet age if your service isn’t flawless you could end up paying a heavy price.

Make it public. Public comments should only come after you’ve reached out privately to a customer, or if you’ve reached out and have not heard back in some time. You can simply outline the action you’ve taken, or that you’ve attempted to make contact, and leave it at that. No need for a public mea culpa or overly defensive explanation.

Remember: customers are perfectly capable of making your private messages public, especially if your tone with them differs from how you’ve dealt with the review publicly.

Other Things You Can Do

The first and most important thing is to make customer satisfaction a top priority for your business. In addition, these steps can help you stay out ahead of bad reviews in future:

Finally, Learn and Move On

It’s possible that the actions you take will see a previously dissatisfied customer edit their review and give you credit for your response. On the other hand, you may not get any public recognition at all. Let it go.

Learn from what went wrong initially, consider your response and how it might be improved in future, and remember that if you’re doing things right that negative review should be overwhelmed with lots of good online reviews for your business.

People aren’t stupid, especially those that check reviews carefully before making purchasing decisions. If they see that you made a reasonable attempt to put a bad experience right they’ll give you credit for it.