3 Ways You Must Respond to Negative Reviews

by Colin Shaw on December 22, 2015

The VOC is more vociferous than ever. But what do you do when the VOC doesn’t have anything nice to say—and keeps posting it all over review sites?

You must address them the three following ways.

  1. Respond quickly and sufficiently.
  2. Position the reviews to facilitate balance and positive influence on readers.
  3. Take a look at your Experience with an outside-in perspective.

Negative reviews are a fact of life. And they are influential on future Customers. Zendesk, a cloud-based help desk software, sponsored a survey that revealed 88% of respondents admitted an online review influenced a buying decision.

The same Zendesk survey shared that 95% of respondents share bad experiences, and 87% of them share them with at least five people. Of that 87%, 33% of them shared it with more than five! And more of the respondents (45%) shared bad experiences on social media than positive ones (30%).  For all the statistics of their survey, click here.

According to an article on the BBC, some companies sue their Customers. Plumbers in England sued Yelp in 2014 for the reviews posted by them. Some other companies take it even further than that. According to a Canadian company HomeStars, a review is usually removed from a site because the reviewer received a “threatening legal letter.” (Incidentally, HomeStars sent an “anti-bullying” letter to businesses to stop this practice).

I would just like to take a second to state the obvious here:

Suing Customers over a bad review is complete madness, pretty much always.

So, if you can’t sue for a bad review (and for goodness sakes, don’t!) what can you do?

  1. Respond quickly and sufficiently. This suggestion is Customer Service 101. However, it still holds true–and I still see so many companies not doing this. Not only is it just good business practice, but it also closes the door of opportunity for your competition to find its way into their good graces. Recently, a friend of mine shared an experience with the LA Times. He was a 30-year reader of the paper, albeit the digital version over the past ten years. They cut off his access to the content, saying he needed to pay more money. He complained via email, and they sent him a form letter in response (quickly but not sufficiently), and now he reads Apple News.
  2. Position the reviews to facilitate balance and positive influence on readers. The British Psychological Society Research Digest published a study in 2012 that found when respondents read positive reviews of an LA Hotel before negative ones, they felt more favorable to the hotel. This effect remained constant even when the reviews were positioned to indicate a deterioration over a year. The main finding here is that we tend to remain impressed when we read early positive reviews.  So if you can keep the positive reviews flowing first, it will mitigate the impact of the bad reviews.
  3. Take a look at your Experience with and outside-in perspective.Many companies don’t understand what their experience is like from a Customer’s perspective. When this is the case, and you have an abundance of negative feedback coming out of your experience, it’s time to find out what’s happening there. We have a tool called Customer Mirrors where we walk the experience as if we were a Customer. For one of our clients, an insurance company, we insured a car and then wrecked it. Here is what the Director of Customer Experience had to say about what they learned from the experience:

There is no way your organization and all your team members are going to be perfect 100% of the time. Balls will be dropped, tempers will flare, and bad reviews get posted. But before you call the lawyers to draft a “cease and desist” letter, perhaps trying any of these three suggestions might get better results.

What advice do you have for responding to negative online reviews? We’d all be interested to hear your insight in the comments.

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Colin Shaw is the founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s leading Customer experience consultancy & training organizations. Colin is an international author of five bestselling books and an engaging keynote speaker.

Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter & Periscope @ColinShaw_CX

Colin Shaw3 Ways You Must Respond to Negative Reviews