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Can Negative Reviews Be a Business’ Best Friend?

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Word of mouth has always been a crucial marketing tool for businesses. Before the birth of advertising, it may have been the only way people would hear of your business.

You might think that word of mouth would be less important in the internet age since it's easier to reach people using the web. But actually, it's more important than ever.

That's because word of mouth spreads more quickly and easily online. People in the internet age trust online reviews more than ever: According to Invesp, 90% of consumers read online reviews before visiting a business, and 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

Negative Reviews: a Business' Best Friend?

If a customer has a good experience, it's easy for them to hop online and write a review on Yelp or Google, or post something on social media for all their friends and family to see. Pew Research found that about 25% of adults in the United States post comments and reviews online.

But not all of those are good reviews. In fact, bad experiences are more likely to be shared online than good ones.

It only takes treating one customer badly for your business to start losing customers. A one-star difference in a restaurant rating can impact revenue between 5% and 9%, and according to a study by Go Fish Digital, businesses risk losing up to 22% of customers with just one negative review.

Of course you don't even have to do anything wrong to get a bad review. The customer's not always right - sometimes they just like to complain! It's inevitable that most businesses will get a bad review or two, no matter how hard they try.

So what can you do to save your business from bad reviews?

Suing people for writing bad reviews is not a good answer - in fact, it's likely to make things even worse.

Luckily, a bad review doesn't necessarily have to be bad for business. Check out the graphic below for tips on what to do and how to turn critics into fans online.


Can Negative Reviews Be a Business' Best Friend?

Negative feedback comes with the territory for business owners, especially in the digital age. But how you handle bad reviews will enhance or damage your reputation. Turn a negative experience for your customers into a positive one through how you address complaints.

Online Reviews Influence Customers

  • 77% of consumers check online reviews before purchasing
  • 79% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations from friends
  • 30% of consumers are suspicious if no negative reviews are posted
    • 68% of consumers have greater trust in authentic reviews that include positive and negative feedback
  • Businesses that respond to negative reviews constructively tend to generate more business

Mistakes That Could Anger Your Customers

  • The "I'm not listening" approach (ignoring negative feedback)
    • Customers will assume that the business doesn't care about the consumer experience
  • The "It never happened" approach (deleting negative feedback)
    • Maybe nobody saw it, so nobody will know... except the reviewer, who may become even more upset
  • The "I'll prove I'm right" approach (responding with negativity)
    • Arguments only perpetuate a negative experience for customers
  • The "Sorry (not sorry)" approach (responding with an empty apology)
    • Insincerity is clear to potential customers, even online
  • The "Make us look good" approach (flooding review sites with paid positive reviews)
    • Customers that find out reviews are faked or paid for will lose trust in the business

Bad Reviews Made Worse

  • A New York hotel threatened to charge wedding guests for negative reviews.
    • The hotel's website stated, "there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review of [our hotel] placed on any Internet site by anyone in your party and/or attending your wedding or event."
    • One Yelp reviewer was allegedly threatened by the hotel with a financial fine about a negative review in 2013
    • In one day in 2014, hundreds of angry people wrote over 700 negative reviews on Yelp in response to the policy. The hotel quickly removed the policy statement from the its website
    • The hotel posted an explanation on Facebook:
      • "The policy regarding wedding fines was put on our site as a tongue-in-cheek response to a wedding many years ago. It was meant to be taken down long ago and certainly was never enforced."
      • The post was later deleted
  • An Australian restaurant responded to a negative review with anger, name calling, and misogyny
    • Reviewer claimed the restaurant was "dirty," had "ants, burnt food," and "extortionate prices"
    • Restaurant owner called the reviewer a "scarcity-based, pumped-up, myopic consumer-come-casual-social-media-activist-OUTRAGE-readied-advocate"
    • Restaurant owner offered for the reviewer to give the restaurant another try but only if the reviewer was "prepared to eat like a man"
  • A Scottsdale restaurant responded to a negative review with name calling
    • The restaurant received a bad review citing many issues with the dining experience
      • Reviewer received another table's food
      • Reviewer claimed pizza was bland with questionable ingredients
      • Server didn't check on reviewer or fill his drink
      • Owner became combative when reviewer said he didn't enjoy the pizza
    • Restaurant owner posted a separate, 5-star review and ranted against the negative reviewer
      • Said the reviewer worked for the competition
      • Accused reviewer of not having a sophisticated enough palate
      • Called the reviewer names
        • Moron
        • Ugly
        • Loser

Bad Reviews Made Right

  • Amazon received negative feedback about how they deleted some books from customers' Kindles without permission
    • Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos took full responsibility
      • "This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle. Our 'solution' to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles. It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we've received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission."
    • Amazon received over 750 very positive responses to the apology
  • Computer company Dell used a viral negative review blog to springboard customer-led improvements for products still in the factory
    • Dell's customer reviews rose from 3.7 stars out of 5 in 2008 to 4.5 by 2010
  • Mexican restaurant Boloco got a tweet from a customer complaining about the loud music
    • Marketing department called the restaurant location to remedy the situation while the customer was still dining
    • Music was lowered
    • Customer was given a complimentary cookie
    • Negative feedback was retweeted by the restaurant along with their comment: "Done"

How to Turn Negative Feedback into a Positive Customer Experience

  • Search for possible negative reviews
    • Monitor social media accounts
      • 68% of complainants on social media are contacted by the businesses in question after posting their negative reviews
        • Out of those that are contacted:
          • 34% delete their comments
          • 33% then post positive reviews
          • 18% become repeat customers
    • Watch major review sites
    • Set up a Google Alert to search for instances of the business's name
    • Use Social Mention, a free tracking tool, to find other online reviews
  • Investigate incidents
    • Talk to employees
    • Research product purchase records
    • Ask for a private message or email from the person with the complaint
      • Get further details
      • Clarify what happened
  • Offer a sincere apology
  • Decide whether to respond privately or publicly
    • Private responses can help keep volatile situations contained
    • Public responses show other customers that the business cares
  • Stay objective and professional in language
    • Avoid sarcasm
    • Be sincere
  • Take the blame for the problem
    • Even if the business is not at fault
  • Propose a solution
    • Ask the reviewer how to resolve the issue
    • Offer a possible solution to make up for the issue and improve the customer's experience.
    • Talk about specifics privately
  • Be aware of patterns
    • Track negative reviews for consistent complaints
    • Address weak areas in the business
      • A problem employee
      • Product imperfections
      • Service lapse
      • Poor marketing decisions

Customer reviews are a great opportunity for businesses of all sizes to address real issues and turn negative experiences into positive outcomes. By treating customers with professionalism and care, you just might find your newest brand advocate in that 1-star review.

Sources: smallbiztrends.com, business2community.com, boostmktg.com, seeksocialmedia.com, cnn.com, phoenixnewtimes.com, huffingtonpost.com, hootsuite.com, fastcompany.com, socialmediaexaminer.com, forbes.com


KeriLynn Engel

About KeriLynn Engel

KeriLynn has worked as a freelance writer for various websites. She is an advocate for domestic abuse victims and has way too many hobbies.


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