Online reviews certainly matter. Everyone can agree with that. When you look, as a consumer, at a business that has negative online reviews, whether it’s a restaurant or a service provider, you’re certainly going to think twice before you move forward with that business.
We take our reviews very seriously and make sure they are accurate and as complete as possible.
If someone’s looking for a place to go to dinner and they see a restaurant that’s rated three stars versus five stars, obviously, they’re going to have more confidence at least initially in the five-star reviews. And that’s before they even read the reviews. It doesn’t matter who wrote them or what they said.
Unknowingly, often people just look at the stars, not even focused on the quantity of reviews related to them. A restaurant that has four stars as their rating, but 2000 reviews, versus a restaurant that has five stars with 40 reviews, they’re not really weighted equally.
How Google Rates Customer Reviews
About six months ago, Google said so itself, that positive reviews and customer and business interactions improve organic visibility on Google. Certainly, we do not know to what extent the reviews actually impact the bottom line of a business. But we think everyone can agree that having a good, customer-facing reviews is certainly important.
Google will pull in organic snippets for business listings from Yelp, from Angie’s List, from HomeAdvisor, and they’ll pull in other reviews. However, when it comes to how Google ranks you based on stars, they’re only taking into account Google My Business reviews.
We heavily weight our interest towards Google My Business positive and negative online reviews as opposed to all the other possibilities out there. You would certainly want to focus on Google My Business reviews because people are often starting their search on Google.
There are industry-specific sites where reviews could matter. For example, if you’re a lawyer, Avvo is a prominent place where prospective customers could look for reviews on a specific attorney. HomeAdvisor is great if you’re service-oriented business. But at the end of the day, Google is certainly where you want to start, and generally people have more trust in Google above third-party platforms.
Why Are You Getting Negative Reviews?
Good reviews are great for the business. It’s a nice ego boost and certainly good for customers to see. You want to see happy customers. But at the end of the day, if you are always getting negative online reviews, it might be time to have a business conversation internally and figure out why you’re getting negative reviews.
Let’s say there’s a company doing 99% of the things right — they’re out there for the right intention, trying to put out a good product, trying to deliver good value and they’re just doing good business like the way that they should.
In this case, a business can learn a lot more from the negative online reviews than from always getting the pat on the back and the five stars. It forces us to look inwards and say, “Hey, is there validity to what this person is saying?” If so, even if they get a horrible review from someone, they’ve taken the time and effort to go onto a platform and do this and put it out there.
So, it’s one of two things. Either A, they are in irrational person, which is certainly possible. Or B, maybe we’re doing something wrong and we better take a deep, hard look at what we’re doing and make some changes.
Consumers Are Wise to the Game
Consumers are smart enough to understand how reviews work. Maybe a business says, “We’ll give you a free appetizer if you review us.” Maybe it says, “Leave us a review and we’ll give you $10 off.”
Consumers know that five-star reviews can certainly be influenced. Therefore, how a company handles negative online reviews carries more weight to both the consumer that had the negative experience as well as to other prospective customers.
How a company handles their bad reviews is a big indication of how they’re going to handle any potential situation with you in the future. A company will look professional if they respond to negative comments. They’re saying, “Hey, we’re sorry you had this bad experience. Either we’re not aware that you’ve had this or please contact us and we have the following remedy in place for these types of situation.”
Is the Customer Always Right?
There’s an old adage that the customer is always right. And I think as a business owner, in many circumstances, that is the correct view. And the customer is always right, until they’re not.
As you’re doing business over time and you’re expanding your customers and you’re growing, you’re going to run into someone that you just can’t please. Maybe they were just a bad customer, maybe it was just a bad fit. How the business goes about answering those and addressing them really carries a lot of weight.
Sometimes you see the negative reviews, then you see the business reach out. They try to offer a logical explanation. Say you’re a restaurant owner and someone makes a comment, “There’s a long wait on a Saturday night.” Well, if you show up to a popular restaurant at seven o’clock on a Saturday night, then it’s to be expected. So, sometimes you just can’t reason with every customer.
Deal with Negative Reviews Immediately
When addressing negative reviews, the first thing is to address the customer, and make sure you’re in the habit of addressing negative reviews as quickly as they come in. Deal with it right away. Don’t let it sit there. Don’t let it linger. Just handle it and be done with it. You don’t have to address it the same day, but you certainly don’t want a month to go by without addressing that customer.
It’s important for the business to always answer these reviews thoughtfully. Certainly, you should not take it personally. Make sure you’re not attacking the customer but answer their review honestly and thoughtfully. This really can go a long way.
Some customers go to the one-star reviews and see what’s being said. If they see thoughtful reviews and some attempt by the business to remedy the situation, they’re in a better position to give it a shot as opposed to just saying, “Absolutely not.”
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Just Be Honest, Nobody’s Perfect
Being honest about the review is one of the most important things a business can do. No business is perfect. They’re going to make mistakes. If you’re a restaurant, maybe you lost a reservation, or the wrong food came out or it took too long, or the waiter forgot about it. It happens.
Most customers are reasonable. If the business is honest and they address the actual issue, whether it was their fault or not, and they’re kind and they keep it appropriate, it can really set the tone for prospective customers. And oftentimes, you might even be able to win back that customer depending on the response.
Can you make everybody happy all the time? No. Is every review that comes through that’s negative going to be a correct representation of the experience? Probably not. But do the best that you can and be humble. Look inwardly and say, “Well, is this something that can be fixed? This is a teachable moment, so to speak, and something we can implement if the same thing doesn’t happen again in the future.”
People Just Want to Be Heard
For the most part, customers just want to be heard. It’s not even so much about the actual issue, but they want to vocalize it. They want to have the feeling that their opinion matters. By them posting something online, the business is going to have an open forum for anyone to see and then let the business decide how they’re going to handle that response.
Never Get Personal
One important point when addressing a negative review is to make sure that you never get personal. It’s really going to show a lot about the character of the owner, the manager, and the company itself. Certainly, you want to be thoughtful, you want to give a unique response, but you don’t want to make it personal. And you definitely don’t want to ever attack or try to retaliate against a specific customer.
Reach Out to Them Offline
There’s an opportunity where you can take that online review and transition it to an offline experience. If someone has something to say that’s negative, you can ask them to call you. You can give them an email address where they can reach out to you. Or, if you already have their contact info it, you can reach out to them. Certainly, they just want to be heard. And that’s often not what businesses do.
All Feedback Is Useful
Now, even if you get a negative review, you can really learn a lot from that customer interaction. All feedback is useful, whether good or bad.
At the end of the day, the person took some time and effort to come to your business initially, then they took the time to give criticism. Whether it’s correct or not, the negative reviews can or should be good for the business. It’s a good way to keep customers talking. It’s a good way to keep them engaged. You can take a negative experience and turn it into a positive one and hopefully win back that customer.
Make It a Priority and a Habit
A part of any good ongoing plan is to put into place the habits of not leaving negative comments by the wayside and just forgotten about. They should be a priority in the mind of the owner or the management.
A lot of the restaurants we’ve worked with in the past somehow have this notion that they have to give something away. I don’t think any business has to give away anything to either get the review or to compensate for a negative review. In fact, you certainly don’t want to train the customers that all they have to do is post a negative review and they’ll get something from you for free. That’s just a bad business practice.
Show How You’re Going to Make It Right
It should be used as a forum to address what that actual negative experience was for the customer. You can take appropriate action to correct the issue and show that effort to the customer.
Let’s say it’s a service provider, maybe you’re a window cleaner, and the windows came out not clean. You can take the time to explain, “Here’s why it didn’t come out clean.” Or you can take the time to show that customer, “Here’s what you’re doing to improve it.” For example, tell them you switched products or that you want to come back out and re-service them.
Be Specific to Their Needs
There are many options available, but just make sure the customer knows that you’re not just addressing them with a generic template. You should actually address their specific concern. Don’t send them just some canned response, but something that really takes into account their issue and some kind of solution.
We find that companies who are addressing their negative reviews — which is certainly a good start — drop the ball because there’s no follow-up. It just ends there. If the customer took their time and wrote a one- or two-star review, and you made your comment and you left it at that, that could be okay.
Once you remedy the issue, there’s nothing wrong with following back up with them to get them to come back in, reservice them, whatever the case may be. And then you can always ask them to redo their review. There’s nothing wrong with that, and certainly within Google’s terms.
Warning: Don’t Create an Incentive to Leave Reviews
Make sure you’re not incentivizing people to leave reviews. Google considers incentives as a violation of the terms and conditions.
We’ve seen competitors send Google the “incentive” that their competition is trying to offer their customers. Say they post something on Facebook, or they have something on their website such as, “Get X for leaving us a review,” oftentimes, they’ll send that to Google. And the next thing you know, Google is pulling down all of your reviews.
I do think it is important to encourage your customers to leave reviews. It’s certainly a good practice, especially if you’re a hairstylist or a makeup artist or some restaurant. After someone has come in and enjoyed their experience with you, it’s going to be much easier to get them to leave a review for you now rather than six months from now.
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It’s Okay to Ask for Feedback
Some businesses will send a specific email that has a request for a review on Google My Business and just requests an accurate depiction of the experience they had. And we would say that 75% of customers do that just, all within the first day of the requests. You certainly want to encourage the customers to leave reviews. All businesses get both good and negative online reviews. You don’t want to hide the negative reviews.
You Have Rights Too
If reviews are fake or misleading, you can take steps to get them legitimately removed. Not all reviews will be authentic. Sometimes it’s a former employee or a disgruntled employee or the competition. Oftentimes, it’s potential customers who have never even been actual customers. Maybe they’re not happy with the pricing, maybe they’re not happy with a phone call, who knows?
Business reviews are intended for actual customers. If someone left a negative review who’s not actually a customer of yours, you can send a request to Google (or have your marketing company send a request on your behalf) to get that review taken down. To learn more about the many benefits of hiring a professional web designer, check out our blog post on the subject here.
One particular example comes to mind with an attorney client of ours. Someone had left a negative review, but this person had never contacted the office, had never done any business with them whatsoever. The attorney’s response was great. “Hey, we have no record of ever working with you. If that is not the case, we apologize, please contact us. Otherwise, we’re going to contact Google and request this review be removed.”
Set Up a Dashboard to Automatically Monitor Reviews
It’s important for any small business to make sure they’re monitoring their negative online reviews. There are tools you can get to make this easier. If you have an agency partner, they can set up a dashboard for you to monitor the review sites that are important to you. But monitoring your online presence is certainly one of the best ways to stay on top of all of your reviews consistently.
Whether you’re getting good reviews, negative online reviews, neutral reviews, you can always funnel that data back into the dashboard to constantly be improving your business and your customer satisfaction. By doing so, you’ll be able to apply these points in handling both the positive, but specifically the negative reviews. Make sure your business is positioned to succeed the best it can online.
The major takeaways are don’t be afraid of the reviews. Ask for reviews, respond to them quickly, especially if they’re negative, and look inwards and make sure that it is not some company issue. Do your best to provide the highest level of product and service and make sure that you’re monitoring your brand reputation online, via many tools that are available on the marketplace today.