Marketing & Growth

How to Handle Negative Online Reviews of Your Small Business

By Caron Beesley

What’s the online reputation of your business? Are you even tuned into it? How are you responding to what’s being said about your business?

Online word-of-mouth poses big challenges but also presents unique opportunities for small business owners. In fact, it’s such a big deal that the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and Yelp have formed a partnership to help America’s small businesses adjust to the new reality of managing their online reputation (more on that at the end of this post).

So what steps can you take to ensure your online reputation is as good as it can be? Below are some tips that can help.

Monitor Review Sites and Social Media Pages
In order to proactively respond to comments about your business, you need to know what’s being said and where. Make a point of regularly monitoring social media and the wider Internet. This includes industry sites, as well as consumer sites like Yelp. Yelp actually makes the job of monitoring and responding a lot easier thanks to its Yelp for Business Owners tool. In addition to responding to reviews within the site, you can also post promotions and get analytical insights on the performance of your Yelp page.

Of course, don’t forget Twitter and Facebook. Comments, recommendations and reviews are prevalent here too and negative feedback lives in perpetuity for all your loyal and future fans to see.

You should also pay attention to Google+ for Business which lets you build and own your small business presence on Google for free (much like a Facebook page). Google+ for Business affords several benefits – an active listing will improve the searchability of your business online; it makes it easy for you to respond to online reviews (Google+ reviews rank higher than others in Google searches – don’t ignore it) and allows you to promote your business with shared content. Check out this article from SmallBizTrends on How to Create a Google+ Page for your Small Business.

In addition to monitoring your social media pages, set-up a Google Alert and automatically get notified anytime your business name is mentioned on the web. Social Mention is another useful tool, as is Twitter’s Advanced Search feature, which even allows you to search by comment sentiment.

How to Handle Negative Comments and Reviews
Negative comments and reviews are inevitable. But what’s the best way to handle them? Well, there’s no right answer, but let’s start with some of the things you shouldn’t do.

  • Don’t deny there’s a problem – The customer is always right. It’s your job now to get to the bottom of the issue and correct it if you can.
  • Don’t argue with the reviewer – This will only add fuel to the fire.
  • Don’t ignore the comment or review – This is something you see quite often on social media platforms and online review sites, but turning a blind eye is a bad strategy and never works in your favor because it sends the message that 1) you don’t pay attention to your social media pages, and 2) that you don’t care what consumers think of your business.
  • Avoid cookie cutter responses – Small businesses are agile and have a distinct advantage over larger companies when it comes to one-on-one responses. Big businesses often need to go through hoops to get their corporate communication messages approved, especially crisis messages and tend to use cookie cutter responses that fail to drive a deeper connection or demonstrate true concern. For example: “Thanks for your comment, we are currently looking into this issue, please accept our apologies…” etc. Formulated responses like this only aggravate an already delicate situation.

So how should you respond?

Some of the best responses to online comments and reviews come from businesses who demonstrate that they are engaged and listening to their consumers. It takes time to get it right, but instead of reacting defensively, take time to consider your response, moderate your tone, and prepare a personal reply. Use the reviewer’s first name, acknowledge their custom, and repeat back their issue or complaint – this shows you are listening and empathetic. Then proceed to thank them for their feedback. If you need to investigate a complaint, provide an email address where the complainant can send further information to you directly. This also takes the conversation offline and the spotlight off a potentially heated public debate.

Here’s an example of how you might respond to a negative comment on Facebook:

Thanks for your comment Sarah, I’m so sorry to hear that you had issues with your last order. If you could email me your order number, I’ll look into what went wrong. You can contact me directly at janedoe@acmegoods.com.”

If something really did go wrong and you’re aware of that fact without needing to investigate further, apologize and ask what you can do to help make amends.

You can use a similar approach to address negative reviews on review sites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, and so on.

Make it a Learning Moment
As with any form of customer feedback, whether it’s a customer survey or an unsolicited online review, make it a learning moment.  Are there things you can do differently to ensure complaints like this don’t surface again?

If you outsource your social media or trust your marketing team to handle responses, make a habit of including them in team and operational meetings so that they can share feedback from consumers and stay fully briefed as to what’s going on with the business as a whole. Your social media team represents the face of your business, make sure they are equipped to share all the great stuff your business is doing as well as roll with the punches.

Put Your Energies into Generating Positive Reviews
Let’s not just focus on the negative. You can take steps to own what’s being said about your small business online by encouraging customers to post reviews and comments about their positive experiences. Use customer touch points like email, Facebook, invoices, receipts, and so on, to solicit feedback and reviews. Ask customers for testimonials (quotes, or even longer marketing pieces) and add them to your website and promote on social media.

More Information
Visit SBA.gov for more information about the events and resources that SBA and Yelp are making available to help small business owners engage with online reviewers and tips for monitoring their online reputation. You can also check out Yelp’s advice on how to respond to online reviews.

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