Sooner or later, it will happen. You will be slammed by a negative review. It may be fair. It may not be fair. Here’s a 12 step process to address it.
- Accept that reviews matter: Consumers who turn to online reviews trust them. According to BrightLocal’s 2014 Local Consumer Review Survey, 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. That’s stunning. It also means you ignore reviews at your peril.
- Monitor review sites: Whether you actively promote or work with a review site or not, someone in your office should monitor them daily. Assign it to an office manager or CSR as part of the daily routine. Check Google, Yelp!, Angie’s List, Facebook, Yahoo Local and other sites.
- Respond immediately to all reviews: Whether positive or negative, you should respond to reviews. It is especially important to respond to negative reviews. Do not let grass grow on this. Respond the same day or next day.
- Thank the critics: Yes, thank the poster for the criticism. Thank the poster for calling it to your attention so you can correct any problems. Feedback is important whether good or bad, but it particularly useful if you did something wrong. Promise to look into it and get back to the poster as soon as possible.
- Resist the temptation to argue: There’s an old line about getting into a fight with the media. It is, “Don’t pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.” Fighting anyone online is the equivalent. You cannot win, might make things worse, and are likely to come across as petty and obstinate. It’s like wrestling a pig. You’ll get muddy and likely do little more than irritate the pig.
- Investigate the claim: Find out what happened. Be non-threatening with your team as you investigate. In the long run, they will not be able to take care of your customers better than you take care of them. If someone screwed up, chalk it up as a learning experience. Do not automatically chastise or reprimand the team member. There will be the customer’s side to the story and your team member’s side. While you should trust your team over the customer, the customer will still be the customer, even if wrong. If you need clarification from the customer’s perspective, you not hesitate to reach out to the customer.
- Focus on solutions: Once you investigate, you will probably formulate a solution. Before presenting it to the customer, ask the customer what he wants. It’s probably less than you are willing to give. If so, give the customer what he wants and a little more.
- Ask for an update: After the issue has been resolved, follow up with the customer to be sure he is satisfied. Once he states that he is, politely ask him to update his review.
- Follow up on the update: If the customer adds an update, thank him on the review site. Thank him again for alerting you to the problem, his patience while you resolved it, his understanding, and his business. You are not really writing for the customer, but for everyone else who will read the review. If the customer does not update the review after a few days, add your own update, stating exactly what you did and thanking the customer for calling the situation to your attention, patience, and understanding.
- Expect occasional extortion: From time to time, you will run across the unscrupulous consumer who uses the review process as a way to extract extortion from you. The temptation is to get your back up and tell the bum to pound sand. This is the wrong thing to do. Accept the extortion as a cost of business, similar to a callback or warranty claim. Pay it out of the same contra account you use for warranty work. The extortion cost is less than the potential damage to your brand.
- Bury negative reviews: If you get a negative review that pops up in the search engines and you can’t correct it, bury it. This is what the reputation management services do. Generate enough press releases and encourage enough positive reviews that the negative review drops so far down in search engine results that it all but ceases to exist.
- Pay to play: The biggest extortion is not from consumers but from some of the review sites. While some claim to never accept money from businesses, they do accept advertising. It tends to be expensive, but “coincidentally” companies that advertise tend to get better ratings and better reviews. While you can avoid paying these sites for a long time, the day might come along when discretion gets the better part of valor and it makes more sense to pay them. It’s one more cost of doing business.
Matt Michel is CEO of the Service Roundtable, contracting’s largest business alliance. For help building your brand and rebates from companies that will help you get more and better reviews, contact the Service Roundtable at 877.262.3341 or visit ServiceRoundtable.com