When you've got a big, ugly customer review sitting near the top of your business' Google results, it can be a real thorn in your side.
Moreover, a Harvard Business School study found that garnering an extra star in a Yelp review average leads to 5 to 9 percent more revenue for a restaurant. Perhaps that's why the owner of Deitz Development in Washington, D.C., was so incensed about negative reviews of his business on Yelp and Angie's List—a client said he stole from her home and billed her improperly—he sued her for $750,000.
Communicators and business owners shouldn't just sit on their laurels when they see bad online reviews of their brands or businesses, reputation experts say. But there are other ways to go about it.
"Right or wrong, that makes Dietz Development look bad," says Tripp Frohlichstein of MediaMasters Training. "Not the kind of organization I would want to do business with."
So what does work? Making a connection and creating content.
The Google problem
How can you drop that negative review or a spiteful blog post from your Google results? Create or cultivate new Google results to replace it.
"The best ways to respond to negative reviews is usually to get engaged in the conversation," Frohlichstein says. "Your responses also show up in the Google search."
Leslie Hobbs, public relations director for Reputation.com, says the content doesn't have to come from you. You can ask other customers to post positive things to counteract the bad stuff.
"If you're a great company, working with customers to build up a body of reviews will normalize your results over time," she says. "The few negative reviews will be proportional and will not unfairly dominate your results."
Hobbs warns, however, that business owners should never offer incentives in exchange for a positive online review or blog post; nor should they write reviews themselves. People can sniff out a fake.
Ali Alami, general manager and acting CEO of ratings site Judy's Book, also warns that encouraging people to post reviews could result in more unfavorable feedback if a real, underlying problem at the heart of the initial bad review isn't resolved.
Even with 100 positive reviews bringing up the average, that one bad notice will remain a fly in the ointment until you step in and try to resolve it. Yelp enables public and private responses to reviews and offers video guides to help business owners connect.
Alami says that reaching out to an angry customer and handling things well can effectively erase that bad review.
"In most cases, the user will agree to remove or update the review," he says. "I've seen many examples of a user writing a valid one-star review, the business addressing the issue to making amends, then having the consumer write a second positive follow up on how well the owner addressed the issue."
Sheri Rice, marketing director for the University of Wisconsin's extension conference centers, says she always responds to bad reviews and prepares for the response.
"First we accept that this was their experience, and it's shared internally," she says. "I usually add commentary asking the hotel manager for their feedback. If it helps, I will use that in my response post."
Rice says she uses the response to apologize and offer her direct phone line for a one-on-one conversation.
Frohlichstein says there's one big piece of the puzzle he always looks for in a business's response.
"Some thank me; others pledge to do better," he says. "In the case of those responses where they promise to do better, I am far more likely to reconsider staying at their property. No response, and I am less likely."
Other things to keep in mind
There's one kind of online complaint that isn't worth responding to, Hobbs says.
"One exception to responding would be if someone is clearly just nasty," she says. "It may not pay to engage and may actually make things worse."
It also doesn't do a lot of good to respond to a disgruntled client months after the fact. Don Campbell, president of Expand2Web, says he always shows clients how to set up alerts for their businesses so they know someone's posted a review fairly quickly after it's live.
Hobbs also suggests that communicators should look out for and reply to positive reviews or blog posts, too.
"It shows current and potential customers that you're listening and that you're appreciative and responsive, all good qualities," she says.
|Dealing with a bad online review
PR Society of America President Gerry Corbett offers these six steps:
1. Take the bull by the horns and investigate.
2. If the complaint is legitimate, fix it.
3. If not, mediate.
4. Post a public response, pro or con.
5. Be prepared to address inquiries, questions, comments if appropriate.
6. Move on.
Matt Wilson is a staff writer for Ragan.com.