3 Surprising Ways to Handle Negative Customer Reviews

If you're tempted to flag the negative customer reviews your company receives, take a step back. You may be missing out on important ways to find new business and connect to your customers.
January 10, 2018

Businesses can sometimes get hung up on removing negative reviews and soliciting for positive ones. But businesses that deliver a strong customer experience aren't just treating review sites as marketing channels. To them, review sites are valuable sources of customer feedback and an extension of their customer service. Reviews provide learning opportunities for their teams and a chance to improve.

This might come across as idealistic and tough to put into practice. But the very best organizations are making it happen by getting creative (and even unconventional), in a variety of industries, from restaurants to property management to health care.

My company, Reputology.com, helps businesses monitor and manage their online reviews, so we've seen firsthand how much of a difference this makes in comparison to the approach of the average business. Over the course of helping thousands of locations, we've observed three key things that the best businesses do differently.

1. Don't be content with positive reviews.

Even if you get a perfect five-star rating, the customer still might have something to say about what your business can do better. A popular fast-casual dining establishment in Southern California often receives compliments about having long lines that move fast. Most businesses would be happy to get good ratings, but this business does not.

In their eyes, the long lines could potentially scare off prospective customers. So instead of settling for the compliments, they launched initiatives to help communicate that the wait times were actually lower, by posting signs and having greeters communicate wait times.

While the negative review can be disheartening, it can also be the stepping stone for a teaching moment and win.

—Jack Yu, founder, Reputology

If you are just focused on the star rating, that constructive criticism can be easy to overlook. If you look beyond the rating, however, you can find lost opportunities.

2. Get creative with negative reviews.

Too often, when businesses get a negative review, their first thought is to make that review go away. But while the negative review can be disheartening, it can also be the stepping stone for a teaching moment and win.

One of the largest shopping centers in North America noticed a rise in complaints about overcrowded parking lots during the holiday shopping season. Rather than dismiss the reviews as something out of their control, they got creative about what they could do.

Out of their brainstorming sessions, they decided to reach out a ride-hailing service, and formed a partnership in which they would cover the cost of a shopper's car ride if the shopper spent a certain dollar amount at its stores.

This partnership wasn't just a solution for the overcrowded parking, but it also became a marketing promotion to drive shoppers, who may have otherwise been scared off by concerns over parking, into their stores.

3. Don't necessarily flag inappropriate reviews.

Many review sites like Yelp, Google and TripAdvisor allow businesses and reviewers to flag reviews that violate their terms of service. In general, the main reasons that reviews get flagged are 1) the reviews don't accurately reflect a customer's experience, 2) the authors are not true customers but rather competitors or someone affiliated with the business or 3) the language in the review is inappropriate and hostile.

Flagging reviews can be an effective way to make a negative review disappear if it's in clear violation of the terms of service. But sometimes, you might have a reviewer that mistakenly meant to leave a review for another business. Those can be opportunities for you to win over a new customer.

One of the largest health care providers in the United States monitors reviews for its 200-plus hospitals and medical facilities. Their social media team found a negative Google review for one of its hospitals written by the sister of a military veteran who was denied a procedure. She actually meant to write the review for one of their competitors. The social media team could have flagged the review for removal, but they didn't.

They took a moment to let her know she was mixing them up for someone else and connected her with the appropriate medical team in their organization so that he could get the treatment he needed. Her brother not only became a patient of theirs, but this extra effort turned into positive PR to their surprise.

Of course, you want to follow best practices for responding to reviews because review sites are an extension of customer service. But while your competitors are only reacting to reviews, stuck in the mindset that these sites are only marketing channels, your team is getting better, wowing customers and prospects with initiative and creative thinking—and hopefully leading to even more positive reviews.

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