Review Management: 7 Tips on Avoiding Bad Reviews

In my presentation at Getlisted’s Local University seminars for SMBs, I note that there are three simple elements to a review management plan:

  • Provide Great customer service
  • Ask for reviews
  • Avoid Negative reviews

It used to be said that an unhappy customer would tell 10 people. Today an unhappy customer can influence hundreds if not thousands of people by leaving a bad review. It is common wisdom that, in the age of the internet, providing excellent customer service is the secret to review success.

While that is certainly true it is also a bit of cliche. What business doesn’t strive to provide excellent customer service? Sooner or later something will happen, despite your every intention. Things will go wrong and you will have an unhappy customer. As Matt McGee says, we don’t live in a five star world. Your client’s business is no exception.

There are two kinds of businesses in todays world. Those that have received a negative review and those that will. Bad reviews sting. Much has been written about ways to garner reviews from your clients. Less has been written about dodging the stinkers. It is equally important in generating a review profile that reflects the mostly positive range of your customer’s experiences to AVOID BAD REVIEWS.

Sooner or later you will have an unhappy customer and you want plans in place to deal with that eventuality. If you assume that your systems will fail, you can be ready to deal with the customer, who is all too ready to trash you, in a way that doesn’t drive them to the desperate act of expressing their frustration in the public commons.

Here are some tips on how to avoid bad reviews:

1- Follow up with customers immediately after the sale with a call and/or an email to be sure that all went as planned. Identify problems early on in the cycle so that you can correct them before they become complaints.

2- Make complaining easy. Build a culture that is truly ready to receive the complaint at every level of your business from the cashier to the president. Train your staff and train them well to not be defensive and to solve most problems immediately.

3- Make a complaint form very obvious on your site, perhaps on every page. This not only allows unhappy customers to complain, it makes it clear to potential customers that you are ready to listen. If you title the page “Your company name | Complaints” it will have the added benefit of appearing high on the main search results. This not only telegraphs to your customer your willingness to deal with complaints, it pushes other perhaps less flattering chatter down the page.

4- When you do receive a complaint, follow up quickly and try to resolve it. Nothing rankles a customer stewing about your bad service like waiting for a return phone call.

5-Respond to negative reviews online. Once the issue is resolved circle back with the customer about the review. A recent survey has shown that an appropriate response to a negative review can get the negative review removed in a third of the cases. A roughly equal number of consumers posted a positive review after receiving a response to their bad review. Having a plan and responding appropriately to a negative review is critical to this process.

6-Never fake reviews or enter them on behalf of your clients. It is imperative that you not provide reviewers with any trace that you are abusing your review corpus. Getting slammed by a customer review that questions your ethics calls into question your trustworthiness and integrity. It is the most difficult type of negative review to deal with even if it is not true. Responding online to the question do you beat your wife with a stick or a club creates a no-win situation.

7- Communicate with your local competitors. Competitor spam reviews are becoming more common than ever. If you are on speaking terms with them you are much less likely to fall victim to a puerile spam review attack.The reality is that other similar local businesses are not the long term determinant of your success nor really your major competition. In Barbara Oliver’s recent case, she immediately contacted the two other jewelers affected by competitor spam and established communication and rapport to make it less likely in the future.

Please help me add to the list. Do you have any suggestions as to how to avoid that devastating negative review?

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Review Management: 7 Tips on Avoiding Bad Reviews by

24 thoughts on “Review Management: 7 Tips on Avoiding Bad Reviews”

  1. @Mike – excellent.

    I would recommend adding to this a method of tracking complaints to be sure it has been resolved. Many times the complaint may involve suppliers and without a tracking system you might forget about the complaint and not realize it was never resolved. This could be an online tracking app or something as simple as an Excel spreadsheet to track the complaints. Last, call to make sure the customer’s complaint was really addressed. You might even send a small gift certificate with an final apology letter.

  2. @John

    Good point, having a complaint resolution process that falls through the cracks would imply that there are reasons for the complaint to begin with. Even if the lack of response is due to vendor issue, you should stay in touch with the client to let them know that you are recontacting the vendor.

    Another approach to the gift idea is to provide a strong incentive for them to return to your business in the form of a deep discount or freebie IF they come in. Your gift certificate idea covers that ground well.

  3. make it easy for clients to fimd your review page…. Might be something to attach to a purchase, subscription, or signup email confirmation that contains a script for analytics attribution.

  4. Great point to add to this piece here, John! I like what Mike is preaching and my only comment is that you must monitor the good and bad reviews as completely as possible!

    A form is one way that we’ve used recently, which is titled “Complain Directly to the Company CEO!” – and it gets sent via email to him and he does drill down to see what happened, why it happened, and always always sends off an email AND a snailmail letter explaining the issue and what he’s done about it! Often, that includes a discount on a future service transaction too….tho not always. This keeps him and his firm involved in their clients affairs and we’ve had more than a few dozen folks who “did” complain – offer up “now I’m satisfied” comments in Social Media!

    So yes – stay on top of ALL the complaints you receive…that works for us and our client roster!

    Jim

  5. Mike: Excellent list. Our best running operations have practiced much of what you’ve described and because of that they run with pristine reputations. We open the doors for actual customer complaints and solve them immediately.

    But frankly those businesses have excellent employees and so the complaints are few and far between.

    Regardless of the “success” you might have found with Barbara Oliver I can assure you that efforts to communicate with competitors and establish good enough relations that spam attack reviews from competitors doesn’t always succeed.. We have also attempted that, in fact for years.

    As Yam Regev has pointed out and as I have experienced there are plenty of competitors out there that will still spam and attack away. They will do that even after you think you have established “good relations”.

    All in all though, these are great suggestions. Still, I suggest don’t turn your back on competitors.

  6. @Mike – Great stuff per usual. I would just make a distinction on #5 about review sites vs. complaint sites. Sometimes responses on complaint sites like ripoffreports and complaintboards can spiral downward and help them show up higher on your brand searches.

  7. Thanks for another useful list of pointers. I especially like the idea of having a complaint form on the website and will add one to our website redesign which is in the works.

  8. @Dave

    The merchant class if often petty in their misunderstanding of the world around them. They all too often believe that if you have less bread they will have more.

    The reality is at the level most of us operate, that just isn’t the case. The forces and competitive factors that dictate their success are often much bigger than that. My father always used to say that “trying to put someone else out of business would only result in you going out of business”.

    If these folks need any further proof of this they need to just observe large companies like Archer Daniels Midland and their “world wide competitors”. It is also obvious in industries that have only 3 or 4 large players. Their pricing always mysteriously moves in lockstep and in one direction. Competition my ass.

    These merchants have been drinking way to much Milton Friedman Kool-aid.

  9. @Daniel Thanks!

    @Justin Good point. Your distinction is appropriate and critical. Even there though the nature and type of response, if appropriate, has to be well thought out and crafted. It should only be posted if there is a chance of convincing future customers of your honor and value.

  10. @Mike – Well said. We all know the complaint sites play a different game, but that’s one of the things that I’ve always admired about places like Yelp, later Google Places, and recently cars.com where they specifically won’t allow it to turn into a flame chain.

  11. Mike: Nice theory. It doesn’t always work out that way. Not everyone holds the same beliefs as you. Wish it were that way, though.

    OTOH: Yam Regev and I seem to have very different experiences. Similarly there are many businesses who have complained about spam attack reviews in the Google Places Forums.

    If we were to speak with them one by one I believe we would find some cases where your ideas might work and some cases where it would be a pipe dream.

  12. @Earlpearl
    I clearly understand that working with those in the same industry in local markets doesn’t always work. What I am saying is that the attitude that most SMBs bring to this problem is wrong headed and counter productive. That attitude is what makes cooperation not work, not my theory about how to improve it.

  13. These are really great tips to combat negative reviews. I don’t think it would be very hard at all for businesses to implement these as best practices into their company.

    Another thing I would add to the list is to work towards building up an arsenal of positive reviews. I have a friend that began sending a follow up e-mail that included a link to his Google places page with instructions on how to leave a review and asked them to do it. Within a few weeks of doing that he had quite a few great reviews. If he ever gets any negative ones, people will also consider the positive reviews as well.

    Thanks for these tips!

  14. Hey Mike, thanks for the great suggestions.

    I’d like to suggest one, if I might: business owners should also get in the habit of responding to the positive reviews (not just to the negative ones).

    As you said, for many reasons it’s worth responding to any negative reviews. But it kinda looks bad when one person leaves a pissed-off review and gets the personal attention of the business owner (in the form of a written response) while all the happy customer who went to the trouble of writing a positive review don’t get so much as a simple “thanks.” That’s why I tell my clients to respond to ALL of their reviews, not just the black marks; it’s just so quick to do, even if you have hundreds of G reviews.

    I don’t know if you’d agree with that…

  15. @phil

    For me the jury is still out on responding to every review.

    The question is, how does a business make the response in a way that potential clients would find sincere? Customers can sense BS from 300 paces and it would be all too easy for it to become marketing happy talk.

  16. @Mike

    Yeah, I agree that each response would have to come across as sincere. So maybe a business doesn’t owner shouldn’t respond to the people who give the business a lukewarm 3-3.5 stars. And certainly he/she shouldn’t just use a cookie-cutter response like “Thanks! Come again”–which certainly does come across as “marketing B.S,” as you said.

    Insofar as you can say something specific/personalized to each customer, and insofar as you can avoid self-promotion, I don’t see a reason why you wouldn’t give as much airtime to the happy customers as to the disgruntled ones.

    I don’t know if you’d agree with this, but my two reasons for suggesting this are (1) that customers can sense a little sincere appreciation just as well as they can sense BS, and (2) that a habit of responding to positive/decent reviews may help dissuade angrier customers from thinking that they only way they can get your attention is by leaving a scathing review. It just shows potential customers that you care–more so than if you don’t seem to pay attention to your reviews until the doo-doo hits the fan.

    My two cents, at least :)

  17. To be fair, I think the title of this piece should have been how to do with getting good reviews, not simply avoiding bad ones.

    It’s always seems to be that it’s customer service issues which compell customers to leave a review (good or bad). Taking this level of interest is symptematic of an organisation which is certainly taking care of it’s customers. (No matter how awkward they are!)

  18. Great tips. Thanks! I especially like numbers 4 and 5. I think that the faster issues are addressed and handled the better the outcome will be for future clients / customers. It’s very important to address complaints and not just assume that they will go away.

  19. Hi Mike,
    I have been experiencing the loss of reviews in Google Places. I had a recent client post a review and I saw it I think on Monday. then she wrote back to me that it had disappeared. Another client volunteered to write a review and I asked him to put in google places and that too is gone. Have you heard of this happening? I still have my 2 oldest reviews there but all recent ones vanished.
    Also all of my Yelp reviews are gone too, though that cant be google’s fault.
    My site is under seattle wedding photographers – www dot abeautifuldayphotography dot com

  20. @Daniel
    Can the clients see the review when logged in?

    The liky reason is that have been caught in Google’s spam filter. If the reviews are visible when logged in but not when logged out, it would confirm their fate as being filtered.

  21. I just love this kind of thing. Creative ways of capturing customer feed back is right up my alley. It’s great when you can keep the negative reviews off the major sites and give any customers that feel the need to complain a place to be heard. It’s a win-win and you truly create better relationships with clients because you can catch problems before they spread. Highly recomended if you’re looking to control your online reputation. Thanks for the list Mike.

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