Ted Paff is the President of Customer Lobby, an on-line solution to help local service businesses to get, manage and publish reviews. Ted called me when he read my principles of a review program post to introduce himself and his company. We had a far ranging conversation that covered everything from the economy to parents but always came back to conversation about reviews and their role in the online world.
I was particularly struck by his company’s approach to finding the lemonade in the lemon of the negative review titled: Negative Reviews Increase Sale and the idea that the response is as much targeted at future customers as the reviewer. I asked him to write a guest blog detailing how he and why he would suggest responding to the negative review :
So you got a negative review about your business. Although it stings right now, what you do next has a bigger impact on the ultimate outcome of this situation than the negative review itself. Your actions will determine if this event enhances your reputation or becomes an embarrassing smudge.
Should you Respond and What to Say
As much as you might want to, you can’t profitably respond to all negative reviews. Never respond to a review unless you can do Step 1 and Step 2 below (Step 3 is optional).
Step 1: Own the issue.
Your first objective in a response is to communicate that: you are paying attention to the issue; the issue is important to you; and that you are sorry the reviewer had a problem. Your prospects will be reading your reply with rapt attention. Write this for them. Tell them that when someone has a problem, your business will hear them. It doesn’t matter if the reviewer lied or only told half of the story – own whatever issue they wrote about.
Step 2: Describe how future customers will not have this issue.
A critical part of any response is to tell your prospects that something has changed and this issue will not happen to them. This is a golden opportunity to market your business. For example, writing that ‘we have put a new process in place…’ tells your prospects that your company is good and is getting better.
Step 3: Offer to fix the issue
Your business will spend a lot of time and money on sales and marketing. Although you can’t always fix every issue (sometimes you don’t want to), your offer to fix a reviewer’s problem is a great marketing investment. In the response, suggest that they contact you directly so you can try to resolve the issue.
Guidelines for your Response
Write it with your prospects in mind. Before writing your response, think about who your audience is. Although your response should be addressing the reviewer, the vast majority of the readers of your response are likely to be your prospects. Writing your response with the majority of your readers (a.k.a. your sales prospects) in mind will help you set the right tone. For example, write about your company’s commitment to customer satisfaction. Your response should not try to change the reviewer’s mind or dispute the facts as set out in the review.
Don’t be defensive. One suggestion we often give to our clients is to send a draft of your response to someone that doesn’t work at your company. Ask them to delete anything that sounds defensive.
Take your time. A negative review most likely made you angry. Resist the temptation to reply quickly because, unless you have superhuman emotional control, the reply is likely to sound angry.
Keep it brief. Resist the temptation to “set the record straight.” The surest way to ensure that your response never gets read is to give your side of the story.
Writing a short, non-defensive reply to a review that owns the issue, describes how the issue has been resolved (maybe includes an offer to fix the issue) will earn you the trust of your future customers.
Another incredible resource in responding to negative reviews is a piece written last year by Miriam Ellis: Edit, Remove and Respond To Reviews – Tools For Conflict Resolution.
To get a sense of how far wrong things can go when an SMB decides to respond to negative reviews see Inc’s You’ve Been Yelped detailing how bookshop owner Diane Goodman, was “booked for battery and remanded to San Francisco General Hospital for a mental health evaluation.”