How well do you manage negative customer feedback? Sure, you record complaints, pass information on to key staff members and may even put a process in place to ensure that the incident never happens again – but what if the feedback is online for all eyes to see? How can you ensure that your reputation remains intact?
'In an era where customers feel empowered and have reviewing platforms at their fingertips, even the best business can be face the brunt of a disgruntled customer," said Fiona Adler, founder of Australia's leading business review website, WOMO.com.au. 'Learning how to minimise the consequences of less than positive reviews, and turn them on their head to work in your favour, is the key to effective reputation management."
With her finger on the pulse of what consumers are seeking from businesses Australia-wide, Fiona has created an online forum so popular it attracts a customer review every five minutes, adding to its 300,000+ reviews daily, making her an expert in managing reputations online.
Fiona's seven tips to respond to negative reviews online:
1) Don't panic! – The moment you first become aware of a negative review is not the time to respond. 'Yes, you should reply and address their feedback quickly, but you need to make sure you're in the right mindset," said Fiona. 'For business owners, it's very easy to take any criticism personally as it can feel like a personal attack. Keep the review in perspective and don't take it to heart. Remember that it's only one person's experience and everyone understands that things can go wrong - even for the best businesses."
2) Respond publically – Fiona explained that even if you know the customer, responding publically is a great idea as it gives you an opportunity to demonstrate your business' values and showcase your concern for customers. 'You should comment on, or reply to, the review and apologise unconditionally, while still showing others the best sides of your business. Remember that potential customers will be reading your response and forming opinions based on what you do when things go wrong," said Fiona.
3) Be gracious and keep your cool - This can be tricky so take a deep breath and think carefully about what you're going to say. 'Even if the reviewer seems to be making unfounded claims, don't lash out, get personal or argue against their review" said Fiona. 'Remember, this is one of your paying customers!" Fiona recommends:
Thanking the reviewer for their feedback
Acknowledging their dissatisfaction (and anything you are doing to avoid the same situation from happening again)
Pointing out relevant positive aspects of your business
Inviting them back (preferably encouraging them to contact you personally)
4) Offer to make amends – 'While you can allude to this publically, I suggest that where possible, you contact the customer directly with some sort of offer to resolve their issue or compensate them for having a bad experience, whether you think their grievances are legitimate or not. 'This could be in the form of a refund, a free service or product, or some type of special treatment on their next visit. With proper handling, often an unhappy customer can turn out to become one of your most loyal fans," said Fiona.
5) Take feedback on board – 'No, the customer isn't always right, but if you get a similar complaint several times, chances are you should do something about it. If something's broken, you need to fix it! So get your head out of the sand and work out what it would take to address the problem. Customer reviews are basically cheap market research so use them to your advantage," said Fiona.
6) Address dubious reviews – Fiona advises that if you doubt that a review is from a real customer of yours, or believe it to be factually inaccurate, avoid making your feelings public as you'll only sound bitter. 'Flag the review as "Inappropriate or Suspect" to the host website and explain the reason for your suspicions, they should be able to investigate directly," said Fiona.
7) Encourage other reviews – 'The more positive reviews you have, the less impact each negative review has. Rather than let one negative review attract all the attention, ask some of your happy customers to share their experiences online!" said Fiona.
Question: How do negative reviews affect a small business?
Fiona Adler: All reviews, whether negative or positive contribute to the overall reputation of a business. They're one of the primary sources of information that consumers use to get an understanding of what businesses are really like. Naturally, business owners are very wary of negative reviews - however if handled appropriately these can often be a blessing in disguise. Unfortunately when customers have a negative experience, many of them won't tell the business directly so finding out about their experience in a review gives the business an opportunity to apologise to the customer, fix the problem, and if appropriate, offer some sort of compensation. This often has the effect of turning a disgruntled customer into a loyal fan.
Everyone understands that things will sometimes go wrong - even for the best businesses. But it's what the business does about it (or doesn't do) that separates the good businesses from the bad.
Question: Are online reviews growing at a record rate?
Fiona Adler: More consumers than ever are now realising that reviews are a powerful platform that they can use to give shout-outs to good businesses and warn others about dodgy businesses. WOMO.com.aureceives a new review every 5 minutes and has over 330,000 reviews for Australian businesses!
Question: How often do people look online for reviews before using a company?
Fiona Adler: Nielsen Research tells us that over 80% of all purchases (whether goods or services) will start with an online search. We're using the internet to gather information and make smart decisions - much of this coming from reviews.
Question: How can small business manage their online reputation in regards to disgruntled customers?
Fiona Adler: Many small businesses are still not aware that they have reviews online so the first thing is for them to claim their listing so that they get notifications for new reviews. When customers provide feedback - whether good or bad - the business owner should respond publically. This is an opportunity to communicate directly with the customer, but also demonstrate to everyone else what kind of business you are! If the review is negative, firstly acknowledge their disappointment and apologise for their experience - whether or not you think they are right! Then use your comment to explain your side of the story or any additional facts, explain your commitment to customer service, and invite the customer back to give you another chance.
We find that only about 7% of reviews are negative as customers are equally motivated to share the good experiences they've had (which are far more common than the bad!).
Question: How can we use negative reviews to work in our favour?
Fiona Adler: Absolutely, we've seen many times where a business owner has reached out to a negative reviewer and turned that customer into a loyal advocate! For the most part, customers are reasonable people and if an apology is sincere, customers are very understanding and will update their review.
Question: Is it often a good idea to offer a refund or gift voucher when dealing with a disgruntled customers?
Fiona Adler: If a customer has had a bad experience and they're the type of customer the business wants to keep, it may be necessary to offer a refund, voucher or some sort of special treatment - it might just be a free dessert when they dine in next. A reviewing customer is an influential customer so the cost of providing something extra to give them a good experience is usually insignificant compared to the positive word-of-mouth you'll receive in return.
Question: Why is it important to respond publicly rather than delete the bad review? If a customer is making false claims, how is best to handle this?
Fiona Adler: Negative reviews can't be deleted but if you think a customer is making false claims, or if you believe they're not a customer at all, you can flag the review and put your case forward to the team of administrators. In some cases we'll require that reviewers modify their review to remove inflammatory comments or provide proof of purchase if their status as a customer is being questioned.
Question: How do you personally manage negative customer feedback?
Fiona Adler: We believe transparency is the best way to manage customer feedback and we have our own reviews publically displayed on WOMO as well. The vast majority are very positive - but of course there are a few negatives. Mostly these are misunderstandings about how WOMO works so we reply to these reviews to clear up the confusion (and of course apologising and inviting them back). We also try to use this feedback to improve our service and the way we convey information.
Question: Can you tell us about WOMO.com.au?
Fiona Adler: WOMO.com.austands for Word Of Mouth Online and it's Australia's number one customer reviews website. We started it 6 years ago when we wanted a better way to find reliable tradies - and realised that the same concept could be applied to hairdressers, restaurants, mechanics, removalists, dentists and really all kinds of services. We're thrilled to be helping people find great businesses and helping the great businesses get found!
Interview by Brooke Hunter