The web has given people unprecedented access to businesses and services of all kinds, allowing them to research and read reviews on anything from restaurants to surgeons.

For customers – who, according to recent Feefo research, put around twice as much stock in online reviews as they do recommendations from family, friends or celebrities – this ability to research anything, person or place before they buy, hire or visit it is great.

However, it can spell big trouble for small businesses. If you don’t have a huge customer base and so don’t garner too many reviews, a bad one can stick out like a high-vis vest on a dark night – Handling Bad Reviewsand it can also skew your score on a review site.

So what’s the best way to cope with bad reviews? Here are our eight great tips:

Respond To All Reviews

If it’s possible, respond to all your reviews, whether good or bad. This shows that you appreciate feedback and take it on board, making customers feel you care about their experience. Obviously, if there are too many to make this practical, you’ll have to stick to responding to ones that cause you concern and a selection of others that are particularly complimentary and/or specific.

Respond Swiftly

If you leave reviews unanswered for too long, satisfied customers will think their fulsome praise meant nothing and may presume you’re arrogant. Dissatisfied customers will presume you don’t care about their bad experience – and their anger is likely to fester and grow.

Say Thank You – and Apologise

Yes, it’s hard to put on the online, unseen version of a smile if someone has just launched a personal, vindictive and unjustified attack on your business. But try to anyway. Be the better person. Remember, other potential and existing customers may be reading your response, so showing courtesy and restraint – even in the face of abuse and anger – can only make you look more professional. This leads to our next point…

Be Nice, Swayze-Style

If you don’t know what I’m talking about here, search the net for ‘be nice’ ‘Patrick Swayze’ ‘Roadhouse’. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll know that what I’m about to preach is the sermon of Dalton, Swayze’s character in Roadhouse. Dalton is chief bouncer and his rule for defusing tension is always to be nice:

“If somebody gets in your face and calls you a ****, I want you to be nice.
Ask him to walk; be nice. If he won’t walk, walk him. But be nice.
If you can’t walk him, one of the others will help you. And you’ll both be nice.
I want you to remember that it’s a job. It’s nothing personal.”

That last part is highly important! It’s your service or your product the customer has found fault with, not you – however personal they are being and however personal it feels! Stay calm, stay polite.

Keep It (Mostly) In The Public Eye

While the specifics of what went wrong and exactly what you’re doing to put it right may sometimes be better off discussed in an email, make sure your public response to a bad review makes it obvious that you’ve considered the comments carefully and have a plan in place for improvement and/or putting things right for the customer.

But what happens if the customer’s replies to your calm, polite, apologetic response become aggressive and rude?

You follow Dalton’s advice once again. “Take it outside. Never start anything inside the bar unless it’s absolutely necessary.” Your bar is the review site or a social media platform; you ‘take it outside’ by explaining calmly that while you want to help the customer, you are unwilling to expose yourself, staff or other customers to abuse, and that if they wish to pursue their complaint further, they must do so via your customer services email.

Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre

Reviews can be seen as a mirror, reflecting what other people feel about the services or products we provide. Once you’ve looked in the mirror, signal what you will do in response (by telling customers your intentions) and then manoeuvre (make the change when it’s safe and reasonable to do so).

Offer Compensation

A replacement product, next day delivery, a money off coupon, a combination of all three; always include something that’s useful to the customer and, if possible, goes some way towards righting the wrong (e.g. you posted the wrong book and they need the right one urgently – get the right one to them by free next day delivery).

Finish the Story

Responding to reviews and telling customers what improvements you intend to make are important steps. Equally important is not leaving the story unfinished; once improvements are made, report back on what you’ve done, why you did it and how it has improved the service you provide.

Finally, Change Your Thinking

It’s easy to let one or two bad reviews get you down and get yourself to a stage where you dread the ping of a notification that announces your business has a new review. But try to see reviews as an opportunity – not just to get feedback (and hopefully, most of it will be good!), but also to show how much you care about your customers and respond to their concerns.

Sometimes, reading a polite, positive response from a business that promises improvements can sway me far more than the original bad review did.

So remember:

  • appreciate reviews for their ability to let you show off your professionalism, turn negatives into positives, as well as allowing you to build a trusted relationship with customers
  • respond swiftly, politely and positively, staying on the issue until you’ve resolved it and made improvements

Phil is the Digital Account Manager for Team Organic. With a background in business banking and a passion for Social Media he takes his job seriously with a cheeky smile on his face!