Imagine this: Monday morning rolls around, and you’re grinding through the typical routine. After pouring yourself a cup of coffee, it’s time to sit down and update your menu and specials. You review income from the weekend. You prepare a purchase order for the next week. You log in to RepShield to see what people are saying about your restaurant. And… you stop, do a double take, your jaw drops to the floor: Someone gave you a 1 star review on Google.
Criticism is a bitter pill to swallow. I mean, how could anyone have something bad to say about your company? This customer must be deluded and irrational. Everything they’re saying is untrue. How on earth can they be so sadistic to spread lies about you online? … Sound familiar?
It’s upsetting to see someone writing mean things about you, but don’t take it personally. Whether you own a restaurant, pawn shop, clothing store, or massage parlor, negative reviews are something that every small business owner will have to deal with at some point in their career. Customers can be fickle. Sometimes they feel ignored. Sometimes your services didn’t meet their expectations. And, of course, sometimes they’re just a plain jerk.
Whatever this individual’s motivation, there is now a negative review about your company online, and the entire world is going to see it. Believe it or not, online and word of mouth reviews are the number 1 factor in whether or not a new customer will choose your business, or your competition. Here are some steps to help you get through this:
Step # 1 – Relax and cool off before taking action
As I said earlier, don’t take a negative review personally. It’s completely normal to get defensive in the face of harsh criticism, but it’s really bad PR. So before you reply with a scathing retort, remember, you’re in a public forum. People are going to judge you not only by reviews, but also how you respond to them. Take a minute to cool off before you proceed.
Step # 2 – Listen to what they’re saying, and evaluate yourself
Perhaps their criticism is founded. Maybe you do in fact have slow customer service. Maybe your soup is too salty. Maybe you are overcharging for a pair of *insert brand here* sneakers. We’ve all heard the saying “the customer is always right”, and as someone who worked years in the service industry, I can tell you that’s far from true. But the customer is the one giving you money and therefore keeping you in business. Listen to what they have to say.
Step # 3 – Plan a course of action
Determine your best response. Keep in mind, your company image is on the line. Sometimes, it’s best to reply with an apology or coupon. Always take the high ground to show people you really do care about your business.
An apology is not always the right solution. Sometimes reviews really are one sided and unfair. If you’re truly being slighted, offer a polite and professional rebuttal. I worked in the social media department of an e-commerce retailer, and from time to time we would see irrational, bizarre, and downright incorrect complaints on the Facebook wall. Some customers will tear you up in a public forum just to get a coupon out of you. In the case where you really haven’t done anything wrong, it’s okay to reply with “I’m sorry you feel that way, but we discussed this with the employee in question and…” Potential customers will read this, and give weight to what you have to say.
And of course, the “traditional” response is not always the best one. I recently saw a picture on Facebook of a restaurant sign reading “Home of the worst meatball sandwich that one guy on Yelp ever had”. This seemingly spiteful sign spread like wildfire across the internet, giving this restaurant more publicity than you could ever dream of.
Step # 4 – Consider steps for preventing future negative reviews
The best way to handle negative reviews is to prevent them from happening in the first place. If the customer complained about poor service, address the issue with your employees. If they complained about high prices, evaluate your competitiveness in the market.
Consider giving your customers incentive to write positive reviews about your business. A simple sign at the cash register saying “Have a good experience? Tell everyone about it on Yelp!” can go a long way.
The internet is a new frontier for customer service. If used properly, it can give your company the image and professionalism you’ve always dreamed of. If used improperly, it can be downright disastrous.
Best of luck.