Online reviews are a very useful tool for helping people decide if your product is worth their time. It is more respected than a lot of other ways to get information out there, like advertising for example. Many people respect it about as much as the opinion of a friend.
The big problem with reviews is that however good your product is and however much time you spend on customer service, a certain proportion is going to be negative. That can be hard to deal with as a company.
To make things a little easier, here we’ll cover some of the don’ts of negative review management and why they’re such a bad idea. In that way, you’ll be able to avoid the mistakes which can seriously harm your situation.
Mistake 1: React immediately
Let’s start with the biggest one of them all: reacting the moment you first see a negative review. The first stuff that generally comes out off your fingertips when you first read a negative review is a bit like the stuff that comes out of your mouth just after somebody has shot off your big toe. It is not well considered. It has not been edited for your audience and it all comes from the same rage-filled place.
It’s an interesting thing, really. When we’re reacting to a positive review that an emotionality is a great tool. It will radiate the right emotions and often make the person on the other side feel your gratitude. During a negative review, that same emotionality is a bit like it was you who pulled the trigger. You’re shooting yourself in the foot.
The solution? Take a step back. When you feel angry, frustrated, annoyed or even just peeved, sit back and take a deep breath. After all, the explicative that come out of your mouths after the removal of that digit will dissipate. The words that you put online? They stick around forever.
Mistake 2: Don’t apologize
I’m sorry. There. That wasn’t so hard. It’s only two little words and eight characters. And they’re some of the most powerful words in the English language for diffusing a situation. It is almost always a good idea to use them. Even when whatever you’re being accused of is blatantly false, inaccurate or misleading.
Why? Because it shows empathy. It shows you care about the other person’s feelings. And it demonstrates that you’re not going to be a dick about things.
If it isn’t your fault, go with such combinations as ‘I’m sorry that you feel this way’, ‘I’m sorry our service did not meet your expectations’ or ‘I’m sorry this incident affected you so deeply’. None of these versions of I’m sorry say ‘I did a bad thing’ but all demonstrate empathy and will hopefully mollify the other person some.
While we’re on the mistake of apologies, always remember: Everything before the but doesn’t matter. So, if you say ‘I’m sorry, but…’ then you’ve pretty much shot your apology in the foot. Does this mean you can’t disagree with the review? Of course not. You’re allowed to voice your own perspective. Just don’t do it right after the apology. Leave that standing on its own. Then come back to your own opinions a little further down and separately. For example:
I’m so sorry that you feel so strongly about the shooting in the foot metaphor in this article. You’re right, it is a violent analogy and I can see why it would have affected your son the way it did. I really hope I didn’t do any lasting damage.
The reason I decided to use it was because I didn’t really expect a four-year-old to be reading articles about how to deal with negative reviews. Obviously, that was an inaccurate assumption. Next time I’ll use something less visceral.
Notice how if I would have used ‘but’ right after ‘foot metaphor in this article’ and launched into my defense it would have had a far more aggressive tone and my sorry would have been rendered moot? That’s the ticket to writing high-quality review responses.
Mistake 3: Forget about everybody else
For most people, when they receive a negative review their world shrinks down to the person who wrote the review and themselves. That’s a mistake. There are far more important people in a review situation and they are everybody else who will read that review and your response to it.
After all, it is their opinions which can still be shaped and formed. That’s a lot harder to do with the person who gave the negative review in the first place (as well as, obviously, your own).
To that end, your strategy when dealing with negative reviews should always be about blunting its main thrust. If they sound angry and unreasonable, then the best approach is to sound reasonable and accommodating. If they bring a good argument, then show that you appreciate it and are doing things about dealing with that problem.
The main goal should always be about demonstrating that the complaint was an isolated incident or that you’re taking steps to make things better. It should never be about telling the reviewer they’re an idiot as that combative will almost always reflect badly on you.
Mistake 4: Feel that you need to respond to everybody
Not every negative review deserves to be responded to. In fact, if you respond to some reviews – even with the best intentions – you’re just going to throw fuel on the fire and enrage the trolls. How do you know which reviews to respond to? That’s more art than science. It depends on how many reviews you’ve responded to in the past as well as the tone of the review.
Reviews that are a primal scream of disgust and hatred might just invite more trouble down the line. In these cases, if you want to say anything at all you can say ‘We’re very sorry you feel that way and we hope you have better luck with another provider’. After all, you want to avoid a shouting match and some people you simply don’t want as clients.
The best rule of thumb is if they ask a question that is non-rhetorical, then it is better to take the time to respond. If, on the other hand, there is no question or apparent space, for that matter, to change their minds then it might well be best to let sleeping dogs lie.
The art of negative review management
The ultimate goal of responding to negative reviews is to end up sound like you’re kinder, more flexible, more reasonable and more understanding than the people putting up the negative reviews. If you can do that, then quite often you’ll be able to mollify the person’s anger or – if you can’t do that – then make them look like the back end of a cow.
Either of these outcomes will be more effective at removing the sting from negative reviews than any ‘I know you are but what am I’ kind of answer. For that reason, if you can keep that in mind and approach review management by always aiming for that outcome, you’ll be able to contain the fallout from this kind marketing effectively and consistently.
Amanda Sparks, professional marketer and blogger, head of marketing department at Essay Supply. She works as a marketer for 7 years and is passionate about developing innovative and customer-friendly solutions for brand growth.