As hard as you try, you will never be able to make 100% of your customers happy 100% of the time. Even companies with excellent products and stellar customer service occasionally mess up (or encounter a grumpy customer). When you are marketing your business online, you have to be prepared for the occasional bad review.
With online review sites so accessible to customers, public grumpiness seems to have become a popular sport. From trolls to disgruntled customers – everyone has an opinion and isn’t shy about expressing it. Add fake reviews into the mix, and it’s no wonder some business owners are wary of adding their business to online review sites.
In a previous article, we discussed the local review sites your small business should be using.
After reading it, you may be wondering how to handle negative reviews on sites like Google, Facebook, and Yelp. Many businesses choose not to respond to negative reviews at all. In their 2018 Online Reviews Survey, ReviewTrackers discovered that consumers are disappointed when brands don’t respond to reviews within a week. 63% say that a business has never responded to their review. Don’t be one of those statistics. How you respond to a review says everything about your business and the value you place on customer service.
The first time you experience a negative review will be shocking. Your instinct may be to fire back with a defensive retort, but that’s the last thing you want to do. The negative review is public, and so is your response. Instead, view this as an opportunity to make it right and possibly gain future customers’ trust.
In business, as in life, never respond when you are hurt or angry. Once you post your response, you may not be able to take it back. So, think carefully before responding.
Before you do anything, evaluate the circumstances thoroughly. Try to determine whether or not the review is real or fake. This may be difficult on Google because people are allowed to use aliases when creating accounts. Not only that, a customer doesn’t have to be a paying customer to leave a review. They could have had an experience with your business (a phone call, an email that wasn’t answered, a walk through your store).
A legitimate customer with a gripe is looking for someone to listen to their concern and resolve the problem. Treat them with respect and ask them to contact you so that you can offer a replacement or refund. If you have a warranty or guarantee, state that (publicly for all to see).
If it’s a fake customer, offer to give them a full refund. They never purchased anything so you won’t be out any money. But, you will appear to take their concern seriously and guarantee their satisfaction.
In both cases, this is your opportunity to reply in a manner that helps build goodwill for your business. Reply in an empathetic manner, acknowledging their concerns, and offering to go above and beyond to ensure they are happy. It’s not uncommon for a negative review to turn into a positive one, all because the business owner did the right thing, responding quickly and with empathy.
You should report fake reviews. Each platform has a procedure for doing so. There’s no guarantee that the review will be deleted, but you should try. Keep documentation of each request for a fake review to be removed in case the spammer comes back.
As I mentioned before, it’s difficult to prove fake reviews on Google. However, they do offer a way to flag and dispute reviews.
Go to Google Maps and search for your business. Then click on your Google business listing. Scroll down and click where it says # reviews.
Find the review in question and then click the three dots on the right and click “Flag as inappropriate.”
After you’ve flagged the review, you can also contact Google directly to follow up. Go to your Google My Business page and click Support at the bottom of the menu.
To report a Facebook review, it must violate their community standards. Here are the instructions.
The problem is that they will not remove ratings that are not accompanied by a review. Essentially, when they remove a review, they are removing content that violates their terms. Without a review, there is no content to remove. Unfortunately, you’re stuck with a low rating.
The best way to respond to Facebook reviews is to comment on them. Anyone can comment on a Facebook review. Be sure you leave a comment as your business account, not your personal account. See the Offer to Make it Right section above for tips on how to respond.
Comment quickly so that customers know you are responsive. Note that other people can comment on reviews. This could be positive or negative. Unfortunately, it’s human nature to want to join in and offer our own complaints. (Wish we were more like that when it came to saying something positive!) So, be sure to reply to the comments as well.
Don’t forget to comment on good reviews. Let customers know you appreciate them. Taking the time to respond positively sends the message that you care about your customers which builds trust. A negative review can be offset by many positive reviews, so always encourage your customers to leave reviews.
You must have an approved profile photo and approved business account username before you can reply to Yelp reviews. Yelp allows you to respond to reviews via comment or in a direct message to the user. Instructions for responding to Yelp reviews are available on their site.
You can flag reviews as inappropriate and in violation of Yelp terms of service. Reporting a review is easy. Go to your Yelp business account page and click on Reviews. Then next to the review in question click the three dots. Then select Report Review. You will get an email from Yelp after they have reviewed it, notifying you of their decision.
Yelp typically doesn’t remove reviews unless instructed to do so by court order, or when it violates their TOS. They rely on Yelp users to build a community where people are free to express their opinions. So be prepared to continually monitor and respond to reviews on the platform. Also note, Yelp uses an algorithm to determine which reviews to show. A poor rating may not be visible to the public if it doesn’t meet their quality standards of being reliable and from an active user.
If you receive a fake review or one that is unjustly harsh, take action and respond. Here’s where you can get creative in your response. First, if you are certain it’s a fake review, express your concern that you weren’t able to find the customer in your records. Something along the lines of “(Reviewer name), I’m sorry to see that you are unhappy with our services. I have checked our records and didn’t find you among our list of customers. However, I want to make it right. Please contact me at _____ with details of the issue.”
Take it a step further and allow your real customers, who you know are happy with your company, to rally around you. Post something like this on your Facebook business page, “Woke up today to some fake negative reviews on Google. Always a fun way to start the day! When will these people learn that good always triumphs over evil! I know my loyal customers have my back and YOU are the reason I love doing what I do, even when the grumps try to ruin my day.” (This will likely prompt a response from your customers asking where they can leave a review.)
Reviews should be taken as feedback – good and bad – that can help improve your business. Your customers are the ones who use your product or service. You may not like hearing it when it's critical, but their input is important if you want to make improvements and truly offer the best service possible. As a business owner, you may be so caught up in day-to-day operations that you are unaware of issues in the customer’s experience. Treat each review as an opportunity to learn more about how your staff and customers interact.
The best defense is a good offense. Ask satisfied customers to leave reviews on Google, Facebook, and Yelp. When potential customers see dozens of positive reviews, the rare negative review will be seen as an outlier and will likely not be trusted.
For tips on how to ask for reviews, check out our article on local review sites.
One of the best ways to handle negative reviews on Google, Facebook, and Yelp is to stay on top of them. Monitor your reviews weekly, if not more often, and respond quickly. Be the business owner who develops a community of loyal followers through engaging content, excellent service, and trust. Your response to reviews is content that you control. Don’t be at the mercy of reviewers. Control your response, and it will help you control how reviews affect your business.
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