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How to deal with negative reviews without blowing your lid
By Chris Haycock | 04 September 2021
Handle a negative review in the right way, and you'll walk away with a massive grin.
Most businesses attract negative reviews from customers at some point.It's completely normal to feel REALLY PISSED OFF and angry over a bad review or complaint, so don't panic if you find yourself staring in disbelief at a scathing review. Hurts me too. Even after two decades, someone ripping apart my businesses still stings worse than a rattlesnake with a vial of cyanide. Your heart may be pounding with anger - after all, your business is "your baby", but it's important to act in a calm and civilised way. Deal with it badly, and your brand reputation can take a massive beating. Before you go reaching for your copy of The Oxfuck Dictionary of Swear Words so you can fight back, stop, take a moment, and follow my strategy for the best possible outcome - and if you deal with it the right way - the removal of the bad review. A case in point. I had a really bad review for one of my businesses - ZoomLocal. A Welsh lady wrote a really snotty review that - I'll be honest - really stung. She - quite possibly literally - ripped my digital download (a neighbourhood report) apart, claiming it was worthless. My heart sank. My pulse quickened. I almost took another Ramipril, but opted for a cold beer from the fridge instead. I took a deep breath, and investigated. After reading the report she'd bought it became clear why it had an awful review. This lady had spent money on a report that contained no practical value whatsoever. It turned out there was a database issue, and the £17 she paid gave her a 50-page report, with half the data missing. I immediately refunded her, emailed her with my apology and a full explanation about what went wrong, and waited. And waited. And waited. Then, about 5 days later she amended her review and gave me a glowing recommendation singing my praises for handling the grievance so well. Rather than the original 1-star review, she changed it to a 4-star review on Trustpilot. It's still there today. That irate customer eventually boosted ZoomLocal's credibility and reputation. Now, I could have fought back and ranted at her, telling her she was out of order. But I didn't. I spent time looking into the bad review, and the whole situation turned itself on its head, and into my favour. That, for me, was a valuable lesson. Don't take bad reviews personally. Deal with it like a respectable business, and you can even turn things round in your favour. So, how should you actually handle bad reviews when you get one? First... RELAX - AND GO AND DO SOMETHING ELSE. Your first instinct will be to get angry. And defensive. Oh, and wanting to seek revenge too. That's your 'fight or flight' response kicking in. You'll be tempted to vent your fury back at the customer. Don't. Rationale goes out the window when you're furious (ask my wife!) so take a deep breath, walk away for a while and do something else to take your mind off it. You may end up saying something you'll regret later. Then, when you've calmed down... REMAIN POLITE AND PROFESSIONAL AS YOU HANDLE THE NEGATIVE REVIEW Remember that other customers use reviews to determine whether they want to buy a product. There's nothing more off-putting than an irate, unprofessional business owner who hits back hard at negative reviews. There are exceptions, of course,. It's not hard to spot a rival, a troll, or a Victor Meldrew. Take the higher moral ground and be polite, as difficult as it may be. Drop them a message. Say "hi" politely. THEN THANK THEM Yes, thank them for their feedback, and apologise for not meeting their expectations. This gives an element of control back to the person who gave you a bad review, who may have a genuine reason for their grievance. Then follow up with a short explanation about what went wrong. Do not allow your emotions to start playing the blame game. Explain what went wrong honestly, and leave the ranting out of it. If the customer is to blame, then don't launch into a tirade of accusations. That's going to exacerbate things, I promise, and you're never going to turn things around if you get out of the starting blocks spitting venom. Use tact, civility and warmth to diffuse any blame, but explain things from your perspective. WHEN REPLYING, REMEMBER KISS. No, I don't mean giving them a big old snog on the chops. I mean KISS - keep it short and simple. The more you attempt to explain the situation, the more the reviewer will become irate. Remember when you were a child and to get yourself out of a sticky situation you rambled on incoherently, and lost credibility doing so? Handle the review as simply and quickly as possible so you can both move on. Negative reviewers rarely need to know everything about how you're handling the complaint, so keep it short and to the point. They don't need to know that "your Intel ATC motherboard experienced an overload because you were tying to overclock the CPU in the BIOS" . Tell them that "your computer blew up". With a picture of the scorch marks, if you really need to prove it. THEN, INVITE THEM OFFLINE Now, a public slanging match can damage your business, so invite them to connect with you by phone or email. That way, you can keep their dirty laundry away from the eyes of your next customers. Take it one further, if you like. Invite them out for coffee and chat about their complaint. It'll show that you've got a vested interest in resolving their problem. Hint: no one has ever taken me up on this - they usually become a little bit timid all of a sudden. AND FINALLY, ASK FOR REMOVAL People often give bad reviews in the heat of the moment while they're still angry. Quite often, by dealing with them in a polite and professional way, they'll remove their review once it's been resolved. Show that you're just human, admit your shortcomings, and ask them to consider removing it. I'll bet that more than half of your complainants do. SHOULD I BITE BACK? Now, no one is saying that you shouldn't fight back against unfair reviews where the customer is just making unreasonable demands on your business. I've been known to tell these people to "sod off" - albeit perhaps in slightly more subtle tones than that. Sometimes, I've been more rude, I'll admit. But if it means damaging your brand, then you'll want to handle the bad review in a way that actually boosts your reputation, not destroy it. SHOULD YOU OFFER A REFUND? Not automatically, no. Try to resolve things in an amicable way first. If it doesn't work, then offer an incentive, rather than a refund. Often, I'll offer something they'll see as valuable (such as a free listing on one of my websites), but doesn't take much time or effort on my behalf. That usually does the trick. Make it a really special incentive and some of those "nasty reviewers" eventually become brand evangelists and help with free word-of-mouth advertising. That's happened to me a few times - and it's a diamond of a position to be in when that happens.
THE TAKEAWAYOn the whole, dealing with bad reviews in an inappropriate or aggressive way can spell more trouble down the line. So, keeping calm and professional is without a doubt the most effective way of dealing with bad reviews. So far, so good... It's worked almost every time for me. Keep it polite, keep it civil, and maintain the moral high ground as you're dealing with the complaint. Damage your reputation, and it can take a long time to repair. If you've got any stories about how you dealt with a negative review, please share it with us.
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