How to Handle Negative Online Customer Reviews

By Jim Augustus Armstrong

“I remember this guy,” the dealer from Minnesota told me after pointing out he had a negative review on Google. “He was rude to my staff and made unreasonable demands. When we told him we couldn’t give him what he wanted he left this lousy review.”

Many flooring store owners can relate to this situation.

You pride yourself on providing exceptional service and you’ve built a strong reputation in your community through years of hard work. Then someone trashes you online.

Fake reviews left by competitors or dishonest customers can also be a problem. But rather than complain, there are steps you can take to handle negative reviews, protect your online reputation and gain an advantage over your competitors.

Fix the Problem
When someone leaves an unfavourable review, it’s easy to get angry and defensive.

However, what if the negative comment is legitimate?

If so, this person is actually helping you out. According to coaching, consulting and web development firm Lee Resources International, for every customer complaint, 26 other unhappy customers have remained silent. In this case, the reviewer has taken the time to point out a problem that is causing you to lose customers and money. The solution is to swallow your pride and fix the problem in your business.

Look to Disney
The Walt Disney Co. is among the top 50 biggest companies in the United States by revenue on the Fortune 500 list. It hosts an estimated 135 million people per year and is considered a master of customer service recovery. The company’s employees are trained using the acronym HEARD, which stands for hear, empathize, apologize, resolve and diagnose. This technique can be used in-person as well as when dealing with online reviews.

1. Hear. Allow the customer tell their story without any interruptions. Sometimes, we just want someone to listen to us.
2. Empathize. Let the customer know that you care deeply about their concern. This shows you understand their problem and helps create a greater sense of trust. Use phrases like, “I’d be frustrated, too.”
3. Apologize. Sometimes all a person wants is a sincere apology. The key word here is sincere. Even if you didn’t do anything wrong, apologizing is crucial to resolving the issue. Say something like, “I’m so sorry you’re frustrated. I get it.”
4. Resolve. Resolve the issue right away. Ask the customer, “What can I do to make this right?”
5. Diagnose. This is the most important part of the whole process. Without blaming anyone, find out why the mistake occurred. Does your system need fixing? Was it human error? Take steps to make sure the mistake won’t happen again.

Respond Publicly
While it may be tempting to ignore negative reviews and only focus on positive ones, responding to these leaves a better overall impression of your business. Sure, it probably won’t resolve a customer’s bad experience but it’s an integral part of responsive customer support. When responding, resist the urge to blame the reviewer or make excuses. Instead, be empathetic, apologize and list the steps you have taken to correct the problem.

Drown Out Negative Reviews
There is no mechanism to remove negative reviews left by real customers from Google and other major review sites. Yes, if a review is fake or slanderous, there are steps you can take with the review companies to get them removed; however, it’s a hassle, so it’s not recommended. Instead, drown out negative reviews — legitimate or fake — with positive ones. In doing so, the odd negative review won’t hurt you. It’s also the single most powerful strategy for building and maintaining an excellent online reputation.

Jim Augustus Armstrong is founder and president of Flooring Success Systems, a company that provides floor dealers with marketing services and coaching to help them attract quality customers, close more sales, get higher margins and work the hours they choose. To obtain a free copy of Jim’s flooring industry report, Stop Leaving Millions on the Table, visit FloorMillions.com. Jim can be reached at 530-790-6720 or [email protected].

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