How To Absolutely Own Bad Reviews And Pump Up Your Brand Identity



Your business lives and dies by its reputation.

Your business lives and dies by its reputation.

As a small business owner, you know that better than anyone. You also know that a single negative review can significantly affect your online ratings. Fair or not, that puts a lot of power in the hands of every single consumer. And many of them know it.

Online reviews promote transparency in business, encourage potential customers to take a chance on an unknown business, and even educate owners who would otherwise be clueless about why their business isn’t thriving. All of these things are generally positive.

However, there are folks out there who delight in being online misanthropes who have nothing nice to say (but plenty of caustic comments to share). You may also have to deal with the whims of a customer who refuses to be placated over the most minor of errors, clients who expect the impossible, and patrons who feel they should be entitled to an exception to the rules that are in place for everyone else. There are even bought-and-paid-for trolls who will sell the power of their reviews to your competitors for the right price.

Recognize the Power of the Social Media Review

The online review has grown increasingly powerful in the last few years — and negative ones may be disproportionately so. While 92% of consumers now read online reviews, 40% of them form their opinion after reading just 1-3 reviews. That means a single bad review can really hurt your chances of drawing in new customers.

The good news is that customers generally say that reviews older than a month aren’t that important. They also look for responses from the small business owner to any negative reviews before they decide how much value to give them. And they gauge the sincerity of the owner’s approach to customer feedback.

So what’s the appropriate response to a negative review? You really have only three good options (and ignoring it isn’t one of them):

Apologize if you should

If the review seems genuine, most likely the customer just wants to be heard. It may be frustrating that he or she didn’t address the complaint at the time and took to the internet instead. But a lot of people are more comfortable expressing negative opinions online than they are engaging in a potential conflict in person.

Consider this an honest critique of something that could be done better. Reach out to the customer promptly and express your apologies for their dissatisfaction. Admit your mistakes and make sure that you talk to the reviewer person-to-person (not like a corporation-to-person). If possible, try to make amends. Offer the unhappy customer his or her money back or comp a free second experience if they’re willing to give you the chance.

This tells readers that you actually take reviews seriously and will respond to complaints in a positive, heartfelt way. It also reassures prospective customers that if they aren’t happy, their money won’t be wasted. Rather, you’ll make things right whenever possible.

Guess what? You’ve just made “caring and customer-oriented” part of your brand’s identity!

Correct inaccuracies if they exist

If the review is riddled with inaccuracies and can best be described as “self-entitled” and “impossible to please”. You can take a cheekier response.

Yes, we’re seriously suggesting that you refuse to acknowledge that the customer is always right. However, just be very careful and make sure that you come across as humorous, not hateful.

There have been some brilliant responses recently to online reviews that left 1-star comments that complained about things that were either untrue, outside of the owner’s control, or just generally clearly against company policy.

For example, when a would-be diner complained about a Kansas City restaurant’s refusal to pack a group of meals for “take out” (despite a clearly stated policy against that very practice) and made good on a threat to blast the eatery with the dreaded 1-star review on Yelp, the restaurant took it in stride.

Respond as the brand

In a response, some describe as nothing short of “epic,” the restaurant’s owner went on to flip the whole tirade around by providing a much clearer view of the whole incident — threats included.

Even that response failed to reach the level of greatness provided by Doolin Hotel that took a saucy and somewhat brazen response to a blistering review of its establishment on TripAdvisor. It called out the reviewer for lying about the price they paid, trash-talking the employees, and complaining about the poor wi-fi service. (Which, consequently, affects the entire area in that part of Ireland and isn’t something the business can control.)

In the end, both small business owners came off as reasonable, supportive of their (unjustly) maligned employees, and responsible to their carefully cultivated brand identity.

It was clear from the start that nothing would have satisfied the original posters of the negative reviews. But the superstar responses to those 1-star ratings got the small businesses more shares and more good publicity than they probably could have purchased.

Own it if you can use it

You’ve heard the phrase, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” before, right?

Some 1-star reviews are like that. While one person may complain that there’s too much heat in your barbecue sauce, that may be exactly what the next person is seeking. People read reviews partially in order to learn what to expect from a place. Therefore an opinion-based review that’s not factually inaccurate isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Sometimes you can even turn 1-star reviews into something fun and comical. A pizza place in California got fed up with Yelp’s policies and decided to give customers a 25% discount in exchange for a 1-star review. The whole campaign went viral and the owner says it was the best advertising decision of his life.

The makers of the Smart Car responded to another tired Twitter joke about its small size by mathematically calculating out just how much pigeon poops it would take to actually total the car. Reading the response was like watching the heckler in the audience upstage the would-be comedian.

Perhaps the ultimate win (and an award for sass) goes to Utah’s Snowbird ski resort. They just took an unhappy client’s Yelp complaint about the complexity of their slopes and turned it into a full-page ad campaign without an ounce of regret.

All of these companies did the same thing — they saw the negative review as a bonus. They saw it as something that could help them reinforce their brand identity and generate interest in their companies at the same time.

The Takeaway

Effective reputation management has become increasingly important when it comes to controlling the fate of your business and needs to be part of your overall digital marketing strategy and activities. Therefore, you absolutely have to know how to handle negative social media reviews.

The best response to a negative review is whichever one will take the most sting out of it. Aim to leave others who are looking at the dialogue objectively with an overall positive feeling about you, your company, and your brand identity. Admitting you’re wrong is best when you really are wrong. But sometimes you simply have to stick to your principles and explain why you couldn’t accommodate that particular guest’s desires. Other times, your best response is to accept that you can’t please everyone — and that’s okay.

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