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Turning Bad Online Reviews Into Opportunities

Phil Hatfield

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It can happen to anyone. A restaurant owner, solar panel installer, owner of a hairdressing company, you name it, it doesn’t matter what industry or sector. Many in the business owner community could experience, or is likely to have already experienced, the dreaded ‘negative public customer review’.

Many business owners have invested admirable amounts of time, energy and effort into establishing and developing their businesses. Therefore it can be tempting to take a bad customer review personally. Don’t! Business is business and must be regarded as so no matter how hard it is to separate the two.

A customer is likely to have had a grievance with your business, not with you.

If they’ve named you specifically in their review, they are unhappy with your service and behaviour at work, not with your conduct as a person in general, outside of work. Business owners need to have thick skin and make remedying the bad review and preserving their business’ good reputation their priority — not taking the complaint too much to heart.

With more than 70% of businesses asked in conversion experts, Invespcro’s research reckoning customer acquisition is more expensive than customer retention, keeping existing customers happy and loyal has never been more important. What’s more, once a bad review is made public on social media, such as Facebook (which you can’t delete), the only ‘lifesaving’ option available to you is to soothe the situation by responding publicly to the aggrieved customer’s comments, according to Moz’s Miriam Ellis.

Ignoring the complaint about your company on social media is also a big no-no. You wouldn’t ignore a disgruntled customer who turned up in person to your business premises, would you? So the trick is to treat a customer complaining online the same as you would an unhappy customer in person: with diplomacy, respect and professionalism.

No pressure then! So what is the best, most effective way of dealing with a negative public customer review? 

We recently received a complaint (below) on our Facebook page from a member of the public that we had never dealt with before, who we later figured out was acting on behalf of another business owner we had done work for in the past. The complainant gave us a 1 star Facebook rating bringing our previous 5-star rating down to 3.7 in one quick review.

Our SEO and Web Developer Karys promptly issued the following response:

Based on being on the receiving end of a negative customer review here are our top 10 tips for dealing with customer complaints on social media so the damage to your business is limited.

1) Address them by name.

Disgruntled clients are likely to be appeased if you address them by their name if possible. That way they feel valued, that their opinion matters and that your response is not just a careless automated reply.

2) Apologise and accept responsibility.

No matter if you personally feel your business isn’t at fault, the matter still stands that a customer left your business feeling cheated in some way. If you hope to salvage your customer/business relationship with them and maintain a positive reputation for your business, you’d be the bigger person and respectfully apologise.

3) Avoid swearing or rude language.

Regardless of the standard of language, the complainant has used in their review don’t stoop to their level. It’s a bit like what your teachers warned you in the school playground — if you retaliate in the same way as those that have wronged you, you’re as bad as them, plus as a professional, you should be trained in the art of good communication. Make sure your response is polite, clean and grammatically correct.

4) Don’t correct or instruct the complainant.

You may believe the customer has no idea how your business operates, the work and effort you put in, and so on. But they are entitled to their opinion nonetheless. Respect that their thoughts are valid and thank them for their feedback. 

5) Explain that your company aims to deliver a good service or product.

Outline your business’ policy around delivering the service they are complaining about and what standard customers should expect and deserve.

6) Show them you understand.

Put yourself in your client’s shoes. How would you feel if you received a bad product, waited a while, or had to deal with rude staff? You’re much more likely to pacify an upset customer by expressing empathy in a sentence or two of your response.

7) Avoid bombarding them with excuses.

The customer came to you for a product or service and that’s it. You may be overworked, distracted by the needs of other clients, or have personal problems to deal with. But your customer doesn’t need sob stories, they need solutions.

8) Solutions and peace offering.

Before apologising again, highlight what improvements your business has made to ensure that it won’t happen again. Then offer them a discount or, if possible, a free product or service to make amends.

9) Avoid the superiority complex.

Talking down to your complaining client isn’t going to quell their anger. I recommend using friendly, every-day language and making sure your response doesn’t escalate into an essay. Keep it fairly brief. It’s not how much you write to remedy the situation, is what you write.

10) Ask for more feedback.

You may think you’re playing with fire welcoming more feedback after your bad reviewing experience. But it shows that your business values customer satisfaction and is willing to improve to meet the client’s expectations. It could even lead to the disgruntled client amending their review to a more positive one.

Last tip!

A bad review can be a nudge to politely ask your clients to review your company on social media when they get time. Never ask them to give you 5 stars or a glowing review. Just request their honest opinions.

With regards to Facebook, make sure they leave separate reviews in posts distinct from the negative review you’ve received. By merely commenting on the bad review left on your company Facebook page, however kind their words, they are simply bringing the negative review repeatedly to the forefront of people’s minds and Facebook screens.

Responding to bad online reviews in a respectful manner is always worth it!

Your response is for all potential customers to read in the future not just the disgruntled client and your professional response can serve as evidence for these future customers that they will be treated fairly and with understanding if they were ever to make a complaint about your services or product.

We’re lucky enough to live in a country with freedom of speech and the internet has amplified the possibilities of that freedom. You can’t please everybody so there’s sometimes no escaping bad client reviews. But by putting effort and thought into a dignified and professional response to a bad review you can turn a negative review on its head; from a problem to an opportunity to restore your business’s reputation to a glowing one it no doubt deserves.

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