It's never encouraging to receive negative reviews from customers, but they're not necessarily going to doom your business. It all depends on how you handle the reviews you receive.
"Answering negative reviews builds [consumer] confidence in your business and your brand," said Phil Penton, CEO of Xcite Advertising. "When you answer a negative review and address the upset customer, you are also speaking to the hundreds of other consumers that want to know how you conduct your business. Consumers understand that mistakes happen, so when they see a business trying to do the right thing, it builds trust."
Research confirms this: A survey by Capterra found that 52 percent of online buyers say a few negative reviews of a product actually makes them trust a product more. Only 18 percent of buyers reported that negative reviews made a product seem less trustworthy.
But it's not enough to simply acknowledge an unsatisfied customer. The trick is to respond in such a way that they will want to give your business another chance, thereby proving to other potential buyers that your business has top-notch customer service. Here's what you need to know about properly handling and responding to negative reviews. [Learn more about why negative reviews aren't so bad for business.]
Answer quickly with a personalized response
In an age of smartphones and constant communication, customers have come to expect instant gratification in many aspects of their lives, including their interactions with brands. Responding to a negative review as soon as possible after it's posted will show that customer and others that you're listening and care about customer satisfaction, said Jan Vels Jensen, former chief marketing officer at customer review platform Trustpilot.
Penton noted that it's important to give each reviewer a customized response that cites specific details from their complaint. A generic stock response will make your brand appear impersonal and drive the customer further away.
It takes time to read and thoughtfully respond to every negative comment, but doing this will boost your customer retention rates in the long run. According to a report on e-Strategy Trends, after a company responded to a negative review, about a third of customers deleted or replaced their negative review, and a fifth of negative reviewers made another purchase from that company and went on to become loyal customers.
Corey Kossack, CEO of Frederick, recommends having an in-house person dedicated to watching for negative reviews on social platforms where your company has a presence and on forms like Google and Yelp. Setting up alerts and using all-in-one social media management tools can help you quickly locate and respond to comments across all platforms.
Apologize and empathize
Customers may not always be right, but if you tell them they're wrong, you will definitely lose their business. When responding to a bad review, a brand needs to express understanding and empathy without blaming the customer, and be apologetic about the less-than-ideal experience.
"Let the customer know that you empathize with his or her situation," Vels Jensen told Business News Daily. "Make up for the mistake, even if it's not your fault. By making amends, you're much more likely to get the customer's business again."
Kossack recommends addressing the problem in the same forum where you find the review.
"All issues should initially be acknowledged in the same forum as often as possible," Kossack said. "The company does not need to address the details of the situation in this forum, but responding in the same forum first is important because it shows other customers who come across the review that you are acknowledging the issue in question and taking steps to find a solution."
The next step in resolving a complaint can be done more privately over the phone or email, said Kossack.
"Customers want to feel heard and understood, so it's important to find out what your customers want and how you can provide value," he added.
Ask for a second chance
Asking customers how you can improve their experience with your brand in the future is the key to retaining their business. Vels Jensen said that brands should listen and learn from negative feedback. Customer complaints contain valuable information that can help improve both your overall customer service and the trust consumers place in your brand.
Offering a coupon, voucher or replacement product after a negative experience can also help you earn a second chance, Penton said. While free products or services shouldn't be your default response (customers catch on quickly and may give negative reviews solely to receive a free product), this can be a great tactic if there is a problem resolving the customer's original issue. If you choose this route, be sure to encourage the customer to update their review if the second experience yields better results.
"If a company receives a complaint from a customer because of a faulty product, it's usually most appropriate to [replace] the product for free," Kossack said. "If a customer has a bad experience with a specific service or employee, it's important to fully understand the reason for dissatisfaction to determine the best resolution."
Encourage more reviews
It's not easy to take criticism, especially from the people who matter most to your business. But using negative reviews to improve your customer service will give your brand staying power and provide a track record that shows you're truly committed to your customers. Encourage your customers to leave reviews so you can take full advantage of this branding opportunity.
For brick-and-mortar businesses, Penton recommended placing signs, table toppers or window clings in your store for review sites that you would like to promote. You can also add a note to your invoices or receipts to leave a review on certain platforms. These reminders can increase the chance that consumers will share their experiences.
"Empowering your customers to comment on your company and taking the time to respond to them makes customers feel valued and wanted," Vels Jensen said. "Reviews are a great way to show that you are listening and responding to all feedback, and that you truly value your customers' business."
Additional reporting by Jill Bowers.