In a nutshell: Respond quickly, be authentic and try to put yourself in the reviewer’s shoes. Sometimes a negative review can lead to a satisfied customer.

Everyone has an opinion. And now everyone’s can be heard. With the accessibility that social media provides, opinions can go viral. And even if they don’t, prospective customers seek out others’ opinions before they patronize your business. Review sites are a common first stop for consumers; in fact, Yelp, for example, has 77 million average monthly unique desktop visitors, 64 million average monthly unique mobile web visitors and 29 million average monthly unique mobile app users. So, while you can’t always make everyone happy, dealing with any negative publicity in a professional and genuine manner will help put your business back in good standing.

The first step in dealing with negative reviews is to avoid getting them. Providing outstanding customer service with the understanding that customers may post about their experience should be enough to keep you on your toes. Make sure your employees take this seriously too. Additionally, letting all customers know that your business values their opinions and appreciates reviews on the leading sites will motivate those who had a good experience to post as well. After all, customers are more likely to share a bad experience than a good one. According to a survey conducted by Dimensional Research, those who suffered a bad interaction were 50% more likely to share it on social media than those who had good experiences (45% vs. 30%) and 52% more likely to share it on an online review site (35% vs. 23%).

How to Respond

If you’ve already received a negative review, take a deep breath and carefully read what the customer said. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and consider if the grumbler has a point. Were you short-staffed last Monday? Are your products priced higher than competitors? Do you usually take your appointments 30 minutes late? If you’re hearing similar complaints all the time, look internally to see what improvements would solve those issues. Some understanding on your part will help temper your response.

Now, how do you respond to a negative review? According to research conducted by Millward Brown Digital, 53% of respondents expect a response within an hour from brands they reach out to on Twitter and 72% expect it within an hour when the tweet is a complaint. So, response time is critical. While you want your response to be well thought out, you should be monitoring social media frequently enough that your goal is to address the issue within an hour.

There are two major rules when responding to online reviews: Avoid a canned response and don’t get defensive. Customers can spot inauthenticity and that won’t fix how they feel about your company. But that doesn’t mean you should get testy with them, even if you’re angry about their review. You want to sound genuine – and you’ll notice that by being sincere, you’ll get more out of the interaction than you thought. If you’re interested in listening to what the complainant has to say, you may be able to make meaningful improvements to your business.

Often, negative reviews are a cry for help. If someone comments, “this product is useless,” maybe the customer just doesn’t know how to use the product correctly. Be sure you’re not being condescending, but try to get a clear understanding of the issue at hand, so you can help them. The idea is to be as helpful as you can be. (Set your ego aside.) A frequently cited example of how you can turn a disappointed customer into a delighted one is about the airline JetBlue. A frequent flyer tweeted at JetBlue complaining about a broken TV. JetBlue empathized: “We always hate it when that happens. Send us a DM with your confirmation code to get you a credit for the non-working TV.” Only 23 minutes after the flyer’s complaint, he got a resolution, then tweeted, “One of the fastest and better customer service: @JetBlue! Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving.”

Dealing with a negative review or bad publicity is simple: Be authentic, timely and solution-oriented. By following those rules, you’ll have customers (even the disappointed ones) coming back to your business.

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