Negative online reviews: How to regain control and rebound

Recently, a friend and fellow entrepreneur reached out to me for advice about handing a negative online review. His family-owned insurance business had been blasted with a greatly exaggerated story that was attracting attention and momentum online, with some commentators calling for a boycott of his services. Worried about fanning the flames, he wasn’t sure if he should respond to the accusations directly or ignore them and let them go. It was a great question, and I was happy to talk through it with him.

But before I tell you how we handled it, let’s talk about the importance of online reviews: Whether we’re booking a hotel or buying a car, we all do research online to help us make a final decision. For this reason, positive reviews and feedback online are critically important to businesses everywhere. Further, having multiple reviews online is a fantastic way to boost your website’s ranking in search algorithms. If the vast majority of those are positive, then you’re well on your way to legitimizing your business and building a healthy reputation.

So, when things go awry, how can you get them back on track?

Stay calm
The first thing to remember is to stay calm. The majority of business owners will face a negative online review at some point, and rarely are they the cause for a business to crumble.

Respond and redirect to a private communication channel
The next step is to craft a well-worded response that implies empathy and understanding, while asking for the commentor to contact you privately. This does several things:

  1. Shows that you are responsive and approachable,
  2. Helps the angry customer feel heard and
  3. Moves the conversation out of a public forum.

Feel free to suggest the customer privately message, call or email you — the method isn’t important. Just give the commentor a professional, polite response and suggest actions that can help stop the public tirade.

Respond to others, as needed

If others join in the negative commentary, feel free to similarly respond to them them. Being careful not to validate any negative stories that come up, your job is primarily to show a professional response and redirect them to talk to you privately about their concerns. Most people will appreciate the one-on-one response, and may change how they feel.

If things continue to go downhill …

Many times, the above techniques will help you regain control of the situation and possibly change the opinions of some who felt frustrated. But what happens if it doesn’t? It’s worth checking the policies and guidelines of the website or forum being used to see if there are any violations being made by the commetators. For the insurance business mentioned above, the online comments fell under the category of “abusive,” and happily the entire thread was deleted — but not before several commentators replied directly to the business owner to express empathy for the situation.

If your business still struggles with controlling a negative image, it may be time to seek professional help from someone who is trained in crisis management. Contact A.WordSmith to learn more about this service offering.

Leveraging positive reviews to rebuild your reputation

Most people understand if a business has a few negative reviews, as long as they are balanced out by a larger number of positive ones. Therefore, it’s important for businesses to build up this defense by earning 5-Star reviews — before and after a crisis! To start gaining positive reviews, the first and easiest way is to simply ask your customers to review you. Do this after you process their purchases, in your e-newsletters, on your website … get creative! Even better, provide rewards, like discounts, for customers who do so. Top places for a business to be reviewed online include Google, Yelp, Facebook, Amazon, Better Business Bureau, Manta, Nextdoor and Glassdoor (among others).

In closing, I’ll add that it’s important to consistently monitor your business’ reputation online. One way to do this is through Google Alerts, which will aggregate online stories and comments about your business (or any important keyword) into a daily e-mail. Best of luck to you and your business!

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