How to handle negative online reviews


9th September, 2021

Tips for handling negative online reviews

Despite common belief, bad reviews can benefit your business – provided they’re managed sensibly.

As pandemic-induced disruptions continue to cripple the cash flow of many businesses across Australia and New Zealand, some have bucked the trend thanks to an upswing in consumers buying online.

Unfortunately, this can also be a double-edged sword. Social media is awash with consumer reviews of all manner of products and services.

According to Review 42, 21 percent of US consumers are more likely to post a review after a negative experience than a positive one, and in 35 percent of cases, just one negative review can affect other customers’ purchasing decisions.

In Australia, True Local investigated the digital review landscape for small-to-medium-sized businesses and found that a growing majority of potential customers now use online reviews to judge the reliability of a small business.

READ: 4 business lessons from the ecommerce industry

According to the study, 66 percent of small-to-medium businesses have been impacted by online reviews and 22 percent of consumers have increased their usage of review sites.

Google accounts for 64 percent of all global reviews, followed by Facebook at 19 percent. Facebook, however, punches above its weight, influencing over 50 percent of consumer purchase decisions. Reviews on Twitter have been shown to increase ecommerce sales by 6.4 percent.

Apart from maybe suing for defamation, you can’t stop competitors from uploading fake negative reviews, nor can you change the fact there will inevitably be good and bad reviews of what you do.

Two-thirds of Australians turn to online reviews to judge the reliability or quality of a small business if they haven’t heard of it before, but 67 percent will doubt that business’s credibility if they’re all too good to be true.

In other words, a few negative reviews help to give a business a genuine feel.

The Dalai Lama once said when you listen, you learn something new. Savvy businesses incorporate that into a practical business strategy.

Monitor online reviews with the right tools

Keeping tabs on what’s being said about your business is relatively easy through online reputation monitoring tools such as Google Alerts. Just tell it to watch for your name and it’ll send you an email when a new mention is found.

An alternative is Podium, which gathers customer reviews from Google, Facebook, and numerous industry-specific sites. Also, don’t forget TripAdvisor, which accounts for 8.4 percent of all global reviews. In 2020, hotels that responded to guests’ reviews saw significant improvement in their star rating.

Figure out the right approach for your brand

Never deny a customer’s complaints, ignore them, or worst of all, try to filter them. A few years ago, a major property company attempted that on TripAdvisor and the Federal Court ordered it to pay $3 million for misleading consumers in breach of Australian Consumer Law.

It remains, however, that 34 percent of small and medium businesses in Australia don’t do anything to encourage customer reviews, let alone thank the customers who do.

Even negative posts can be an opportunity to improve reputation. Nine in 10 consumers feel more positively about a business that responds to poor reviews, apologises, and helps to resolve their complaints, potentially offsetting any adverse consequences.

Think local when handling negative online reviews

According to research by Oracle, one disappointed customer will share their negative experience with between nine and 15 people who, in turn, will probably reshare it.

Marketing through word-of-mouth is everything if you’re running a local business, and people’s opinions will spread like wildfire. So, keep in mind that nearly 80 percent of consumers trust online reviews of local businesses as much as they do verbal recommendations from friends and family.

READ: How to grow your brand on LinkedIn

Put the customer at the centre

Software advice company Capterra surveyed 258 Australian online shoppers and found that women are twice as likely to post reviews than men, but that all are keen to share their experiences about small or local businesses.

Even though more than half the survey respondents had published at least one negative review online, 58 percent didn’t get a response from the seller despite 82 percent specifically asking for one.

Formulating an appropriate response can be tricky for under-resourced organisations, but in the study, dissatisfied shoppers said they wanted businesses to:

  • Offer a refund (90 percent)
  • Write like a human, not a corporation (85 percent)
  • Take accountability (85 percent)
  • Provide an explanation (percent)

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Close out the conversation with positivity where possible

Business managers can handle online review management proactively, reactively, or via a combination of both, but it usually comes down to the resources at your disposal. Some lack technical know-how, others lack staff, most lack time and with COVID-19 resurgent, many are simply drowning, not waving.

Even so, when it comes to handling negative online reviews, the inbox needs to be emptied.

It is important to respond in a timely fashion, while still giving yourself plenty of time to compose a considered response that’s written from a place of empathy.

Because ‘the customer is always right’, take whatever time you have available to objectively consider things from their perspective and then publicly reach out to them. Offer to take the matter offline and only then ask for any information you need to help rectify it, with the assurance that all personal and financial data is protected.

Do not get involved in an ongoing, publicly visible exchange with a customer. If it doesn’t work out, the world could be watching. But, when you achieve a positive outcome, you can post a public comment about it and demonstrate to potential customers that you value feedback and have a firm commitment to customer service.

This is the ideal time to get back on the front foot by inviting other customers to post reviews about their experiences with your business.

Turning negatives into positives is a sure-fire way to enhance your reputation and grow market share.