In the age of social media, things can turn ugly fast. Small incidents turn into crises, which can become a public relations nightmare spreading bad press about your business to your current users/clients, and even to those who have never even heard of you. Dealing with these situations requires a level head, and a good crisis management plan. But part of avoiding full-blown crisis is responding to individual complaints effectively, whenever they arise.
It’s never fun to find a negative online review about your company. Whether the review is an honest account of a client’s experience, or the result of a partnership gone sour, it can be very discouraging. However, a negative review can also be a great opportunity to create a loyal client.
Remember that leaving a negative review takes effort. The easiest way for a client to handle an issue is to terminate their relationship with your business and go their merry way. The fact that they have taken the time to write and post a review indicates that they would probably like some response from you. Any feedback, positive or negative from a client is an opportunity for your business to grow and improve.
Here are 8 ways to turn a negative online review into a loyal client.
The first way to turn a bad online review into a positive experience is listening to the client’s complaint or story. This means putting ego and defensiveness aside. Read between the lines. For example, if they mention that their account representative didn’t respond in a timely manner, the real issue is that they felt your team wasn’t reliable, or a resource they could turn to in a crisis.
For B2B firms, most phone calls and emails are returned the same day or within 24 hours during the work week. However, when there is a crisis for a client or an urgent request, those need to be prioritized. We’ve all encountered a crisis at work, and we remember the folks who helped and the folks who didn’t. By really listening to the issue that has caused the negative review, you are taking a first step towards resolving the problem and addressing the client’s real concern.
Your gut reaction and management’s directive may be responding to a negative review immediately. While quick response time is a priority, you should never act in haste. Research what happened with the client. Talk to the people involved and get the facts. Whether the client is right or wrong isn’t the priority; you want to assess the situation reasonably, and determine the underlying factors.
The priority during your research should be to determine what happened and how to resolve the issue or complaint. If you discover that your team honestly did everything to accommodate the client, then it may be a case where an explanation is needed. Many negative online reviews are caused by misunderstandings or miscommunication. Assemble all the facts, including dates, times, and the people involved so you can draft a coherent, thoughtful reply.
A great response to a negative online review should start with an apology. It doesn’t have to be an apology about what transpired, but it should take the client's experience seriously - clients are human beings with feelings. If you don’t validate a client’s feelings in any way, they are unlikely to be receptive.
For example, you can start your response with, “We are sorry to hear that you had a negative experience with our customer service team.” Apologizing in this case is not accepting blame for the situation, but shows that you understand their experience was a negative one. Conversely, if you discover in your research that your team was at fault, it’s best to accept blame immediately. This kind of apology could be, “We are sorry that we inadvertently overcharged you for services last month. We accept responsibility for that and are working to reverse the charges immediately.” Whether the issue causing the review is your firm’s fault or not, always begin by acknowledging the negative experience, and apologizing for it.
The best way to address a negative review is to show empathy. Put yourself in your client’s shoes. We’ve all been frustrated when we can’t access an online account, or forget a password, or experience a product failure. Relate to your client’s frustration and show that you understand their experience.
The main challenge that businesses face here is the temptation to patronize, or express dry sympathy. Saying things like, “I’m sure that is frustrating” or “You must be so frustrated” or “It’s not a big deal” can be insulting. The latter statement is condescending, and the first two are examples of sympathy instead of empathy. The difference between these two states is subtle, but very important: to sympathize with someone is to express regret at their situation. To empathize with them is to show that you relate with their experiences, and know what it's like to be them.
State your empathy in a genuine manner. Really mean what you are saying. Something along the lines of, “We understand how frustrating it can be to have login problems during a meeting with the boss.” In the majority of negative reviews, people just want to be heard and understood. Show that your business listens by empathizing with their situation.
Don’t bother responding to a review if you don’t have a resolution. Always, always offer a resolution to your reviewer. If you need more information from them to provide a resolution, offer a contact name and number so they can get in touch. Let the negative reviewer know what you need to resolve their issue and how you plan to do it.
In many cases, you may not be able to ferret out enough information during the research phase to resolve the issue. In these situations, the resolution is to give the name and email/phone number of a particular problem solver and ask the reviewer to get in touch at their convenience. A great way to address this is by saying, “We apologize for the error you mentioned in your review. We’d like to work with you to resolve this issue. Please connect with Jeremy by calling 555-5555 at your convenience. Jeremy is aware of your feedback and is ready to help you find a resolution.”
In my experience, half the time the negative reviewer will follow up and work towards a resolution. The other half, the simple act of reaching out resolves the issue by itself. The best part is that responding with a resolution shows other clients and potential clients that your business is responsive, and works to resolve issues issues when they arise.
It’s important that you not only respond to the negative review online, but respond to any questions or requests the client may have afterwards. If they get in touch, make every effort to respond quickly. Everyone who interfaces with that particular client should be aware of the situation so they can work together to repair the relationship. Taking this type of approach often makes clients grateful, which in turn creates loyalty. They know that even when the going gets tough, you’ll work with them. Just like friendships, when things are great, everyone is your “friend,” but when you have an argument, misunderstanding, or make a mistake, the people you really trust work with you towards a resolution.
Once the review has been responded to and the client’s issue has been resolved, you aren’t done. It’s time to correct the issue. Does the internal team need additional training? Is there a bug with your software that needs to be resolved? Do you need a new approach for managing clients? Taking steps to correct the problem and prevent the same issue in the future is essential.
When the issue is corrected, whether it takes days, weeks, or months, it’s important to acknowledge the fix and communicate it to your client base if appropriate. If you followed all the tips above and were able to reverse the negative experience for the client, taking the additional step to incorporate their feedback and fix the issue for all clients shows that you take feedback seriously. Clients become loyal when they know you are listening, and take their input seriously.
Following up with the negative reviewer is the final step, regardless of how the situation was resolved. If your team was able to address the issue for the client and has continued working with the client, it’s important to follow-up after time has passed. This can be a quick check-in to see whether they are happy, whether they have any feedback on the process, or if they see anywhere else your firm can improve. This lets them know their feedback is valued.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, if the client never responded and ended their relationship with your firm, it’s still important to follow-up in a non-invasive manner. Don’t be pushy, but do send some form of follow-up whether it be an email, a letter, or voicemail. These are delicate communications and should indicate that while you are sorry to lose their business, you found their feedback to be valuable and are always working to improve your products and services. They may not respond, but making an effort to repair the relationship is always worthwhile.
Jeremy Durant is Business Principal at Bop Design, a B2B web design and digital marketing firm. Jeremy works closely with businesses in need of a website, marketing and branding strategy, helping them to their unique value proposition and ideal customer profile. Jeremy received his BA from Merrimack College and his MBA from California State University, San Marcos. His writing has been featured in EContent Magazine, PublishThis, Marketing Agency Insider, Visibility Magazine, and Spin Sucks.