Friday, February 24, 2012

Negative Reviews: Sticks and Stones

What do you do when you discover a negative review of your business?

It's bound to happen, of course. The Internet has made sharing ideas and communicating about anything and everything immediate and easy for anyone with a computer and a modicum of education. Moreover, myriad search-engine directories practically beg for people to review local businesses. Finally, there are nearly infinite online lists that let anyone and her brother have their say.

The good news is that all of these offer you and your business a great opportunity for free word-of-mouth publicity. The bad news is that you can't control the spin when someone is dissatisfied with your service or takes exception to your views.

Here are some thoughts on how to handle negative reviews:

1. Take a chill pill.

Yes, it's shocking to unexpectedly encounter your name and phone number in the comments section of a city search directory. Especially when it's embedded in a less-than-complimentary post. But your name and phone number is also on your website, blog, Facebook page and personal checks. It's out there.  Take a deep breath and focus on a positive response.

2. Remedy the complaint.

If the complaint is about your business, offer to correct it. Many times, a customer will soften their position when they feel they have been heard and treated fairly. If you've already done all you can for and with this customer, say so in a follow-up comment. Be polite. Stay neutral. State what you have done to resolve the situation. Express your disappointment that your efforts failed with this person. Some people can't be satisfied.

3. Take the high road.

Every business owner will fail at customer service with someone at some point. Some customer is bound to get your goat or catch you on a bad day, and BAM! Molehill meet mountain. Write as many angry retorts as you like. Don't post them.  Give yourself a cooling off period - 24 hours, a week, a month if that's what it takes. Then respond courteously, politely and reasonably. A month from now you'll wonder why you were so upset. I promise. 

 4. Have it removed.

If the review reveals contact information for you or your employees, request that it be removed. People are entitled to an opinion, even if it's wrong. Publishing full names and phone numbers is a violation of content guidelines of popular search-engine directories. Report it. If there is no reporting function on site, write a courteous letter to the site's legal department.

5. Kill them with kindness.

Strive to keep your posts positive, favorable and a contribution to the discussion. If the context in which your name appears - like a Google search - is largely positive, the one negative review posted by a disgruntled employee, malicious competitor or business owner retaliating for a candid appraisal of his customer service can only be seen as an aberration.

At the outset of my public relations career, I learned two things: 1) the guy who tells the story first is perceived as telling "the truth;" and 2) there's no such thing as bad publicity.

The Internet ups the ante exponentially. Instead of trying to trash your reputation to a circle of 10, a negative review reaches thousands.

Helpless. Vulnerable. Threatened. Slimed. All these emotions and others. You bet. But stay classy.

In the whole scheme of things, it's just sticks and stones, baby.

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