Dealing With Online Customer Reviews

 

Dealing with online customer reviews is a vital issue every business owner, small or large, must address.  The bane of many business owners existence, online reviews often seem like a thorn in the side rather than the marketing opportunity they represent. One thing is certain, doing nothing is a terrible strategy.
 
Complaining customers are nothing new, but thanks to the Web all these unhappy people have a megaphone. And they are using it. Justifiably angry customers or serial complainers have Google, Yahoo, Angie’s List, Yelp, and a thousand other places to bitch, moan, vent, gripe and warn others about you. According to information from Pew Internet, a quarter of Americans (24%) have posted product reviews or comments online.
 
Here are some more statistical tidbits from the 2010 Social Shopping Study done by Power Reviews and the e-tailing group:
  • Customer reviews are the #1 social media tool having a positive to significant impact on buying behavior.
  • User-generated reviews are the most important capability for retailers to have on their website.
  • Shoppers continue to consistently read reviews always or most of the time before making a purchase decision (64 percent in 2010 versus 65 percent in 2007).
  • Shoppers today are spending more time reading reviews before making purchasing decisions. 64 percent take ten minutes or more (as compared to 50 percent in 2007) and 33 percent take one half hour or more (as compared to 18 percent in 2007).
  • 39 percent of consumers read eight or more reviews (as compared with 22 percent in 2007) and 12 percent read 16 or more reviews (as compared with 5 percent in 2007).
  • Top factors that degrade trust in product reviews are: not enough reviews (50 percent of respondents say this degrades trust), doubt that they are written by real customers (39 percent) and no or limited availability of negative reviews (38 percent).
 
Used to be that a satisfied customer would tell a friend or two and a dissatisfied one would tell ten others. It is probably not an exaggeration to say this dynamic has increased exponentially. Someone who just had a good experience may “Like” you on Facebook, Tweet about it, or write a blog post praising your business. While the angry person does not have any more channels to share in, they tend to be more motivated to share…much more.
 
What are you going to do? How will you respond? Here are some best practices and Be-attitudes for dealing with customer reviews.
 
Be Aware
 
People like a business that seems to listen. You should be monitoring (a.k.a. listening) for new reviews and responding, whether the review is good or bad.
 
On sites where you have claimed your business listing there is typically an option to receive notification when a new review is posted. There are tools to help you monitor customer reviews and mentions.  MyReviewsPage.com allows you to keep an eye on a handful of the major sites in one place. Google Alerts is comprehensive and will catch references to your business or product in forums and on blogs as well. It is also priced right (free).
 
Google recently started allowing business owners to respond directly to reviews. A few others do as well. For those sites that do not, there is not much you can do. This is why having a steady stream of reviews is important. (If you have nothing but bad reviews, then you have bigger problems.) Sometimes it may be appropriate to contact a reviewer by email.
 
Responding immediately is not necessary but come up with a reasonably actionable definition of “timely.” (somewhere between one hour and one month)  This is an opportunity to exceed expectations, assuming that is important to you.
 
Be Grateful
 
This unhappy person, whether for good reason or not, has given you the opportunity to demonstrate what kind of “person” your business is: considerate, respectful, polite, understanding, etc…. You get to back up claims like:
 
“We Put Our Customers First”  and “We Treat Our Customers Like Family”
 
Bribing people to leave good reviews is a bad idea. However, rewarding those who do with a coupon or small token of appreciation (I like Starbucks Cards.) might be a good idea.
 
Be Understanding
 
You may not agree with them. They may be lying about your business or performance or exaggerating, but you can acknowledge their pain and frustration. This does not require admitting or not admitting fault.  In this conversation, body language will not help communicate to the other person that you are hearing them. Make sure your words communicate this message.
 
Be Positive
 
No matter how angry you are, or how wrong this complaining lunatic is, be nice. Show some class (pretend, if you don’t have any). You can be polite without conceding an argument, which reminds me, do not be argumentative.
 
Regardless of the issue, you will not win an argument with an angry customer (online or offline). Do not do battle via comments or enlist others to do it for you. Your “win” comes in the form of making a good impression on everyone. Keep it real, but keep it positive.
 
Be Brief
 
Again, acknowledge the reviewer’s pain or problem. Do not lecture. Do not launch into an in depth defense of your position. (Didn’t I tell you not to be argumentative?) If you can offer a quick solution, do so, but it is probably in your best interest to take the discussion to a private channel as soon as possible. Your initial acknowledgment will satisfy the need to let the public know you are listening and addressing the complaint.
 
Hopefully you will be able reach a satisfactory resolution. In that case, it might be possible to get the person to post some follow-up comments about how well you took care of their problem. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
 
Be Smart
 
Depending on the circumstances, there may be legal issues. Kenan Farrell is an Indianapolis attorney who advises businesses on matters related to technology and new media. He says, “Honesty and transparency are highly valued in today’s business environment. Small admissions of liability that don’t expose you to significant legal risk can show the "human" side of a company and generate goodwill with customers.
 
Kenan advises that a business owner should consider the following questions before admitting any liability:
 
1. Did an error really happen?
2. Was the error the cause of any harm?
3. What are the chances a lawsuit could be filed by the customer?
4. Who is the best person to deliver news to the customer?
5. Have you consulted your insurance company before making an admission of responsibility?
6. Are you admitting the error out of benevolence/sympathy or as an attempt to negotiate a settlement or compromise?
 
Statements about fault, liability, or false claims need to be carefully considered. Getting real advice from an attorney is the smart move. As the old adage goes, “If in doubt, don’t.”
 
It is not likely that you will be able to resolve every problem or that you can convert an unhappy customer into a happy one. Some people are committed to being angry and perpetually in conflict. The main reason you make the effort and take the time to respond is because of what it communicates to your potential customers.
 
Below are some helpful articles and blog posts. Please share yours as well.
 
 

 


About Bill Bean

Bill Bean
As a would-be chili-head, Bill redefines the word spicy for the average eater, and there’s usually a cup of coffee in his hand or on his desk. He loves Kentucky basketball…a lot. Recently, he became the Kennesaw State Owls Volleyball team’s #1 fan. Bill spends all of his time being super proud of his two college-aged daughters. A favorite memory of Bill’s: performing with Bob Hope at the former Deer Creek Music Center.