5-Point Checklist for Handling Negative Reviews

Offering products and services in today's hyper-connected world means there are multiple channels where your business will be rated and reviewed. And, the only real guarantee is that if your brand hasn't received a negative review yet, it will. 


In short, you can't please all the people all the time. The way you handle the online reviews, however, says more about your business than what the original reviewer had to say. Turn those digital frowns upside down with this five-point checklist for handling negative reviews.


1. Are you listening?


When it comes to online reviews, doing "something" is always better than the alternative. Brands, however, need to know where conversations are happening in order to respond constructively. This is because often, reviews aren't as formal as those found on sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor or the Better Business Bureau. Today's consumers are leaving reviews on whatever network they happen to be on. For example, many social media management solutions on the market monitor brand mentions on Google +, Facebook and Twitter, because users leave compliments and complaints there all the time (a.k.a. reviews). 


For an example, let's look to Twitter. When one user complained about Spirit Airlines for having to pay $100 for a carry-on bag, a fellow Twitter user responded, "It could be worse. My @AmericanAir flight just got canceled so I'm stuck in o'hare till tonight." Spirit Airlines never responded to the original tweet, but American Airlines took over the conversation, when it simply responded, "Kevin, we're sorry for the cancellation. We appreciate your patience and we're glad you've been rebooked." 


Reviews on social media networks like Twitter teeter on customer service, for sure, but a review is a review, and American Airlines proved to be the better brand in this situation by simply responding to a customer's concern. 



For a list of review sites your brand may not be monitoring, check out, "5+ User Review Websites Critical to Small Businesses." Additionally, companies will want a social listening service, whether it's through a social media management solution like SproutSocial or a pure-play listening platform like Brandwatch. 


2. Did you check your ego?


Professionals pour their hours and dollars into their businesses and when someone has a bad experience, doesn't "get" a company's point of view or any other reason which makes them unhappy, it hurts. Instead of getting all fired up though, Web workers need to check their egos at the door and try to empathize with the customer. Does he or she have a point? 


Hard Rock Cafe, for example, empowers the managers at every location (worldwide) to manage local review sites. Since the local teams have the opportunity to make things right, they also seemingly internalize the feedback and genuinely want to help. Rather than get upset with a particular comment - everything from the service to the food - the manager said he reviewed the comments, truly apologizes, that it's below his personal standards, will address the issues with the kitchen manager and would like to give them the quality they deserve.


Everything he wrote was so specific and actionable (he included an email address) that it'd be hard to still be upset. Had the Hard Rock Cafe manager either not responded or, worse, been dismissive or rude, the commenter likely never would return and would tell as many people as she could about the response (making the situation worse). 



3. Did you point out the positives?


Negative reviews are, well, negative, but it doesn't mean brands can't remind users what makes their businesses successful. For example, "We're sorry your food took so long to get to your table, but we make our pizzas to order and have offered the freshest ingredients for more than 30 years!" For a real-world example, let's turn to Yelp.


Although the reviewer left a five-star review of a tanning span in San Diego, the company still addressed the fact that the person once had a poor experience at another location. They could have been happy with the rating, but took the time to thank them for having the chance to improve their experience - pointing out the positives. 



4. Did you try to take the conversation offline?


Most of the big brands do it. They give a commenter/reviewer/user alternative contact information, so the conversation can be moved from a very public place (Yelp, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) to a private line (email, phone call, etc.). This is beneficial, because other peoples' opinions won't be influenced by the reviewer's negative experience. Chipotle, for example, provides an online form in this particular case.



5. Did you ask for a second opinion?


On any given day, it's easy to misinterpret online conversations (lack of tone, body language, etc.), but when the reviewer is already upset enough to rate your business negatively, they are even more inclined to make assumptions that you (the responder) are not being genuine. If you're unsure whether your response will come off condescending, rude, sarcastic or generally unprofessional, ask for a second opinion. If your second opinion is even slightly on the fence, start over.