Within the last week, I’ve seen two instances of small business owners responding to bad Yelp! reviews in ways that, to put it mildly, are not helpful to the long-term success of the individual businesses. I can’t imagine the stress of running a consumer-focused business in this economy, and I’m sure that negative reviews are stinging–and perceived as potentially fatal–in this environment.
That said, when you are dealing with the public, you are bound to face some criticism. Some of it may be warranted, and some may be off-base. The way that you respond and manage such criticism could prove to have more of an impact on your business than the initial bad review itself. So, some tips to consider:
- Step away from the computer. This could well be my most controversial tip, from the perspective of others who monitor social media who seem to believe that any delay in responding is too long. I stand by it though–especially if you are the owner, and especially if anyone has ever described you as “passionate” or “fervent” about your business. Cooler heads prevail. If you are at all tempted to lash out at the reviewer, you owe it to your business to allow yourself time to cool down.
- Write out your response longhand, on a piece of paper. Then go for a walk, or do some yoga, or pet a puppy–anything to get your head cleared. After you’ve cooled off, look at your response, and then shred it. Seriously. This part of the exercise is to allow you to get things off your chest, so you can move to the next step.
- Once you’ve cooled off, re-read the complaint. Did the customer make any salient points, or was it rant-y and completely negative? If it’s the former, concentrate on responding to the points in a concerned, but largely dispassionate manner. Channel your inner Mr. Spock. Reverse roles: how would you have felt had you been the customer? Empathy goes a long way.
- If the review was totally negative, think carefully about your response. I’d be willing to bet that unless the bulk of the reviews are similar (in which case you have a more fundamental problem), others reading the review will be more objective than you may be giving them credit for. When I read Yelp! reviews, I have a tendency to throw out the most positive review and the most negative one(s). The really positive ones sometimes sound too much like marketing-speak, making me think it’s friends or family members writing the review. The really negative ones could be anything from someone having a bad day, to competitors, to just unreasonable expectations.
- Apologize. Even if you think you did nothing wrong, apologize to the customer for the negative experience. I’ve worked customer service at a retail store, and I’m not going to say the customer is always right–I’ve seen too much evidence to the contrary. Regardless, if the customer feels as though he or she has been wronged, apologize. And make it a real apology, not “I’m sorry you felt that way, but…” statement.
- Offer to make things right, and/or commit to doing better in the future. If the customer is really angry, this might not make a difference–and that’s okay. Remember, your response has more than one function. In addition to responding to the customer, your response is also showing to others reading the review that you care about the business and your customers.
- Do not, under any circumstances, get into a protracted debate about who was right and who was wrong. It doesn’t matter. Apologize, offer to make things right, and if you’re rebuffed, move on. It might be tough, but there is no benefit to dragging things out.
- If you can’t be objective, consider tapping someone else to respond. Choose carefully, however. This person should be: a) cool-headed; b) trusted by you/the business owner, and c) high enough in the organization to be able to make real offers of assistance or compensation. Tasking an intern or low-level employee to respond, who then makes an offer of compensation that you aren’t willing to fulfill or stand behind will cause you more problems.
And finally, apparently it needs to be said: DO NOT lash out at the customer by posting his or her picture on your brand’s Facebook page with disparaging comments and DO NOT (allegedly) start a fictitious blog suggesting the customer has drug problems and has resorted to prostitution.