Your first negative review will feel horrible. And if you have been in a public-facing business for any length of time it is bound to happen.
Once you recover from the surprise and disappointment of a negative review, it’s time to take positive action for your brand. Having a plan in place to handle it can make the difference in how people perceive your brand and public image. Here are seven steps that can help see you through it:
Stay Calm and Be Patient
When you see a negative review, your first step should be getting your emotions under control. Take 10 minutes (or up to 24 hours) to settle your mind and come back to it. The worst thing you can do is go in swinging or say something you will regret. Remember that the review and reply will be public.
Follow a Standard Company Policy
If you don’t have a policy in place for handling negative customer reviews, there is no time like the present to establish one. Put your policy in writing and include it in employee training and policy manuals. Your policy can include elements such as: How quickly should we respond to the review publicly? Who is in charge of communication? What is the process for addressing issues? And has the incident been documented?
Make it a point to monitor customer reviews. This may be a task delegated to the same individual in charge of handling the business’s procedure for negative reviews. Whoever is in charge of this process, you can’t address a negative review if you are not aware of it. Follow up on all popular and local review websites, including the Better Business Bureau and Yelp, to stay on top of your online reputation.
Don’t Take Negative Reviews Personally
It is natural to feel angry (or at least annoyed) about a negative review, particularly if you feel the situation was not at all well-represented by the reviewer. But you cannot change the actions of others — you can only control your response. When it’s time to respond, be polite and professional. Replying in an abrasive or defensive manner will only diminish your brand reputation in the eyes of other customers.
Avoid Speculation About the Reviewer
There are people out there who will never be satisfied, and you can not always tell who you’re dealing with on a review. If you feel strongly that a reviewer is an angry former employee or an irritated party from your personal life who is trying to tear you down publicly, document everything and send a polite email to the company hosting the negative review. If you don’t get a response, it’s tempting to professionally present the “evidence” online and “out” the reviewer, but this should not be your typical response. Without proof, this approach will only damage your reputation and make you look foolish. Treat every complaint as though it is sincere.
Refrain From Offering a Public Discount
This is an easy one to figure out if you’re a potential customer who has read your approach to prior negative reviews: I go to your restaurant, or pretend that I did. I later complain about my experience. Since you typically give other complainers a free meal, I expect to receive one too. Do not give a reviewer incentive to give you a bad review. Always try to make it right with a customer, but do not try to mend fences in public. Address the concern publicly and apologize for the experience. Use a private conversation to offer compensation or any future discounts.
Handle Issues Privately
Moving issues to a private medium such as email or a phone call is far more desirable than in a public forum. Ask the reviewer to contact you directly so that you can discuss the issue and give you an opportunity to make it right. If the reviewer is truly upset, he or she will call or email.
Everyone who sees your reply to the negative review understands that you’ve attempted to fix the problem in a professional manner, helping to solidify your brand and reputation again.
When properly handled, each negative review is an opportunity to present your company as honorable and reliable. A reputation for dealing with negative reviews in a productive manner will inspire trust among prospective clients and over time, create new sales opportunities for your firm.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Brendon Schenecker is equal parts developer and CEO, which has led to array of tech-based startups and over 10 years of experience managing startup ventures. Brendon is currently founder and CEO of Travel Vegas, a technology-focused destination travel company.