Negative reviews: Don't bury your head in the sand

Nov. 1st, 2011

They're out there—negative reviews of your company's products or services. Although you might prefer to look the other way, responding to negative reviews can have a positive impact on your company's perception among customers. In a recent Maritz Research and evolve24 study, 83 percent of Twitter complainants who received a reply liked or loved that the company responded. That means a company was able to improve customer psychology 83 percent of the time by just acknowledging the problem and showing it was listening.

Keep in mind, though, that how you respond matters. When it comes to negative reviews, the old adage "It's not just what you say but how you say it" is true. Remember, you're talking to customers who are frustrated and unhappy. You want to provide them with the help and answers they're looking for—not add fuel to their fire.

Here are some tips to help you write responses to turn negative reviews into positive perception:

  • Be friendly and courteous. Get off on the right foot by addressing the customer by name and acknowledging their experience. A little empathy, such as, "Sorry to hear about your experience!," can go a long way in soothing an agitated customer. Finally, thank the customer for his or her comments. Even if the feedback is negative, it's helpful information for improving your products in the future.
  • Be truthful and authentic. If a customer is correct in identifying an issue with your product or service, acknowledge it. Don't hide behind a bunch of marketing speak; be honest and forthcoming if there's a known problem with your product. Also, don't use boilerplate responses. It shouldn't appear that you're just cutting and pasting approved corporate responses from a messaging guide. Talk to the customer as if you're having a conversation with a real person, because you are.
  • Be specific in addressing customer issues. The more detailed information or steps you can provide customers on how to resolve their problems, the better.
  • Ask for additional details. Too often, customers don't provide enough details in their reviews to accurately assess the problem and provide a suitable solution. Some forums and e-commerce sites provide the ability for customers to comment on a manufacturer's response. In those cases, respond by asking for additional information about the issue so you can more effectively troubleshoot the problem.
  • Encourage customers to contact support. It sounds like a no-brainer, I know, but oftentimes you'll find that customers post their reviews at the moment of their frustration without taking the first, most obvious step to resolve their issue: calling support. If your company provides different support centers or vehicles (phone vs. online), direct the customer to the most relevant support option for their product or situation.
  • Provide a direct path to additional information. Whatever you do, don't send the customer to your home page. Remember, you're trying to improve the customers' experience so you want to get them to the information they need in the fewest number of clicks. Whether it's product specifications, a replacement model, or a software upgrade, provide the specific URL for that information.
  • Create a "triage" email alias. Sometimes customers do call support and, unfortunately, sometimes their problems go unresolved. For those situations, create a special email address that you can provide as a way for customers to contact you directly so you can help escalate their support case.

Finally, don't ignore the customers who are saying good things about your products or company online. Make sure you respond to positive reviews, too. Statistics show that peer reviews are one of the most influential factors when making purchasing decisions. It's worth your time to say "thank you" to your brand advocates.

You can run, but you can't hide from bad reviews, and it's in your best interest not to. Proactively addressing negative reviews is a great opportunity to develop better customer relationships, gain valuable feedback about your products, and improve the perception of your company.

What best practices do you have for responding to reviews from unhappy customers?

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