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4 steps to improve your business’s negative reviews

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The Austin, Texas-based moving company Square Cow Movers has over 300 Yelp reviews, and the overwhelming majority are five stars. But the few negative ones still keep owner Wade Lombard up at night. Part of the reason, he says, is because he’s so invested in his company’s success.

“I compare my business to my child,” says Lombard, whose company employs about 90 people and has four branches across central Texas. “One day, my kid can hit a home run, and I’ll be the most proud dad in the world. The very next day, he could be in the principal’s office, and I’ll be like, ‘Dude, I will sell you on eBay.’ Like, I’m so mad at my kid. You feel that same emotional roller coaster with your business.”

If you take your small business’s performance personally, as Lombard and so many other entrepreneurs do, reading negative reviews can be upsetting. But instead of losing sleep over it, follow these steps to improve your ratings.

1. Take a breather

Respond to a negative comment right away, and you run the risk of saying something unprofessional, says Lombard. “Never, ever, ever respond to a negative review the first time you read it. I don’t care who you are – you are so emotionally attached to your business,” he says.

Instead, go for a brisk walk. Talk it over with a close friend or family member. Once you have some emotional distance from the situation, you’ll be better equipped to fix it.


2. Figure out what went wrong

When people write online reviews, sometimes the complaints are legitimate. Other times, they’re unnecessarily nasty. Many review sites, like Angie’s List and Yelp, require reviewers to post their first name and last name initial. Even so, a phenomenon called the online disinhibition effect still tends to makes people harsher online than in person, says Dr. John Suler, a professor at Rider University in New Jersey who researches cyberpsychology.

If a customer complains to a business owner in person, the customer can immediately see if the owner is upset, angry or apologetic about the complaint and adapt his or her message accordingly. But for online interactions, those valuable visual cues are absent and, as a result, sometimes so is tact.

“When people see face-to-face feedback, they tend to tone it down,” says Suler. But when it comes to writing online reviews, people tend to be more critical. “It’s like the wild, Wild West,” he adds. “[Reviewers] think they can do and say whatever they want.”

Reread negative reviews and figure out what’s at the heart of the complaint. Listen to your employees’ side of the story and figure out what mistakes were made on your end. Did this customer really spend three hours waiting for service? Did that employee really say something rude to a customer they were serving? Start with the assumption that your employees are doing their best and are ready to learn from mistakes. Make policy changes as needed to minimize future errors.



3. Make things right

Once you find out exactly what went wrong, it’s time to touch base with your reviewer. Chances are that he or she will be happy you took the time to respond to them.

“If their criticisms are legitimate, try to reason with them and empathize with them,” says Suler. Start by thanking your reviewer for taking the time to write about his or her concerns and letting him or her know what changes – if any – you’re planning to make. This lays the groundwork for a constructive conversation.

Responding on a public forum can show potential customers that their satisfaction is important to you. If the reviewer was unhappy with a product or service, offer him or her a discount for next time or a refund.



4. Move on

After learning what you can from the bad reviews, addressing customer concerns and doing your best to make things right, let it go.

This year, Square Cow Movers expects to do 6,000 moves. “We’re meeting people at their most vulnerable state,” says Lombard. “Out of 6,000 moves, we’re going to have some unhappy people. As much as I hate it, as much as I lose sleep over it – it’s just a fact of life. At some point, we just have to move on.”

See also:

Not that kind of advisor: How to own your online reputation

2 new apps that make it easy for customers to review your agency

9 ways to unleash the power of social media in insurance