Negative customer reviews can cost your company sales, undermine your relationships with key retail partners, and ultimately harm your brand. The research on this is clear: Online shoppers look at customer reviews often and take them seriously. According to 2017 research cited in the media publication The Drum, 60% of consumers read online reviews at least once a week, and 93% say customer reviews affect their purchasing decisions.
But contrary to a widely held misconception, a negative customer review of your product at an eCommerce site or a marketplace like Amazon does not have to be a fixed, permanent reality that your company is stuck with forever. There are steps you can take to address and even remove bad reviews and ratings online, and to significantly reduce the number of these reviews in the future. In this post, we’ll discuss some of those steps.
5 Steps for Handling Negative Customer Reviews (and Even Turning Them into Positive Ones)
Monitor the Internet at all times and be ready to respond immediately to bad reviews.
The first step to dealing more effectively with negative customer reviews or low star ratings will be to set up a system to monitor the entire Internet for reviews at all times, so your team is ready to respond quickly when someone publishes a bad review. Why is it so important to answer these reviews quickly? There are two primary reasons.
First, a customer who posts a negative review about your product (or some aspect of the buying experience) will be a lot more receptive to your company’s apology and your attempt to make things right if you respond to them soon. If that customer doesn’t hear from you until many days or even weeks after posting the review, they will have had much more time to solidify their negative impression of your company, and your apology won’t mean nearly as much.
Second, in the time that a negative customer review goes unanswered online - for example, alongside one of your retail partner’s listing page on Amazon - a lot of other shoppers might see it. Without your public reply, those shoppers will have no way of evaluating the whole story or seeing how your company deals with unhappy customers. Many will understandably conclude that you simply ignore them. That could turn off a lot of potential buyers and ultimately harm your brand.
So, before you can begin developing your approach to dealing with specific customer reviews, which we’ll discuss below, you need to have an automated system in place to immediately alert you to any bad reviews, across all eCommerce sites and online marketplaces, so you’re ready to respond to every one quickly.
Verify the review is from an actual customer. If it isn’t, take appropriate action.
More often than many people realize, negative customer reviews aren’t from actual customers at all. Sometimes they’re competitors who simply took 30 seconds to set up an account at a review site like Google and post a 1-star rating or an angry rant about the company’s products or services, even though they’d never actually done business with that company.
If you catch a bad review, you should immediately try to figure out if it’s from an actual customer. Fake reviewers will often exaggerate claims to make it sound like there are serious defects that are a public safety risk or will pack keywords into the review in the hope that search algorithms will be more likely to pick it up. If you’re suspicious that the reviewer could be a fake, there are several steps you can take.
- Reply to the comment thread telling the reviewer (and anyone else who happens to read it) that you can’t find a record them as a customer of your product or service and ask what you can do to make things right. If your brand is a target of product counterfeiters, you might post a link to your list of authorized dealers and ask the reviewer to confirm that it was purchased from one of them or direct them to please confirm that there was an authorized dealer badge.
- Be polite and professional in your response, and explain to the reviewer (and again, anyone else who reads this thread online) that the issues they’re complaining about don’t sound like the typical experience your company provides, but that if they indeed experienced those problems you are very sorry and would like the chance to rectify them.
- Send the reviewer your contact information and offer to discuss the issue further. (If their review is fraudulent, this will probably end the issue.)
- In the meantime, flag or report the comment to the site (Amazon, Facebook, Google, etc.) as a possible fake, and ask the site to pull or at least investigate it.
Note: The reason to reply publicly to a “customer’s” bad review, even if you are convinced the commenter is a phony who just wants to harm your business, is that in some cases the site will refuse to remove the offending review or rating. If that happens, you will want your company’s position to live alongside the negative review, so anyone reading it in the future will see how you responded. In fact, if your response contains the right tone and substance, you might even bring readers over to your side and boost your brand. And if you link to the list of authorized dealers or provide details on dealer badges that you may have in place, consumers will have an alternate means to verify that they’re sourcing the real thing from your authorized dealers.
Reply to the bad review, and make it both public and personal.
Assuming your reviewer is indeed a customer, and the issues or complaints they raise seem plausible, you will want to immediately post a public reply to the review. This will give your company an opportunity to add some context to the negative review.
In your reply, you will want to apologize and acknowledge your company’s error (assuming there was an error). Everyone knows businesses, just like individuals, make mistakes. When they see a company publicly own up to a mistake and actually apologize for it - rather than issue a carefully crafted corporate statement that does neither - that will only add to the business’s credibility and help its brand.
You also want to make sure your response includes your promise to try to make things right with that customer. Let them know you’re sending them your contact information, and then do so immediately, so they can get in touch and you can help resolve their issues.
Even if you ultimately can’t make this customer happy, at least you have created a public record of doing your best to do so - and that record of your good-faith effort to fix the issue will live alongside the negative customer review for as long as it’s up there.
Address the actual issue… or make good however you can.
Now that you’ve made a public promise to make good (in your published reply to the negative customer review), it’s time to make good on that promise.
The specific course of action here will vary, of course, depending on your product or service and the specific complaints contained in the customer’s bad review. But in your preparation for these inevitable negative customer reviews (every brand receives them, unfortunately), you’ll want to game out several scenarios ahead of time and determine how you’ll handle each one.
You can’t afford to send free products to everyone who complains online, but you can find ways - discounts, free shipping on their next order, etc. - to make up for just about any negative experience a customer has when buying from you or one of your retail partners. Have your corrective-action strategies ready for as many types of customer complaints as your team can think of.
Ask for an adjustment to the negative review.
Finally, if you’ve either fixed the issues raised in your customer’s negative review or found some other way to make good on their bad experience, you are now in a good position to ask them to adjust their original online review or low star rating.
Many customers will gladly do this after the company makes things right, or even if they simply apologize and publicly acknowledge their mistake. (Your public reply to a negative review - especially if it contains a genuine apology - will also make your customer happy by making them feel heard and even vindicated for raising the issue.) Using this strategy, you’ll find you can often literally turn a negative customer review into a positive one.
But even if your customer is unwilling to adjust their review, by taking the steps above you will still have had the opportunity to add your company’s position to the complaint itself, and at the same time to show that your business is listening and responding to customers - something future shoppers will notice and appreciate.
Remember: Your First Step Is to Deploy Automated Review Tracking
Of course, all of this will work only to the extent that your company is able to respond publicly and in a timely manner to any negative customer reviews. And to do that, you will need an automated review tracking system monitoring your brand’s presence across all eCommerce sites and online marketplaces at all times, and alerting you the instant a bad review pops up somewhere on the Internet.
If you’d like to learn how to set up a review tracking system to help you deal with negative customer reviews, let us show you how it works.