The Ultimate Guide to Handling Negative Reviews

08 August 2017


Reviews on the internet are now standard. They are a crucial element of some of the internet's largest websites – Amazon and eBay, for example – and are an increasingly important part of the customer experience. This applies when customers are in the decision-making stage pre-purchase. It also applies when they want to tell the world about their experience. As reviews are now such a common feature, another reality becomes apparent – where there are reviews, there will always be negative reviews.

Handling negative reviews is, therefore, important for all businesses. Why?

  • You are going to get negative reviews – you can't be perfect every time. In addition, your customers are much more likely to leave a review if they have a negative experience than if they have a neutral or positive one.
  • Negative reviews will impact sales – negative reviews can affect how potential customers see your business which can then impact on your business performance.

In addition, negative reviews can impact on the traffic you get from Google. Google already uses review star ratings in its search results. It gets this information from online reviews on its own platform – Google My Business – as well as from third-party platforms including Feefo and Trustpilot. This is important for a number of reasons.

  • If you don't have a good star rating, or if you don't have any star rating at all and other websites in search results pages do. Your listings won’t stand out, and Google users might not click through to your website. They’ll choose a competitor who does have start ratings instead.
  • This lack of click throughs can then impact on your website's overall ranking in Google in the future. This is probably limited now, but the likelihood that Google will put more emphasis on reviews for their search algorithm in the future, is high.  Many SEO experts believe Google is either already using reviews as a ranking factor or is looking at ways of doing this in the future. Google is interested in a website's authority. It judges authority in several ways, customer reviews and sentiment within social media may well be an important metric to this judgement of authority.

Taking a Proactive Approach

We've established that you are likely to get online reviews and that some of them are going to be negative. How do you handle this situation? In short, it involves taking a proactive approach to online reviews. It doesn't matter how good your customer service strategy is or the steps you take to improve the experience of customers, you cannot ignore online reviews. A proactive approach is the only way.

A proactive approach to handling negative reviews requires two main elements:

  1. Deal with negative reviews – this involves either contesting the review with the review website if you feel it is malicious or unfair, or responding to the reviewer directly in order to resolve their issue. In the first scenario, the objective is to get the review removed while in the second the objective is to get the reviewer to change the review once you have rectified their problem.
  2. Encourage positive reviews - if you have a regular stream of positive reviews about your business on the main review websites, the negative reviews will not be as significant. You still shouldn't ignore them, but lots of positive reviews about your business will dilute the potentially harmful impact of a negative review.

This two-pronged strategy for handling negative reviews assumes, of course, that the products or services you deliver to customers are sound. In other words, you can only handle negative reviews if the majority of your customers have a good experience. If there are more fundamental problems in your business that are the cause of negative reviews, you should deal with them first before starting to tackle the issue of bad reviews. However, a good first step is always to acknowledge when there is a problem, and tell people you have a plan in place to address it.  

Let’s now look at the practical steps you should take to put the above strategy into action.

Contest the Review

Review websites, particularly the large and most popular sites, only want genuine reviews. This is because they vigorously protect the trust of their users.

As a result, these websites take steps to prevent reviews that are falsely negative or falsely positive. Most good review websites also have systems designed to detect competitor behaviour, i.e. one of your competitors leaving a bad review about your business.

Unfortunately, these automatic and internally managed systems don't always work and some malicious and unfair reviews do find their way onto these websites. If this is the situation you are in, you will need to look on the website to find its appeal process. This normally involves contacting the site and requesting it removes the review.

It is important to note that this process is rarely easy. Review websites normally have policies that favour leaving the review on their site rather than removing. The onus is on you to prove the review is unfair or malicious. This can be difficult if you don't have proof. Here the steps you should take:

  • Look through your records and/or speak to your team to identify inaccuracies in the customer's version of events
  • Look for evidence in emails, social media messages, social media comments, or anywhere else that can back up your view
  • Clearly explain why you think the review is unfair or malicious

One thing you should remember, however, is that review platforms are not interested in arbitrating between you and your customer to help resolve the dispute. All they care about is whether the review is an accurate account of the experience. You have to prove it is not – simply asserting it is not will not be enough.

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