Responding to negative reviews 

June 30, 2017
Maryanne Evans

I began studying advertising when social media really began dominating, in 2008 our teachers were lecturing on traditional media but I knew we were in the midst of an advertising revolution. I started volunteering to help family friends’ businesses very early on as I believe the benefits of having a social presence far out way the negatives. A major rebuttal to any business having a Facebook Page, Google Maps Account or Linkedin page is negative feedback. I argue that negative comments can be turned into a positive publicity.

I am passionate about social media because it opens the lines of communication between customers, potential customers and businesses, it is a ‘Digital Suggestion Box’. Some may say this is airing dirty laundry, without a proactive plan in place it can be scary.  In previous roles, I’ve had countless clients call in almost crying about a negative review on social media. From this experience, I’ve developed my own plan that I’ve seen work extremely well.

My first piece of advice for anyone who receives a negative review online or offline is to take a deep breath. Please don’t take this remark personally.  I love the culture at Zero Digital, the natural response to any negative comment or message sent through –  is to crowd around the journalist with pats on the back with reassuring comments like “Don’t worry mate, they’re probably having a bad day”. It’s true, I think we’ve all been guilty of letting our bad day affect our behaviour in one way or another. In my eight years of experience in the marketing field, I’d suggest 60% of these reviews are just that – people having a bad day and taking it out on the easiest target. Someone I admire very much, comedian Mr Cian Twomey understands this and had a brilliant way of dealing with such negativity.

Cian’s calculated and marvelous response was admirable, however, it may not be the right response for your business. It does support my argument, negative reviews can be converted into positive marketing for your business. When a customer reviews your business online, you have been presented the opportunity to be included in the conversation. Which is actually better than a customer spreading negative reviews without your knowledge.

My second piece of advice for any receiver of a negative comment is ‘Do they have a valid point? Can we improve our business?’ If I receive fantastic service, I’ll leave a positive review (and a tip, bartenders take note) – if it’s very bad, I’ve been known to leave negative reviews. This is an opportunity and I suggest dealing with it that way. A business (that shall not be named) delivered food to me late and after almost 90 minutes of waiting,  the food tasted like heated up leftovers.  I was much nicer in my review, although their marketing manager didn’t decide to proceed with the same attitude. I was personally attacked in comments that were later deleted. To this day I still see my review gaining likes, with comments commending me for my honesty and maturity compared to said restaurants’ unprofessional manner. If I was their marketing manager, I would have taken a different approach:

  • Thanked the commenter for their opinion.
  • Offered the potential to change their mind with a voucher or even just a refund.
  • Spoken to my team to understand if the comments had merit or if it was simply someone having a bad day.
  • If the comments had merit, change the quality of food before the voucher was used.
  • Encourage happier clients to post positive reviews to drown out any negative comments.

If this restaurant had followed a similar plan to the above, I would have most likely been their biggest advocate – changing their review to 5 stars. Most importantly it’s not the angry customer, but the many people watching who we want to be on our best behaviour for.

I actually have been in the position of that restaurant in the past, working client side I’ve had to answer countless negative reviews – some having merit and some being completely insane. I treat every response the same, thanking them for taking the time to let us know and trying to rectify the situation. By monitoring our Google Analytics, I noticed a correlation in page views and increase in sales after these conversations take place. Potential customers could see how we handle complaints and I’d say they were impressed with our professional response.

Woolworths faced a similar situation with the infamous Ryan Goodall avocado fiasco-turned-triumph.

Well played Woolworths, well played. We can all take a page out of the Woolworths book of marketing – it would be near impossible to plan such positive publicity.  Keeping avocado’s fresh might be tricky business, but Woolworth’s  seem to

My third piece of advice, NEVER delete comments. I was involved in an incident where an angry customer thought we’d deleted their review (it was still there, she was just technically challenged). The woman went on to notify all of her friends and family, so I was left answering countless reviews from people who didn’t even know our business name. It was a nightmare, to say the least. Once I understood why she was upset, I gave her a freebie and apologised on her review. She was so overjoyed the other reviews soon disappeared. If we had actually deleted her comment, I could only imagine the damage that could have occurred.

Lastly, encourage positive reviews in a creative way. Keep in mind it is illegal to post fake testimonials. Google has algorithms in place to notice anything unnatural meaning 100 5 star reviews isn’t going to look natural. Explain this to your biggest fans and how a positive review can actually increase your SEO and help your business grow. It’s just like helping out an awesome Uber driver.

In conclusion,

  • Don’t take these comments to heart, it’s not a personal attack on you – it’s just business.
  • Consider the possibility that they may be giving you some constructive criticism. Can your business grow from this advice?
  • Don’t begin an online commenting war, it’s not a good look for businesses and you’re better than that.
  • Don’t ignore the comment, take some time to write a friendly response that will calm your commenter and look good to anyone watching.
  • Encourage clients who you have a good relationship with to post reviews, this will help drown out your negative Nancy.

At the end of the day, “there is no such thing as bad publicity”, as long as you’re smart about it.