How a Small Business Should Respond to Negative Online Reviews

When Amazon last month sued the administrators of 10,000 Facebook groups for allegedly posting fraudulent reviews in exchange for free money or merchandise, the news brought a pervasive and damaging problem to business to the fore.

But here’s the thing.

You’d be hard pressed to find a small business that could afford to take legal action in the event of a negative review, justified or not.

“Trying to defend your good name and quality online or through legal channels can put an entire small business under stress,” said John Kabateck, president of Kabateck Strategies, whose company represents the California branch of the National Federation of Independent Business. “It’s not that easy for your average mom and dad and, frankly, it ends up costing more.”

This left it up to small businesses to find their own ways to solve the problem.

Facing the inevitable

“It almost feels like this necessary evil,” said Forrest Manning, owner of Double Rainbow Café in San Rafael. “It’s also something that’s going nowhere. There are more and more sites that essentially appear as rating systems.

Besides the obvious places people go to post their experiences – Google, Facebook, and Yelp – there are a growing number of industry-specific sites that can be just as harmful such as Airbnb, Tripadvisor, OpenTable, Zillow, and Healthgrades, among others. .

Manning’s store currently has 243 reviews on Yelp, with an average rating of four out of five “stars,” which he says is about 85% positive reviews.

The impact of even 15% negative reviews, however, can be detrimental.

“In a service business, sometimes you don’t know what’s going on in other people’s lives,” Manning said. “They may have just received bad news or something just happened just before they came in. I think we’ve all been in that position.”

Manning said he tries to make things right when his store receives a bad review by thanking the reviewer for taking the time to comment and asking for a second chance, such as offering a free dessert.

When reviewers criticize a product, such as saying the ice cream was too soft, Manning said, he will take those comments as a teaching moment.

“You don’t want to get a bad review but more importantly if someone left a review saying this happened to them, in my mind I (wonder) how many other people thought that,” he said. -he declares. “They may not have written anything, but they may not be back either. So responding to reviews, whether good or bad, is pretty important.

Take the review offline

Manning is the right approach, said Andreas Mueller-Schubert, co-owner and chief marketing strategist of Napa-based WSI Next Gen Marketing, a full-service digital marketing provider that has regional and national clients.

“Try to respond to every review,” he said. “It’s a sign to anyone reading it that the company takes online reviews and customer feedback very seriously. And it’s a great marketing opportunity.

On the other hand, in responding to negative reviews, Mueller-Schubert advised to proceed with caution.

“It’s really important to take the discussion offline” and not get into a back and forth with the customer who wrote the review, he said.

Otherwise, the business owner risks a disastrous outcome.

“Google will consider this a very popular post, and you might get a really high one-star rating because there’s a lot of traffic on it,” Mueller-Schubert said. “It’s the last thing you want to have.”

take a step back

“When you’re a small business owner, you take everything very personally,” said Shana Bull, digital marketing expert and book author. “And that’s good, but it’s hard.”

This can make it difficult to opt out when a negative review pops up about your business.

“I always tell people to wait. Wait a bit before responding so you don’t do it when you’re angry,” Bull said. “It’s good to respond to people with a clear head because you can do extra damage if you respond harshly.”

Sometimes, however, it can be hard to hold back.

Manning has had to ask customers to leave his store to hang out, ask other customers for money and harass young women, most of whom are between 16 and 22 years old.

“When they’re attacked like that, it’s beyond frustrating, but it’s definitely my role to be protective about it in any way I can,” Manning said. “And when I get those criticisms…then comes the frustrating part of trying to get them taken down.” Manning was referring to Yelp, which he says can take a long time to remove an unwarranted review.

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