How to handle online reviews: the good, the bad and the downright mean
Marketing expertise with insights for the mechanical contractor: this article was originally written by Doug MacMillan, president of The Letter M, and published in Mechanical Business magazine; it is posted with permission.
The Letter M is a Guelph-based marketing and branding agency focused on strengthening communities and businesses through high-quality strategy, brand, storytelling, design and communications.
Think back to the last time you travelled. How many online reviews were you asked to provide for the restaurants, group tours, car rentals or hotels you booked? And how many did you read before you decided where to stay, where to eat and where to visit? Reviews have become integral tools in the marketing mix, and it’s no different for plumbers, contractors, developers, engineers, manufacturers and installers. Reading about others’ experiences is often the first step consumers will take before we open our wallets these days.
There are so many dos and don’ts and pros and cons to keep up with – and it’s important to stay on top of them, because online reviews and conversations are open to the public and can ultimately make or break a company.
In other words, you aren’t alone if you’re wondering:
- Is it cool to actually ask for a review, or should I just wait for people to volunteer one?
- How do we know if that person isn’t a mean internet troll?
- Is it worth the money to resolve every complaint?
- Should I offer something to people who leave good reviews?
Yes, it’s cool to ask. There’s nothing wrong with handing out business cards providing instructions, or emails after a service or experience. As a start, include general platforms like Google and niche ones like HomeStars. Don’t forget your Facebook page if you’re on that platform.
It’s important to invite everyone to review – not just the calls where you’re pretty sure they’ll be nice. People talk, and if word gets out you’re cherry-picking the reviewers, things could get ugly.
As for the reviews that come in…
Let’s start with the good.
If you receive a great review, acknowledge it. Often, companies receive praise and are very appreciative but don’t actually show it. Simply thanking the customer with a quick reply shows your appreciation and adds a personal touch. Everyone wants to feel cared about, right?
An example of a good review can range from a simple “Great job” to a more detailed one with an employee’s name. A response that references the customer’s comment gets bonus points. Don’t be too generic, but show you put some effort into your reply. “How nice! Thank you. We agree that Judy is top notch – and she bakes a mean peanut butter cookie, too!” is better than “Thanks for the positive review.”
Now, the bad.
People are more likely to share a bad review before a good review – and those negative views, in particular, have a dramatic impact on buying behaviours. But that doesn’t mean you can’t turn things around. Yelp’s Data Science team found that users are 33% more likely to upgrade a review when a company takes time to respond to the unhappy customer within 24 hours. So, that should be one goal.
A bad review can be a quick “what a rip-off” or a more detailed, “I sat on the phone for 15 minutes before speaking to someone, only to have them transfer me and wait again. Worst customer service ever!” Always apologize (whether you feel like it or not) and explain the reason for the mishap. You can even offer to discuss it further as a bonus.
If you receive a poor review, acknowledge it – quickly, and on the platform where it was written. Then, take it offline by sending a direct message or asking the person to email or phone you directly. This shows you’ve dealt with it without publicizing exactly how.
Negative reviews hurt your average rating, which is why people trolling the internet and leaving fake reviews can be so damaging to a business. If you suspect that’s the case, you can contact the review site and ask them to investigate and delete it.
Lastly, the mean.
The angriest customers go into extreme detail, naming every fault they possibly can. This can be jeopardizing to your company and individuals within it. Stopping the review from spreading online is top priority. Apologize and offer a solution. If an online conversation continues, make it an urgent priority for a high-ranking manager or executive to speak with them directly.
Once the issue is resolved, leave a comment that acknowledges that you reached an amicable conclusion. Hopefully, the customer will agree in a final comment.
Some grievances won’t be resolved – and there comes a time when you should stop acknowledging or commenting if an angry person continues to leave disparaging comments. If you’re managing other reviews well enough, and you’re generally getting good reviews, the bad ones don’t stand out as much.
Some key takeaways to remember:
- Check reviews regularly. If possible, set them up so you’re notified when a review comes in.
- Acknowledge everyone who took the time to write something.
- Apologize, even when you don’t want to.
- Don’t get into an online public battle – contact them privately.
- Be authentic. Don’t copy and paste generic messages – you are not a robot.
- Offer a solution to fix issues.
- Don’t take it personally.