In today’s online world, a bad customer review can reverberate around the world on the web in minutes. Whether it’s a bad review on Yelp or a nasty post on Facebook, it can and will affect your business. 

Online reviews are read and trusted by millions. They have the power to affect business development and customer retention. According to on-line social media consultant, ThriveHive:

  • 90 percent of consumers read online reviews
  • 88 percent of consumers trust online reviews when considering a business.
  • 72 percent of consumers say that positive reviews make them trust a local business more
  • 86 percent of consumers will decide against buying from a business if they read negative reviews online
  • A one-star increase on Yelp leads to a 5-9 percent increase in business revenue, and one negative review can cost a business 30 customers. NOTE: a Yelp page will sometimes rank higher than a company’s actual site on a search engine results page.

I recently read Jay Baer’s book Hug Your Haters and it changed the way I look at the marketing opportunities opened up by negative reviews. That’s right – I said “opportunities” and “negative reviews” in the same sentence.

Complainers – Who are they and what do they want?

Complainers (or “Haters” as Jay Baer calls them) fall into two categories. Each kind of complainer has their own characteristics and what they expect from the offending business.

Off-stage complainers usually log their concerns privately, in a one-to-one format like a phone call or an email.

These complainers share these characteristics:

  • Slightly older than “on-stage haters”
  • Less mobile than on-stage haters
  • Less social media savvy
  • Less likely to complain
  • Less strident and dramatic than those who complain publicly
  • Make up the majority of complainers (62 percent of those who complain overall)
  • Want and expect an answer
    • 91 percent of those who complain by phone expect a reply
    • 89 percent of those who complain by email expect a reply
  • If you answer them you can expect them to become brand advocates for your company
  • If you don’t answer their complaints, expect a decline in their willingness to advocate for your brand. In addition, some may resort to social media and review sites to air their issues. 

On-stage complainers almost always complain first in a public way, using social media, review sites, discussion boards or forums.

These complainers share these characteristics:

  • Slightly younger than the off-stage haters
  • More mobile
  • More tech and social media savvy
  • More likely to complain frequently
  • More strident and dramatic in their complaints to gain attention in the cluttered social media environment
  • Less like to expect an answer as compared to off-stage haters
    • 42 percent of those using social media expect a reply
    • 53 percent of those using review sites expect a reply
  • They are pleasantly surprised if you answer them and, will in fact, be likely to become brand advocates if you do.

Why It’s Important to Answer Every Complaint Publicly

“Customer service has become a spectator sport.”

That quote from Hug Your Haters should be the your guiding start as you navigate the world of on-line reviews. Why? Because consumers take your responses (or lack of them) as an indication of how you deliver customer service.

Responding publicly takes a complaint and makes it into a vehicle that demonstrates your responsiveness and concern for the customer. It’s the outward sign of the way you approach customer service.

Answering complaints increases customer advocacy. Customers who get their issues solved tend to become customer advocates. In Baer’s book Hug Your Haters he cites these chilling statistics:

  • Responding to a complaint anywhere on social media generates a 20 percent advocacy lift on average
  • Not responding to a complaint on social media decreases customer advocacy by 43 percent
  • For Yelp customers (the go-to place unhappy customers) responding to a negative review increases customer advocacy increases by 16 percent
  • For Yelp customers not responding to a negative review results in a 37 percent drop in customer advocacy.

Most importantly, one of the biggest pluses for companies that participate in review sites isn’t just increasing advocacy among the original complainers, but demonstrating to onlookers that your business cares.

The bottom line is this:

  • Responding to on-stage haters will surprise and delight them
  • Responding publicly magnifies your response to all on social media
  • Responding publicly demonstates your dedication to customer service to all who are active on social media.

Rules of Engagement on Social Media

Your responses to negative social media comments showcase your company’s positive attitude towards the customer. They demonstrate your concern for their issues. But how do you do that? Rule #1 is to make sure your response sounds like it’s written by a human; someone who has compassion for the customer and a determination to make things right. No one feels any better when they hear: “We’re sorry your expectations were not met.” Who talks like that?

Here are some of “rules of the road” for responding to negative reviews:

  • Stay positive
  • Offer a solution
  • Take the conversation offline to share account-specific information
  • Communicate with the customer as you would a real person. Do not use corporate-ese. Demonstrate empathy and an eagerness to solve their problem human-to-human. Talk like a person; not a corporation. Consider the difference between: “Your problem is very important to us” and “Wow, that’s terrible. That’s not how we do business.  What can we do?”
  • Reply only twice – There is a group of complainers who enjoy the spotlight. These folks (sometimes called “trolls”) only want on-stage attention. They want to get you to say something off-kilter and they have no real interest in getting their issues resolved. To avoid getting into a public “war” with this group of people, only go back and forth with them twice. No more. If they continue to come back at you, take the conversation off-line with a post such as, “Clearly, this is an issue that concerns you. Let’s see what we can work out together. Send me a PM (private message) with your contact information so we can work on this together.”  Most will go away and those that come back will be seen by your social media followers for what they are.
  • Ask for an update- If you’ve responded to the customer’s review and solved the problem, it’s perfectly appropriate to ask them for an updated review. (Do not ask that they take down the review specifically). Sometimes customers will decide to do this on their own. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with asking them to update their review as long as it doesn’t look like that’s the only reason you’re helping them. 

Monitoring Reviews

The sheer volume of reviews and review sites is overwhelming. To help you deal with the clutter and to respond in a timely manner, we recommend using an on-line dashboard. These reputation management services allow you to:

  • Spot reviews involving your company from review sites
  • Spot company mentions on the web
  • Spot company mentions on search engines and social media
  • Respond to reviews and keep track of the conversation
  • See all these on one dashboard
  • Receive immediate alerts when you company is mentioned.

There are a number of providers for these services. Business News Daily’s top choice for a reputation management service is WebiMax. In Hug Your Haters, Baer singles out Yext and ReviewTrackers.

These services can help you monitor reviews; respond to them and some even help you reach out to cultivate positive reviews. They can be good ways to protect your image, but make sure you know what each can and can’t do. Also, look into the methods they use to make sure they are trustworthy and effective. Evaluate their packages to make sure you aren’t paying for more than what you want. Decide whether you want some (or all) of these services: Managing existing negative comments or reviews; managing online reviews and brand building and management (i.e. cultivating positive reviews).

The bottom line is this: A bad review is not the end of your company. If you play it right, it can be a beginning to your ability to showcase your responsiveness and belief in good customer service.

Next month we’ll look at ways to cultivate positive reviews. These are the best way to make review sites work to drive customers to your business. Stay tuned.

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