Dealing with negative reviews

Consumers today expect to be able to share feedback about a business as and when they wish. Whether it’s through social media, via review sites, or adding comments to your own web pages, people use ratings and comments as a way to express opinions – positive or negative, fair or unfair – about your customer service, your products and your suitability as an employer. And in turn, as many as 97% of consumers say they consult those reviews when making purchase decisions.1

According to another survey, some 94% of consumers say that a negative online review has caused them to avoid a business.2

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user being to rate their experience in a survey

It’s good practice to be open to feedback and to make it as easy as possible for people to share their opinions. But these opinions are potentially very powerful, because they provide potential customers with the raw material to help them decide whether to buy from you or not. Feedback can help you identify gaps in your service and improve your offering, but it only takes a handful of negative opinions to start putting people off your brand and your products altogether.

Not all negative feedback is even fair, and there are customers who will wield the threat of a negative review to help them get what they want from you. But taking down feedback isn’t really an option – it makes it look as though you have something to hide. At the same time, if you only had hundreds of 5-star reviews, customers would be rightly suspicious. Some variation in responses is far more credible, and as online consumers we are adept at skimming through a lot of comments and forming an opinion about the general thrust of opinion.

Here’s how to deal with criticism and even turn negative feedback about your business into a positive…

1. Address negative comments directly and promptly

A social comment is a 1:1 interaction that takes place in public. So the way you address one individual complaint can be a demonstration to lots of other people of what you’re like too. Criticism that goes unaddressed suggests that you have no answer, or don’t care.

Instead, show users that you are not afraid to address comments head on, express regret, and outline the steps you have taken to rectify the situation. Regularly check in on sites where reviews may feature, so that you can be seen to respond promptly to issues as they arise and prevent them festering.

2. Focus on solutions, not excuses

Often a piece of negative feedback may not be totally fair or accurate. In some customer service issues, for example, the behaviour of the customer themselves may have had a part to play in what went wrong. Where statements are factually wrong, it’s fine to correct them. But overall, while it may be tempting to go into all the ins and outs of a given case, it’s far better to focus proactively on fixing the pressing issue at hand: a disappointed customer.

So talk about solutions, not blame or excuse; look in your response to the future, not the past. And don’t be afraid to start by saying sorry, even if you don’t feel you’re fully in the wrong. Potential customers will side with existing customers rather than you, so you don’t want to create a scenario that could become adversarial in tone.

Person using a smart device and smiling

3. Be a real person

In online interactions, a little authenticity goes a long way. Start by showing you empathise with the complaint. Make a connection, show some personality, sprinkle in a touch of humour if appropriate. Though it’s easy to forget when we’re tapping away at a phone or a keyboard, the whole exchange is actually a conversation between two humans, not two machines. Injecting some humanity can generate a more humane outcome all round.

At the same time, it’s important to remember that in your interactions with a complainant you are speaking not for yourself but on behalf of your business. Everything you say or do will reflect directly on people’s perception of your brand and offering. So be warm and personable but remain professional and business-appropriate in your communications at all times. Businesses on social media may speak more informally than in other channels, but it’s still quite a different style from the way people use social media personally. So avoid gossip, slang and over-familiarity.

4. Make the most of negative comments

While there’s no fun in reading criticism of your hard work, there are lots of ways you can turn negative comment into a positive.

You can use comments to improve your offering, and to update your Help messaging or FAQ section too as to anticipate potential issues and better manage people’s expectations. Where you find a pattern of complaints, it may be a flag of an underlying business process issue that you need to address.

Best of all, people who complain but have their comments handled satisfactorily often end up becoming extra-positive advocates of your business.

5. Don’t dignify the trolls

In some cases, negative comments can go too far. Where criticism becomes abusive or clearly unfair, you certainly shouldn’t feel the need to apologise to people who aren’t showing a basic standard of courtesy. Many businesses will choose to pass over such comments in dignified silence.

In the case of one phone company dealing with flak caused by a service outage, the social media team decided to respond to every message, however offensive. By remaining courteous and unflappable at all times, they actually succeeded in turning the tide of sentiment back in their favour, as commenters began remonstrating with the minority who were behaving unreasonably.

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1 Power Reviews survey, 2017 (PDF, 16.1 MB)

2 ReviewTrackers Online Reviews Survey, 2018

While all reasonable care has been taken to ensure that the information provided is correct, no liability is accepted by Bank of Scotland for any loss or damage caused to any person relying on any statement or omission. This is for information only and should not be relied upon as offering advice for any set of circumstances.  Specific advice should always be sought in each instance.