Five ways new businesses can handle bad reviews

Five ways new businesses can handle bad reviews

Niraj is the founder of Hiver, an app that turns Gmail into a powerful customer support and collaboration tool. When not working at Hiver on programming or customer support, Niraj likes to play guitar. Niraj can be reached on Twitter @nirajr. In this guest post, Niraj offers advice on how to best handle bad reviews.

Five star ratings are more than a badge of honor, they're a testimony of how your business will fare in the market. All it takes is a few bad reviews and your new business might cease to exist. Your business has to learn the skill of handling bad reviews, which means getting into the shoes of the customer and understanding problems from their perspectives.

According to Moz, 67% of consumers are influenced by online reviews. Google takes cognizance of this and ranks reviews above press mentions and news articles about the company.

A 2014 study by Search Engine Land states that 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

Since established big brands rank high on the popularity charts, they are more immune to bad reviews, unlike new businesses. You lack the strong relationship that these brands share with their customers, which means ignoring a bad review is not an option.

With 94% of consumers willing to do business with only a four star rated business, it is imperative that you know how to get a review even from someone who has must given you a bad one - wouldn’t that be something?

Let’s dive in.

1. Don’t shy away from the conversation

Almost 26% of consumers see responding to reviews as an important part of business activity. You will have to start looking at this activity as a way to build a meaningful relationship with your customers and your critics.

You have to actively participate while conversations around a negative review are going on and get an understanding of the situation and answer every question that comes your way.

While long threads of disappointing rants might serve as a tough read, some points will actually give you insight on where your business is faltering.

Strike up a two-way conversation with customers, ask them where have they felt difficulties, find the areas where you need improvement, and let them know publicly that you’ll work on them.

Once you have addressed the issue, make sure you thank your customers. It makes them feel that their suggestions are valued, it shows you care.   

Engaging with your customers also gives you a chance to tell your side of the argument, which might alter customer opinions. Here’s a classic example of how you can justify something even as sensitive as pricing:

2. Keep your ego out and focus on the issue

There is a lot of passion that runs when you start your business, but it shouldn’t make you egocentric. You cannot expect to have the authority of an established brand as your business grows , no matter how great your product is.

People take their time to trust you and your company, it’s never only about the product.

Start by being absolutely objective - set your pride aside and address customer issues with utmost humility.

Customers can be threatening at times - they will try to project their authority, frustrations, and criticisms, on you. In such cases, it’s important to react  with your brain, not your heart.

Here are a few tips to help you deal with a difficult customer-related situation:

  • Cut certain phrases when dealing with the customer. Do not use: I think, I feel, I sort of. They make you seem less sure of what you want to say. That makes is easy to continue a dispute.
  • Give facts, not sob stories. Your feelings aren’t what’s relevant here, just make sure you’re trying to fix the problem. Otherwise, you might leave yourself open to ridicule or harassment. That's why it better if you keep your conversation strictly professional.
  • Don’t take it personally if want to handle the crisis. Keep in mind that the customer is upset with the product and not you specifically.

3. Approach the problem with a zen mind

No matter how big or small the problem is, be prepared to take some tough criticism , and learn to approach the feedback with reason. The only way to turn a bad review into a good one is to roll with the punches.

Research has shown that businesses able to address service failures quickly and properly have a higher chance of gaining customer loyalty.

It all boils down to how you handle unhappy customers. Remember, customers are are stressed and their anger is a 'bargaining emotion' triggered by an external stimulus that is perceived to be unfair; in this case - your business.

The moment you are able to understand the mind of an angry person, it makes you more empathetic.

Now that you know where the frustration stems from, it’s time to start working on defusing it.  The best way to deal with angry customers is to ask more questions.

Keep probing them, understand what caused the exasperation in the first place, and communicate how you will start working towards making amends. When they see that you are taking them seriously,  you’ll earn their trust, gradually.

Once you have solved the problem, start working on building a rapport again. Thank them for pointing you to the problem areas of your product and tell them how you’ll make sure the problem does not happen again.

Keep in touch with them, see if things have improved for them. A neatly-executed service recovery goes a long way in fostering a strong association.

4.  Provide solutions, not apologies

An apology every once in awhile is acceptable but don’t overdo it. Saying sorry all the time makes your business look ineffective and  the customer loses confidence in you.

Your clients hire you for your expertise . Apologies make them question whether they made the right decision choosing your company.

When handling a bad review, you first need to treat the strained customer relationship with equal and mutual respect to create a more conducive environment for your business to handle negative feedback.

Instead of over-apologizing, provide real-time, actionable, easy solutions. This makes you look decisive and caring, characteristics that can change customer perception for the better.

Check out this example:

Here are the two ways you could respond:

Reply 1

I am really sorry to hear about that. I will try to do something about it. Once again I am really really sorry.

Reply 2

We are sorry to hear about that. Our owner, Mike Piper would like to personally speak with you regarding your terrible experience. We believe he will be able to provide you with the best resolution to your problem. We really appreciate your feedback. Have a nice day.

Always try to incorporate the following in your replies.

  • Empathy - Trying to understand the pain of the customer
  • Helpful - Redirecting to the owner
  • Valuable - Highlighting the benefits of talking to the owner
  • Positive - Ending the conversation on a happy note.

5. Don't promise what you can't deliver

A bad review might lead you to make promises just to make sure the customer is relieved.

You might think it's a temporary fix, but when your business can’t meet expectations, the initial problem is exacerbated.

When customers leave a negative review, they have very little faith in your business. Furthermore, when you try to cover yourself with fake promises, you’re digging a grave for whatever is left of your reputation. The customer will lose all trust and, most likely, will never do business with you again.

Be honest. It may sound cliche but it works. If, for whatever reason, you can’t meet customer expectations, give them the real picture. Understand the problem and give plausible solutions. It might not be what customers want to hear, but they will respect you for telling the truth.

Marriott, the global hotel chain, made a huge mistake of overpromising and under delivering. The executive lounge at Shanghai Marriott only serves food for two people, despite charging for three people to stay. Moreover, it doesn’t allow kids to come in the lounge after 5:30 in the evening (for no apparent reason). When customers started posting their grievances, Marriott had no way to defend itself.

Unfortunately, Marriott, a reputable brand, took a hit because it didn’t deliver on reasonable expectations for its executive lounge.

Winding up

The crux of handling negative reviews ultimately boils down to how much you care about the customer. Whether it’s a new business or a brand with a hundred-year-old legacy, being empathetic to a customer's problem needs to be the foundation of every venture.

When customers see a lack of understanding from your side, it makes them reconsider, whether to continue doing business with you or not. As a general rule of thumb, remember no bad reviews (even good ones) should be left unanswered, respond quickly to take control of the situation before it goes out of hand. After you make contact, use the above points to enable your new business to handle bad reviews in a more tasteful manner.

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