Online reputation management: Negative reviews
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4 tips to help small business handle negative reviews

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It’s inevitable that a small business owner will encounter negative reviews at some point. Whether the reviews are warranted or not, the way you handle unhappy customers can make a tremendous difference in future interactions, as well as affecting relationships with other prospective customers.

These days, many customers take their complaints online – either through review sites like Yelp, through a neighborhood site like Nextdoor, or on social media. With so many different ways for customers to voice their opinions, knowing how to properly address any grievances is key.

Here are four tips for handling negative online reviews and comments from customers:  

  1. Don’t wait. While the situation may be unpleasant and not one that you want to deal with, ignoring or delaying it will only worsen things.
  2. Reach out. If the complaint appears on a business review site and is unwarranted, unfairly harsh or untrue, contact the review site and see if the review can be removed. Some sites will work with you; others consider it a private dispute and will not get involved. But it never hurts to ask. 
  3. Make it right. If the negative review is true, address it head on. Did an employee mishandle a situation? Did you make a mistake? It happens to all of us. Addressing the problem directly and presenting your side in a non-threatening, non-defensive way can help defuse the argument and de-escalate the emotions behind it. Remember to apologize for the customer’s bad experience, and offer to do what you can to make it right. 
  4. Some things are out of your control. Remember that not all customers can be placated. Sometimes they’re having a bad day, or they may not be ready to work things out. In these cases, be empathetic, present your side calmly (other readers can usually read between the lines) and then move on. You may even have to put an end point on a disagreement that cannot be resolved. Remember that such situations can draw you away from other important responsibilities. 

It’s important in today’s business climate to understand what different avenues for reviews exist and to know how to handle complaints on any of them. Having a good social media expert on staff will help you manage and address bad reviews – while emphasizing or highlighting positive ones. 

You may have customers that threaten bad reviews if they don’t get the resolution they’re seeking. In these cases, you may find it worthwhile to weigh the cost of a scathing review against the cost of your services. Using your customer service skills to find a resolution could win them over and result in a long-term, happy customer instead of a potentially damaging review.

Nationwide offers many outstanding resources for small business operators and tips for how to keep your business safe. 


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