Should I spend time replying to online reviews?

Should I spend time replying to online reviews?
A woman using online reviews to learn more about a business

The distinction between online stores and brick-and-mortar establishments is disappearing. Pre-2020, consumers were already migrating en masse to doing more business online. In fact, GE Capital Retail Bank’s second annual Major Purchase Shopper Study determined that 81% of shoppers who buy in stores actually do their research online before buying.

What does this mean? This means that, whether you’re operating a local business or an e-commerce store, your star reviews online mean more than ever. Online reviews and reputation management isn’t just for the e-stores, it’s for everyone.

At least two studies have shown that more than 80% of shoppers trust online reviews as much as statements by their friends and family. Almost half refuse to do business with a company scoring less than 4 stars, and 91% of customers report that they do read and pay attention to online reviews.

This makes online reputation management – and reviews management in particular – an extremely important part of doing business today.

The Online Review Management: Google and Beyond

While we often think only of the all-important Google Star Rating, which is terribly critical, we can’t discount all of the other review sites that customers visit to research a company and products. The Better Business Bureau, Yelp, Facebook, and other review platforms can be just as influential as Google in swaying customers. And yes, Google does include star ratings in local organic search results. So, if you’re batting 3.8 stars and your competitor across town is scoring 4.8, you can bet with security that they’ll be outranking you in organic searches. For more about online review management across platforms, Jason can help.

Online Review Response Management Done Right

During 2021, our busy clients navigated product unavailability, delivery delays, and the same labor shortages that plagued the entire nation. Everybody wanted a pool but there were few to be had and even fewer that could be installed. A number of angry customers took to the review sites to complain about hot tubs they couldn’t get for months, chemicals shortages that made it difficult to maintain their pools, and pool installations that were unavoidably delayed, leading to disappointed kids and angry parents stuck at home with little reprieve from libraries, public pools, parks, and other places we typically rely on to entertain the young ones when school is out.

Things got a little rough. Some of our clients who are known for stellar customer service took a beating in the online reviews. With high demand and few staff on board, responding to all the reviews was challenging. Here’s how we trained them to handle the onslaught of 1-Star Reviews and Karen Comments.

Handling Negative Reviews

There are two kinds of people who leave negative reviews. The first kind are Karens. They aren’t going to be happy, no matter what. Your goal with these reviews is to respond in such a way as to influence other potential customers who’ll be reading the interaction. You can’t make Karen happy, but you can keep him/her from affecting others’ decisions to do business with you. Most reasonable people can recognize when someone is being ridiculous, and if the company has done their due diligence to apologize and make things right, your reply can keep these readers interested in doing business with you. Always remember, no matter how unfair, hateful, and infuriating Karen’s comments are, you aren’t really speaking to him/her. You’re speaking for the benefit of these other readers.

The second kind of negative online review is from a truly disgruntled customer. These people honestly feel that your company has somehow wronged them. This may or may not be true, but their perception is their reality. It’s also the reality presented to any potential customers reading the comments. Sometimes, your responses can smooth the ruffled feathers and redeem your customer. But at all times, a good response can help you gain the trust of others reading the interactions.

Bottom Line: Whether reviews are positive or negative, fair or unjustified, your goal is the same: reply in a way that assures other shoppers that you 1. pay attention 2. care 3. are a business of honesty and integrity.

How to reply to negative reviews:

1. Calm down before you reply. 

Quick replies to online reviews are important, both to the commenter and to anyone else who happens along in the meantime. However, a brusque comment that isn’t thought out well will hurt your business even more. It tells readers that you probably are as bad as the reviewer says. We’re all human and mean comments hurt. Take a few moments, calm down, think things through, and send your reply when you’re able to give it the thought and consideration it warrants. A good rule is to reply to all comments – both positive and negative – within 24 hours.

2. Apologize and acknowledge their point of view.

Even Negative Nancys have a viewpoint and a right to their viewpoint. Even when we don’t share it. Acknowledge it! Just acknowledging their point of view illustrates that you’re paying attention and that you care. Relationship counselors call this, “emotional validation.”

For example, if the commenter wrote, “I came into your store and nobody bothered to help me!” You can validate this by replying, “Dear Tonya, we are so sorry no one was available to help you! Saturday was an unexpectedly busy day, and we spent the entire day trying to fix problems!” You haven’t admitted wrongdoing. You’ve just validated that Tonya feels she was ignored. If Tonya can be won over, you’ve made the important first step. If she can’t, you’ve illustrated to other readers that you’re not attacking Tonya and that there’s a good reason why she felt ignored. You’ve also expressed an apology, which is also disarming to someone in full-frontal assault. They’re geared up for battle. Take their reason for fighting away. Just apologize and acknowledge their point of view.

3. If necessary, accept responsibility.

Apologizing is not the same as admitting wrongdoing or fault. You’re acknowledging the impact the situation had, not saying it was your fault (or theirs). You can say, “I’m so sorry this happened,” without saying, “it was our fault.” However, if it was your fault, own up to it! The one who accepts responsibility is almost always respected and given the benefit of the doubt. Future customers are usually okay with mistakes, but not okay with companies that make mistakes and pass the blame.

This can be as simple as, “We know buying a pool is supposed to be an exciting, joyful time for families, and we truly hate that your experience fell short of this expectation.” You’ve merely expressed your empathy that things didn’t go as planned and acknowledged their experience in their online review.

4. Explain insomuch as necessary.

Here is where you begin to use judgment about what to say and what not to say. The key is to instill trust in your angry customer, as well as any potential customers reading. To be blunt, most people are sick of hearing about COVID-19, labor shortages, and product delays. While these things are still true and very much impacting your business, it can also be seen as just making excuses.

If you feel that their complaint needs to be explained, do so only to the extent necessary to instill faith and trust in your business. My personal technique is to write a full explanation, and go back to delete anything that isn’t essential for doing the job. I always write online reviews on a separate document and paste into Google, Facebook, or the review platform after it’s exactly like I want it. This keeps me from hitting Post or Send before I’m fully confident I got it right. You can explain without telling every nitty-gritty detail of the situation. Less is quite often more.

5. Take the discussion offline.

Now that you’ve done your due diligence in acknowledging their point of view, expressing your empathy for the consequences, and delivering a reasonable explanation for the event, the absolute best course of action is to get the commenter off the public platform and into a private conversation that you can manage without the world watching. This is as simple as inviting them to call you or stop by the store: “Tonya, we want to make this right for you. I know you’re super busy, so please give me a call at your convenience and we’ll get to the bottom of it.” You haven’t promised anything. You’ve just stepped off the online stage to complete the transaction privately.

6. Make it right, insomuch as possible.

Sometimes your hands are tied. But often, you can come up with some compromise that will keep your Negative Nancy off the internet review platforms, and perhaps even keep them as a customer. Any gesture of goodwill that you can offer when she does call or come in for resolution will be a step toward a happy ending for all.

Negative reviews are a lot like dirty gutters. Nobody likes to deal with them, but the consequences of not dealing with them can be disastrous.

Remember, the most important thing is to show the rest of the internet that you do your best to own up to problems, make things right, and take care of your customers. If you do those things with each and every negative review, you’ll win the battle.

The most important goal in managing online reviews is to bury the negatives with the positives. Every positive review you receive pushes those bad ones one slot further down. If you manage to garner a good body of happy 5-Star praises for your business, people won’t read past all those great reviews to the old ones from unhappy people, and you’ll be able to win those coveted online shoppers again!

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