Sales & Marketing

How to deal with a negative online review

6 min read

27 March 2014

As Julia Roberts said to Richard Gere in Pretty Woman: “The bad stuff is easier to believe.” This has never seemed truer when reading reviews of a product or service.

One negative or even dull review can easily outweigh ten glowing reviews – at least, in the mind of a consumer.

Amazon’s 1995 launch fundamentally changed the way we shop. It became the inspiration for a thousand sites – from TripAdvisor to app stores – where customer reviews and star ratings inform both our buying decisions and the site’s recommendations.

We know that consumers trust online reviews to make decisions, so these assessments can, arguably, make or break a business. According to Harvard Business Review, each ratings star added to a restaurant review can affect the top line by up to 9 percent. A Cone study reveals that four out of five consumers change their minds about a purchase based on a negative online review.

So what happens if you have a bad review? Or if someone – a competitor or disgruntled ex-employee, for example – writes a fake review of your product or service?

1. Put right a wrong.

The first thing to do is roll up your sleeves and take action. A negative review doesn’t have to be all bad. If it’s accurate, it can be an opportunity to turn a disgruntled customer into a loyal advocate, if you take the appropriate action to put the situation right.

Doing something to correct a mistake shows that you care about your customers. (On the flip side, not taking action gives the impression that you don’t care.) All reviews, good or bad, can help you make better business decisions by identifying what works and what needs improving.

2. Acknowledge all your reviews.

Have you ever posted a review and wondered if the feedback goes anywhere? Sometimes it’s good to know that there is someone listening. A simple response or acknowledgement to a negative comment can go a long way to preventing a customer gripe becoming a major complaint. Encourage the reviewer to talk to you directly so you can do the right thing. Of course, if you’ve had a great review, say thanks!

3. Decide what value that review has to your business. 

Sometimes, you’ll come up against a reviewer who just wants to get something off their chest. They don’t want you to put things right, they just want to voice an opinion. Be courteous to them.

Assess what impact their review will have on other people. Sometimes compromising is the best thing in the long run for your business. Occasionally, with a reviewer who is supremely unhappy beyond all reason, it may be best to leave the review alone – but that’s rare.

4. Encourage your happy customers to post reviews.

We read reviews to get a real impression of a product or service. Mostly, people are very quick to complain, and slow to praise. So a vocal minority of negative people can give a false impression of your company to those who want to find out more.

You might have 100 happy customers and one unhappy customer – and it’s the unhappy one who’s written the review.

Encouraging all customers to review your product or service will give prospective buyers a truer, more rounded public picture of what your business is really like. It will have far more value to them, as well as to you.

We conducted a trial with a retail store recently that looked at this very issue. The results were really interesting. Proactively asking customers to review their experiences not only dramatically increased the volume of positive reviews, but also changed the ratio of positive to negative reviews. Positive reviews went up, and negative reviews went down.

The ratio of negative comments fell by 60 percent. This raised the average star rating, which – most importantly – increased revenues by 14 percent when compared with the same time the previous year.

The best way to encourage customers to post a review is just after they’ve bought from you. Make it easy for them. In our study, we found that customers are more likely to post a review if you send them an email right after the sale.

They’re 9 percent more likely to open the email, and more than twice as likely to click through to a review site. We also know that customers using our tablet devices in-store have a dramatic impact on review volume.

Embracing customer reviews can seem daunting for some businesses. But their opinions have a real impact on how your prospects see you. Make sure they can see the happy customers, too.

Richard Harrison is UK Managing Director of Reputation.com