Word of mouth marketing has expanded to include more than just one customer directly recommending your business or service to another. Today, word of mouth marketing occurs on a much grander scale in the form of online reviews on platforms like Google My Business and Yelp.
Surveys have found that 90 percent of consumers read online reviews before buying a business’ products or services, and that 88 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Not only do 72 percent of consumers say that positive reviews make them trust local businesses more, but consumers spend 31 percent more money with businesses that have excellent online reviews.
When you look at the numbers, it’s clear that consumers place a great deal of importance on knowing they can trust a business will provide a dependable product at a reasonable price. Word of mouth drives $6 trillion of annual consumer spending and is estimated to account for over 13 percent of all consumer sales. Over 64 percent of marketing executives believe that word of mouth offers the most effective marketing option for helping to improve a brand’s popularity and overall market share, and 70 percent of businesses plan on spending more to improve their word of mouth marketing in the future.
Considering the important role reviews play in creating consumer trust and generating word of mouth excitement, negative reviews can have a devastating effect on how consumers view a brand.
One Star, Zero Words
If you’re a local entrepreneur, few things create more frustration than when someone leaves a wordless, one-star review of your business.
No stated complaint. No issue you can address. Just a one-star review that sits like an anchor weighing down your overall rating and how consumers may view your brand.
Google has long defended these types of reviews as acceptable and that they do not violate their stated guidelines on how businesses are rated.
While consumers are unlikely to hold the occasional one-star review against businesses, especially ones that feature many four or five star reviews, a business plagued by these types of reviews can have their brand permanently damaged.
If justified by providing poor service and shoddy products, a one-star review can help to warn others about businesses that don’t keep the promises they make to consumers. However, one-star reviews can also be weaponized as a way to permanently damage a business’ credibility.
On most websites, the verification process behind who leaves a review is often either weak or non-existent. Very few effective safeguards exist to prevent an unscrupulous competitor, a disgruntled former employee, or an angry customer from doing serious damage to a business’ brand and reputation online. If sufficiently motivated, just one person can create dozens of reviews that falsely malign a brand’s credibility.
If a competitor or disgruntled employee damaged a brands’ credibility, you’d expect to have the option of seeking a legal remedy in the way of damages or at very least a cease and desist order. Unfortunately, that’s simply not the case.
Earlier this year, a Michigan court ruled that leaving a wordless, one-star review on Google is an expression of an individual’s opinion that’s protected by the First Amendment.
Well, sure, that all makes sense as consumers have the right to express their opinion on a business without having to state a reason. But if a competitor tries to damage your business by leaving false one-star reviews that surely violates the law, right? No! The court ruled that even if the party leaving the review was a competitor they still had the right to express their opinion.
This ruling allows wordless reviews to become an incredibly powerful and effective tool for damaging a brand’s reputation. The court has taken the position that how many stars a reviewer gives a business is a matter of that individual’s opinion. A wordless review even gives the person leaving the review cover from claims of libel. Misleading or untrue statements can have their legitimacy questioned, and can be used as proof in court of one business trying to purposely damage the reputation of another – which is illegal. However, in the eyes of search engine rankings and consumer confidence, a dozen wordless one-star reviews can actually say quite a lot about a business’ credibility without saying anything at all.
With no legal alternative, businesses must go on the offensive when it comes to managing bad reviews and their reputation online.
How to Handle Negative Reviews
With your brand’s reputation online at stake, your business needs a strategy in place for how you plan on dealing with negative reviews. By far the worst thing a business can do is to either ignore negative reviews or handle them inconsistently. At LocalFresh, we’ve worked with clients to develop effective strategies for successfully handling customer complaints and negative reviews. Let’s take a look at a few of the ways you can work to protect your business from negative reviews.
Learn to Recognize Valid Customer Complaints
Not all or even most of the negative reviews a business receives online come from someone looking to damage its reputation. Most businesses will eventually encounter a dissatisfied customer who will leave a negative review, so you need to be able to differentiate the real reviews from the more dubious variety.
Generally speaking, common sense will go a long way towards helping you determine whether a negative review has any merit. Did the reviewer use their actual name or an anonymous pseudonym? Does the complaint reference events, employees, and circumstances that you know happened or could potentially have happened? Does the review tell a personal story about interacting with your business? Does the review make sense, such as the people involved and the services or products discussed actually reflect the who or what of your business?
As damaging as wordless, one-star reviews can be to a brand’s reputation, the impact they have is minuscule compared to what a well-written, personal account of a negative interaction with your business can have on its reputation. Consumers who look at your reviews can tell the difference and will notice if you don’t address negative reviews from real customers.
Quickly Address Negative Reviews
When quickly addressed and properly handled, negative reviews actually provide your business with a great opportunity to demonstrate effective customer service.
Consumers today expect to see the occasional negative review of business, but they also expect to see a quick, courteous, and convincing response that addresses the customer’s complaint.
Over 53 percent of consumers expect businesses to respond to negative reviews within one week, and 45 percent say they are more likely to do business with a brand that responds to negative reviews.
Ideally, your business will have someone who monitors reviews on Facebook, Google My Business, Angie’s List, Yelp, and whatever other platforms your customers use on a daily basis. If you don’t have someone that looks for negative reviews daily, you need to have a system in place where reviews are examined no less than at least once every two to three days.
Online reviews are just another form of public relations. You need to get out in front of bad press before it has a chance to fester into a real crisis.
Don’t Let Emotions Dictate Your Response
If you own a small business, negative reviews can feel like a direct attack on your character and acumen as an entrepreneur. As a result, you can feel tempted to go on the offensive and attack the individual who left the review’s credibility or accuracy in how they describe what transpired. Even if you feel this type of response is justified, your business won’t emerge the victor in a public relations battle that will leave you looking defensive and unable to address a customer’s concern.
Most reviews feature one of two types of complaints – Either they want to express overall dissatisfaction with their experience (often the case in restaurant reviews that complain about bad food and lousy service) or they want to express displeasure or disappointment in a product or service they received.
How you address these different types of reviews vary. If the sole purpose of a review is to complain about an experience, all you can do is apologize and promise that you’ll do better in the future if given another chance.
Reviews that complain about defective products or poor service received may require that you contact the customer directly and offer to exchange products or refund any associated costs.
How you deal with a negative review matters and will be viewed as a test of your brand’s character by customers. Don’t let your emotions in the moment make matters worse.
Attempt to Have Negative Reviews Removed
Depending on the platform, you may have an option to request the removal of a negative review if you can show that it presents incorrect or misleading information. However, as mentioned previously, Google maintains that wordless reviews don’t violate its guidelines. Getting Google, Yelp, or any other platform to remove a negative review can take time and a lot of effort without any guarantee of success. Instead of trying to fight wordless negative reviews, your time is better spent trying to bury them.
Get Your Customers Involved
Negative reviews have the power to influence potential new customers, but so do positive reviews. If the number of positive reviews your business receives online greatly outnumbers the negative, your brand can still emerge with its reputation intact.
Hope is not a strategy for getting satisfied customers to go online, and won’t give you the number of positive reviews needed to help offset any negative reviews you may receive in the future. You need to actively cultivate positive reviews by getting your loyal customer base involved.
Successfully cultivating reviews starts by asking your customers to take the time to go online and say something nice about your business. For businesses like dental practices or local restaurants that are built on years-long relationships with regulars and repeat patients, just asking can go a long way towards getting the number of reviews you need.
Businesses that have a more sporadic relationship with their customers – such as retail stores – may need to actively work at generating reviews.
Regardless of how you go about getting your satisfied customers involved in helping to build your brand’s reputation online, the more protected your business against negative reviews.
LocalFresh Can Help
If you need assistance dealing with negative reviews, putting a strategy in place to encourage customers to leave reviews, or need a hand managing your brand’s reputation online, the team at LocalFresh can help.