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Business before the Internet was different. No instant information. No publicly visible social opinions about your business. Advertising was mostly in print: newspapers, magazines, billboards, or on broadcast media. And, there was far less worry about negative customer reviews.

Let’s face it — word of mouth is powerful, and the Internet has given every person a virtual megaphone.

Today, you can’t cater only to the “restaurant reviewer” sent by the local publication. He is not the only person who can write bad press about your business.

Business owners have a complicated relationship with Yelp, Zagat, and Google. They value the public customer praise, yet scorn the negative reviews. Many owners get overwhelmed by bad reviews on Google. Don’t let that be you. There are ways that you can deal with those reviews that can help your business. But first, let’s get some perspective.

Google Search and Google Maps were two of the most used apps on smartphones in 2015. Both of these apps are primary places for your business to show up, and for prospective customers to read reviews.

According to a survey, 92% of consumers now read online reviews. Star rating is the number one factor used by consumers to judge a business. High star rating paired with positive customer reviews encourages the average consumer to check out your local business.

But the converse is true as well. Even though you might put 110% effort into every aspect of your business, it is virtually impossible to avoid the occasional complaint, which can show up in an online review.

Put yourself in the shoes of a mom looking for a dentist for her kids. She does a Google search and pulls up several dentists within a short driving distance. As she scrolls through the list, she starts paying attention to the star rating and comments other patrons have made. Which dentist is she most likely to choose?

A dentist with a 2.7-star rating, and two negative reviews for every one positive review, or a dentist with a 4.3-star rating, and one negative review for every five positive reviews?

I haven’t supplied the actual comments here, but just based on this evidence, isn’t it likely she would choose the 4.3-star rating with less negative reviews?

So, how should you deal with those pesky bad reviews? As a business owner, you have three possible ways. You can:

  1. Ignore the bad review
  2. Report the bad review to Google
  3. Respond to the bad review

IGNORE THE BAD REVIEW

Choosing to stick your head in the sand when something difficult happens rarely works. For some, it’s considered a savvy political maneuver to avoid giving more attention to a critic. But for the local business owner, I don’t recommend this.

Ignoring a bad review might seem like the smart thing to do. If you follow the example of many large companies, you can find negative reviews that have gone unanswered for months or years at a time. This means bad press — still online, available for search engines to post in results, readily viewable by the world — has been given no attention. What does that say about that company’s commitment to customer service?

For the local business owner, there really are no pros to ignoring a bad review. The cons are:

  • You’ve probably lost that customer for good
  • That customer’s voice is still being heard, and your lack of response is still being noticed

REPORT THE BAD REVIEW TO GOOGLE

Sometimes the content of a review is not valid. People can be deceptive, and try to manipulate the rating system for their own advantage. A rival business might post a fake review. An Internet troll can be destructive in making false claims or in posting unrelated promotional information.

Google has your back when there are fake reviews. If there is a review that violates Google’s review policies, you can flag the review as inappropriate, and Google will check the review.

Recently I contacted Google about negative reviews, and they responded by calling me within two business days.

Please be aware that most bad reviews will not fit this category. You can’t get rid of a negative review just because you disagree with the customer’s point of view. The review must be fake or inappropriate in some way. If you can’t prove this to Google, then they won’t remove the review.

RESPOND TO THE BAD REVIEW

I recommend the third option for dealing with bad reviews. Customers post negative reviews for different reasons. They need to vent. They want to warn others. They want to “punish” the business for a bad experience. Or sometimes they just want some attention.

Instead, engage with the customer. This shows you’re taking charge of the conversation. You are bringing the focus to the problem, rather than letting the customer’s attitude have the last word. There is a right way and a wrong way to respond. First, the wrong way.

WARNING: DON’T DO THIS

If you’ve ever watched “Kitchen Nightmares” on Fox, you know what restaurant owners go through for the sake of reality television. One episode featured Amy’s Baking Company in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The show was painful to watch, but what followed online was dreadful. The owners, Samy and Amy Bouzaglo, reacted to customer comments online in a way that is sure to push everyone away. Instead of listening and working to address the problems, the owners bashed the commenters and got even more negative attention because of it.

Forbes article details lessons learned from the Bouzaglos’ disastrous experience. Let their immaturity and now-closed business serve as a warning of what not to do.

DO THIS: BE HUMBLE, EMPATHIZE, AND COMMIT TO FIXING THE PROBLEM

Instead, treat every customer comment as valid. These customers chose to come to your business. They did not have a great experience. Instead of keeping it to themselves, they chose to tell you through an online review.

This is very helpful. It’s like getting feedback from a survey without doing a survey. You’re too close to the situation to see some of the problems customers might experience. So when you respond, don’t assume you know better than the customer. Have some humility. Seek to understand.

Talk with other customers. Ask them about the reviewer’s comments. Have they had a similar experience, but never said anything? Try to see the reviewer’s point of view. Then, put your owner’s hat back on, and work to solve the problem. When you respond to the complaint, demonstrate you’re committed to finding a workable solution.

Sometimes you can’t do much. But even then, the reviewer feels cared for — you paid attention. You acknowledged their comments. This matters to them, and, since this is a public arena, it matters to other customers.

Jay Baer, author of Hug Your Haters, writes, “Hugging your haters and answering every customer complaint (especially online) can be a massive competitive differentiator.”

Customers have occasionally changed their reviews after a business has responded. They’ll write about why they did and how your listening and working to fix their problem made them feel. Just think of a one-star review changing to a four- or five-star review. That’s really good publicity!

You can also ask your satisfied, regular customers to review your business online. That helps raise the star rating, and puts more positive comments in full view for the public.

MAKE BAD REVIEWS SERVE YOUR BUSINESS

Turn them into opportunities to build trust with your customer base and improve your business at the same time.

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