Suggestions for business owners dealing with false or negative online reviews

It’s an average day at the office. The phone is slow today, so you decide to take a look at your online reviews out of curiosity. All seems well at first, but then you see something terrifying for a business owner – an angry reviewer left a one-star rating, perhaps even without any text to explain their dissatisfaction! You’ve received a bad online review.

Online reviews are often the first thing customers check before making a purchase or hiring a service. Bad reviews can affect their perception of your company, but if you take the proper steps, the effects of poor online reviews can be mitigated, or even turned into a positive experience.

First and Foremost: Respond!

Do not let bad reviews go unanswered. These can arise with any customer for any number of reasons, so potential buyers want to know that you will do your part to resolve any issues that may come up. But what’s the best way to respond?

Most importantly, be polite. Even if you’re confident that the customer is in the wrong, respond with respect and thank them for leaving a review. Responding rudely to negative reviews can leave potential clients wondering: “What if I have an issue with one of their services? Will they be rude to me too?”

Secondly, address the customer’s issue directly. If they left a specific complaint, offer to remedy the issue or ask what you can do to help. Some folks may never reply, but by offering a solution, you could end up with a happier customer and maybe even a revised review. Either way, it shows that you’re willing to work with your customers when issues arise.

Questionable Reviews and Reviewers

What if the bad review you received looks a little…off? Maybe the user didn’t leave a description, or you notice that the user has left eerily similar reviews for multiple businesses. Or, maybe you received strangely similar reviews from multiple users. Spam reviews and ratings are a real issue on many online review sites, including Google.  Intentional false reviews are also something to watch out for.

If you’ve received a review that appears to be false, or spam, the first course of action should be to respond as normal. Potential customers don’t know that “John E. Johnson” didn’t actually buy anything from you, so respond as if they did! If you feel it is appropriate, you can mention that you don’t see their name in your records. Just keep in mind that many sites don’t require users to verify their identity or use their real name, so be polite and address their complaints anyway.

Once you’ve responded, see if you can flag the review as spam or a violation of the site’s guidelines. However, it’s important to note that most sites prefer not to play judge in these cases. As mentioned above, many review sites don’t require users to verify their identity, which makes it nearly impossible to “prove” their review is fake.  That said, it’s still recommended to report spam or fake reviews. If multiple reports are received for a user, they may eventually be removed.

If you are receiving a large amount of spam or fake reviews, it may also be a good idea to contact the site’s support team. There are some bad actors out there who intentionally manipulate reviews to drag down their competitors, so if you think you may be the target of these types of actions, see if you can find a support email address or phone number after reporting the suspicious reviews.

Listen Well to Criticisms

Now, if your negative reviews are from real customers: listen up! What are their concerns? Is there a common thread between your negative reviews? Honest poor reviews from customers provide an opportunity for you to improve. If multiple reviewers complain about your customer service or your pricing, addressing these issues can prevent more bad reviews from pouring in.

Perhaps you can even turn an upset customer into a happy customer by responding with details about changes to policy, pricing, etc. If necessary and appropriate, you may even contact the customer directly to address the problem. Who knows – if you resolve the problem for them, they may even revise their review or leave a new one.

Get New Reviews

After you’ve responded to reviewers, reported spam reviews, and taken reviewers’ criticisms into account, the next thing you should do is get new reviews. Whether your rating is good or bad overall, a small number of reviews can seem suspicious to future customers.

There are a few ways you can solicit new reviews. The simplest is to mention it to customers in person or over the phone – “Make sure to leave us a review on Google/Facebook/Yelp and let us know how we did!”.  You can also leave a sign in your office or store if your location is open to the public, or send out follow-up emails with a reminder to leave a review. However, be wary of how you choose to solicit new reviews…

A Note About “Review-Gating”

As of April 12, 2018, “review-gating” is expressly forbidden in the Google My Business guidelines. But what is review-gating? Simply, review-gating is discouraging reviews from unhappy customers while actively soliciting reviews from happy customers. Though other review sites don’t expressly ban this type of filtering, it’s still a major online review faux-pas.

A spotless record of gleaming reviews seems like a great thing in concept, but to customers, it can seem suspicious. If a well-rated business leaves its poor reviews intact, it gives off an impression of honesty. Customers will know that the company doesn’t need to manipulate its online reputation to retain customers, which instills a bit more trust in their brand.

Online reviews are meant to be a candid portrayal of a business, and review-gating completely sidesteps that purpose – so if you solicit reviews from customers, don’t ask them if they had a good experience *before* you tell them where to leave a review.

Bad Reviews Don’t Have to Ruin Your Reputation

Bad reviews can certainly make any business owner nervous, but they aren’t the end of the world. The way you respond to reviewers, your ability to make positive changes based on criticism, and the quantity of reviews all have greater effect than a single bad review.  These tips are great advice for business owners managing their own online presence, but if you don’t have the time or don’t know where to start, give us a call! We can help with your review situation as a part of our SEO services.