It's time companies made peace with consumer reviews.
For sure, they're not going anywhere. In the Internet age, consumer reviews-which were once confined to the realm of dinner table discussions, letters to newspaper editors, and neighborhood gossip-have exploded into a force to be reckoned with.
According to our own Consumer Reviewer Survey, more than 43% of U.S. adults-roughly 107 million people-have submitted a review of a product or service within the last six months. Much to the chagrin of many a business owner, these reviews aren't confined to the pages of a newspaper or a single city. Armed with social media and the broad reach of review sites like Yelp and Amazon, consumer reviews are seen by millions of eyeballs. An unfavorable review can take a significant bite out of business for all but the biggest companies.
Don't misunderstand: most consumers aren't doing it to be mean. Nine out of ten consumer reviewers honestly feel they have a responsibility to report on how companies have treated them. And the majority of those reviews-although it might not always feel that way-are actually positive. Still, good reviews or bad, businesses of all sizes struggle to respond in ways that will strengthen their customer relationships and brand image.
Speaking on the topic, Cris Burnam, president of StorageMart, sagely advised:
"You can't be everything to everybody, and you'll probably disappoint a customer. You're going to get some negative reviews. How you manage this inevitable rite of passage is what truly affects your reputation."
Fortunately, out of the chaos of the growing consumer review movement is emerging some clear rules about how companies should engage consumer reviewers-and how they shouldn't. Here are 9 faux pas that companies should never, ever commit when venturing into the fray:
Business owners and marketers spend a lot of time wringing their hands and blasting out lawsuits over negative reviews. However, as mentioned above, a whopping 84% of consumer reviews are actually positive. Interestingly, companies struggle just as much with positive reviews as they do with negative ones.
Do you send them a gift card? Do you upgrade them to your super-special platinum customer club? Do you throw another call to action at them?
"Your purpose should be simply to deliver a human thank you and let them know you care. That's it. No gift certificates. No mailing lists. No event invites. No reactions to the minor complaint in their review. No requests for them to tell more friends about your business."
Their reasoning is interesting. If consumers give a positive review out of sheer delight with your product or service, they say, then offering some kind of incentive after the fact adulterates the whole thing and comes across like a bribe or payment.
Reviewers are some of your most vocal customers. And vocal customers speak up for one purpose: they want to be listened to. In bad consumer experiences, they feel like they weren't heard or acknowledged. So many negative reviews are about making companies listen.
It follows, then, that the quickest way to calm and neutralize an angry consumer reviewer is simply to listen to them. Acknowledge their concerns and frustrations, even if you might disagree.
The opposite is also true. Holding stubbornly to your own position will only cause the reviewer to become more entrenched in theirs.
Some of the worst responses to consumer reviews are the product of hastiness. Bad company responses get screenshotted and shared all over social media. Suddenly, that poor review you were so upset about has been magnified 1000x.
Yelp offers two great tips in this regard:
"Before responding to a negative review, take a deep breath and think very carefully about what you are going to write."
"Be very careful here: if your reviewer perceives that you are being rude, condescending or disingenuous in any way, there's a chance he or she could get angry and make the situation even worse."
Did you pick up the use of the word 'careful' in both tips? 'Careful' really is the name of the game with negative reviews. Don't rush in. Pause. Wait for the emotions to simmer down. Take time and thought to carefully craft an emotionally, strategically level-headed response. You'll be glad you did.
Canned responses disappoint positive reviewers. Canned responses also make negative reviewers more angry than they already were. So they're a bad idea for pretty much any scenario.
If your customers take the time to write reviews-even if they're reviews you don't agree with-they are expecting an equally personal, handcrafted response from you. Here's an awesome example of how a genuine, personalized, non-canned response can connect with a reviewer (a negative one, in this case):
Too many business hustle to confront consumers about negative reviews, make things all better, and then insist that the consumer take down the original review. It's their way of erasing history, pretending that nothing bad ever happened. But these companies are actually missing out on a key opportunity.
Remember the quote Cris Burnam above? "How you manage this inevitable rite of passage is what truly affects your reputation."
Every company gets bad reviews, but it's how you deal with those that shows consumers what your company's really made of. If your company responds respectfully to and then resolves a scathing review, it speaks volumes to other consumers-perhaps more than you say with even the best review.
So why erase your record of that interaction? Why not let consumers see how great you are at listening to and resolving customer concerns?
And while you're at it, why not keep the record running by encouraging customers to update reviews and talk about how the company worked with them to fix their problem?
Some people say that you only get one chance to make a first impression. But in consumer reviews, no matter what water has passed under the bridge between you and a customer, it's never too late to make a good impression.
Consider the recent news story concerning Walmart and a disgruntled veteran. In response to a pro-vet tweet from the retail giant, the veteran tweeted in unfavorable language about applying for a job at Walmart and not getting a reply. Considering all the factors at play here-and the animosity of the veteran toward Walmart-it would have been easy for the company to consider the vet a lost cause, to rebut his tweet, or to simply ignore it.
Instead, they chose to tweet this reply:
"Please review our Welcome Home Commitment to learn more about opportunities & support efforts"
This tweet included a link to the site where veterans can apply. In so doing, Walmart reinforced their message of empathy and support for veterans to this particular veteran, to other veterans listening in, and to all families and supporters of veterans.
It's astounding that so many companies spend millions on surveys to find out what consumers think about them, but when feedback comes unsolicited in the form of consumer reviewers, they throw a fit.
Embedded in even the most negative reviews-especially in the most negative reviews-are invaluable nuggets of feedback. Hidden alerts about weaknesses in your product or service, chinks in your armor. This makes negative reviews an opportunity for improvement that companies can't afford to pass up. Way more valuable than positive reviews.
Cris Burnam backed up this idea when he said, "[Negative feedback] allows us to engage with our customers and use their feedback to make improvements to the company. For example, some recent feedback led us to reformat our receipts to make them clearer."
Sometimes consumers aren't interested in having their minds changed, even when they're at fault. For these consumers, nothing your company does will make them yield or-heaven forbid-revise their review. In cases like these, a little professionalism and courtesy, mixed with a dash of tough love, are just what the doctored ordered.
Consider this misleading review and subsequent stunning response from the owner of New York eatery:
Identity is a huge source of anxiety for companies trying to get their arms around the consumer reviews movement. "If I can't prove 100-percent it's from a real customer," they reason, "how can I trust their review is real or not? How do I know it's not from a competitor or a bitter ex-employee in disguise?"
Or even when they can prove that a reviewer is a bona fide customer, they spend all their time and attention trying to verify if their review is factual or not.
Besides being a huge waste of resources and attention, this fixation with authenticity misses the benefits mentioned above. Your company is not a scientific journal whose mission is to verify the veracity of consumer reviews. You're not the CIA or a branch of law enforcement. Your company doesn't exist to wage war on dishonesty.
No, your job is to make a better product or service and to build better relationships with your customers. And your quickest way to do that is to stop being paranoid about fake reviews-yes, we know they exist-and focus on putting your best foot forward, no matter what reviewers throw at you.