Many businesses remain cautious of online review platforms because they fear receiving unfavourable opinions and experiences. But if a company is ever to learn, progress or improve, it cannot be doing everything right all of the time! Whilst media attention recently has focused on a case where a business is taking legal action against a customer for leaving a negative review, actually, how well-measured and appropriately a business responds to bad reviews can make all the difference - it's a clear indicator of how that business conducts itself and treats customer feedback.
As a business looks to form its approach on how to respond to negative reviews, there are several factors that should be taken into consideration.
How bad is bad?
It’s important that businesses have a clear vision of what constitutes a negative review for them. Each review should be judged individually on the content within it, but it is essential that the following is considered:
- Is the customer complaint describing an issue that the business has reasonable control over?
- Does the customer have a realistic and fair perception of the product or service?
- Is the business at fault for the issue, or are they perceived to be?
- Is the complaint related to an issue that is raised regularly, and is action be taken to rectify it?
- Can the company create an outcome to rectify the situation?
It is critical to ensure that customer’s expectations are realistic and achievable. If not, the issues raised in the review are likely to be repeated by other customers too.
Is the customer really always right?
It can be difficult to judge how to respond to negative reviews effectively when it’s assumed that the business has no control over any problems being raised.
If a bad review relates to a product or service issue that has been caused by anything in the supply chain that the business is responsible for, then the business will be perceived as having caused the issue – end-users and customers don’t understand (nor often care) for a factory production problem or a supply chain delay. Whilst it may be appropriate to explain (briefly) to the customer in a response to a negative review what has happened, these issues should be respected and responded to as professionally as possible - even if they're not your 'fault'.
In the case of a tangible and genuine issues with a product, service or experience, Feefo recommends responding with options for resolution. The issue, even once rectified, should still be logged and may be learnt from using customer analysis tools. Feefo Insights and Sentiment Analysis tools can help businesses minimise this type of customer review by addressing issues before they escalate and offering a direct communication route before reviews are filed.
Judging how to respond to a negative review for an unrealistic expectation can be trickier, but a response of some type should certainly still be made. First, the business should investigate how the misunderstanding or unrealistic expectation occurred – particularly if it could relate to the company’s own advertising, website or other marketing. Questions should be asked to better understand the exact customer understanding of the issue and an explanation given if possible.
If there is any possibility of misleading marketing claims having been made, this needs to be investigated and worked on as a priority (to not just assuade this customer that the issue is being addressed, but also to avoid further complaints of the same nature). In the case of a company-initiated misunderstanding, a positive resolution should be offered. If, in fact, the misunderstanding is the responsibility of the customer despite being presented with the correct information, a standard polite and professional reply can be issued to highlight the misperception of the business terms. Feefo’s Campaign Manager tool is a comprehensive framework to convert complaining customers into content, and even loyal, ones, and should be utilised as much as possible to avoid such crises of communication.
Closed review platforms vs open review platforms
The nature of some consumer review sites is that they’re more likely to attract negative or disingenuous content – because they’re open.
Open review platforms allow anyone online to leave a review of any product or service, with any wording they so wish. This attracts bot content, inauthentic reviews and spam reviews – leaving those reading the reviews ill-informed, but also often with a negative perception of the firm in question.
Closed review platforms, such as Feefo, instead invite customers to leave a review once they have made a verified purchase, participated in a brand experience or used a service. This minimises the risk of fake reviews and ensures that those writing review content are already genuinely engaged with the brand. The utilisation of a close-ended review platform has many benefits, including:
- Increased engagement from customer segments without a polarised positive or negative opinion; who usually wouldn’t bother to write out a review but from their neutral stance can be converted into a positive one
- An increased average star rating of the brand, as only genuine customers are able to leave reviews
- The ability for customers to contact the brand direct before leaving a review to rectify any issues or problems
- The ability to learn from and work with customer insights gained from review content. This allows not just for the conversion of neutral or negative feeling to positive, but also for brand loyalty to be built, issues to be rectified, growth areas to be identified and new customers to be recruited.
Collecting consumer reviews on a closed review platform rather than an open one certainly makes judging how to respond negative reviews easier, as there’ll likely be considerably less of them! At Feefo, our suite of customer management tools allow businesses to reach out to a higher percentage of their clients. This delivers a real, honest and comprehensive insight into their thoughts, feelings and opinions on their brand.
Can you sue someone for leaving a negative review?
This is certainly the question on the industry’s lips right now, as the media focus in on the case of a law firm taking legal action against a member of the public who referred to their business as a 'scam' in an internet review. For the first time, the courts will investigate the legitimacy of defamation online and judge how it impacts on both reviewer and reviewee.
Here at Feefo, we advise strongly against businesses taking such drastic actions against customers reviewing their products or services online. Freedom of speech should be exercised by everyone, and if a truly defamatory statement is to occur in an online customer review, its origins and reasonings should be explored.
Choosing to sue a customer for leaving a negative review is likely to backfire and cause negative PR for the business rather than the individual who left the review. Public knowledge of a brand taking such action to censure customers can significantly impact on its image and perception and, in the online era we currently reside within, is likely to be the recipient of boycott and further negative action. Instead, businesses should be encouraged to enter into conversations with unhappy customers to best understand and resolve any such issues on behalf of both parties.
Summary: Communicating with customers and determining how best to respond to negative reviews
No matter how misleading, ill-informed or inaccurate a review may be, any response to it from a business should be conducted in the most professional manner possible. Being polite and expressing a genuine interest in helping a customer is much more likely to resolve, neutralise and even flip a negative review than discarding the concern expressed as irrelevant or inaccurate would be. Even if you truly believe a review to be false, your public response to it is what your future customers will see.
When you're on the receiving end of negative reviews - no matter how valid you believe them to be - it's important to check the following:
- The true reason for the complaint
- The touchpoints in the customer journey where the issue occurred, and, if appropriate, where it could have been avoided or resolved
- The anticipated result the customer is expecting from leaving a negative review
- What the business can offer to resolve the issue
- What the terms of business are and what is considered in or out of scope.
Unhappy customers, particularly online, are more likely to influence others than happy ones, so it’s essential that businesses at least ‘show willing’ in working on any errors or issues. Open, honest, two-way dialogue with customers is just one part of the way forward – and to nurture the rest, Feefo’s comprehensive suite of customer service software has it covered.