Every business owner knows that negative reviews are inevitable. You might provide the most exceptional service experience or product in the world, but you still won’t make everyone happy. As much as it stings to see harsh words about your business in print, it’s bound to happen at some point. The key is in how you respond to it and learn from it.
When it comes to reviews about your personal training or health coaching business, ignorance is not bliss. If you are of the opinion that “what I don’t know can’t hurt me,” you’re making a mistake. Consumers read reviews before they engage with a new service provider. Peer influence matters. In fact, a recent study uncovered that up to 97 percent of people read reviews for local businesses, and 86 percent of those people are influenced by negative reviews.
Can you prevent every single grump in the world from leaving a bad review? Of course not. But how you address your bad reviews can be every bit as valuable as preventing them in the first place.
Here are some best practices for keeping your cool when negativity rears its ugly head online:
Take some time to cool off
Bad reviews can be hurtful and frustrating — whether they are deserved or not. You’ve worked hard to build your business and earn the trust of your clientele. It’s difficult to accept that people don’t love your business as much as you do. The worst thing you can do, however, is fire off an emotional response within the first few seconds of reading the review. Take a deep breath, walk away from your computer or phone, and try to remove emotion from the equation by looking at the review objectively.
Analyzing a bad review
After you’ve calmed down, reread the review. Put yourself in the shoes of the consumer and ask yourself a few qualifying questions that will make the review seem more manageable.
Is it true?
This one is tough. If you’ve dropped the ball and disappointed a customer, it can be difficult to admit it. But the best service providers are the ones that freely own their mistakes and try to learn from them.
Is there any truth to the review? It may be that the customer is exaggerating a minor issue and blowing it out of proportion. However, if you were at fault in any way, the best way to disarm a disgruntled client is to tell them they are right and apologize immediately. Don’t point out the exaggeration or shift the blame.
Can you fix the problem?
Is there anything you can (within reason) do to rectify the complaint in the review? It doesn’t always matter if you’re at fault. Even if the claim is unjust and the client has a perception that differs a bit from reality, you will be the hero and earn the trust of other potential clients who read the review if you offer to make the problem right for the client. You won’t be able to satisfy every complaint, and that’s okay. Some reviewers simply can’t be pleased, no matter how hard you try. For all of the others, a little bit of goodwill goes a long way.
Should you respond?
Some reviews don’t merit a response. If it’s obvious that the reviewer is just trying to be rude, using hate language, or is not even a client of yours at all, delete the review (if possible) or just let it go. Your audience will recognize the glaringly negative review for the trolling tactic it is, and they won’t hold it against you. You may experience repeat reviews (under pseudonyms or other accounts) from your most heated reviewers.
Keep monitoring your social media platforms and websites and address each one as it comes. If you are persistent, the reviewer will eventually tire of harassing you. The good news is that the rest of your clientele will tire of the trolling, too, and likely come to your defense.
For typical reviews that express legitimate frustration about a less-than-satisfactory experience (or the perception of one), a kind, thoughtful response is always in order. Again, view the issue through the eyes of the consumer. If you were in their position, what would make you feel better about the problem and the business? What would make you feel angrier and more defensive? Always choose the fastest path of resolution.
What tone are you using?
As tempting as it may be to break out your very best sarcasm and let an unjustly negative reviewer have a piece of your mind — don’t. Above everything else, always be polite. Don’t patronize or belittle the reviewer, even if they are in the wrong. The internet loves a good squabble, and you’ll only wind up looking like the bad guy to other prospective clients.
Diffusing a bad review
Before you even get your first bad review (for those of you who are lucky enough not to have received one yet), put a process in place to address negative reviews in a consistent way that will demonstrate to your online audience that you take their feedback seriously. Don’t wait until the heat of the moment to plan a response strategy. Here are a few recommendations to help diffuse negativity.
Respond in a timely manner
While you should take a little time to think out your response, don’t take too much. Others will be watching to see how you respond to bad reviews. Address the issue quickly, and if you don’t have an immediate solution or want to discuss the problem further, invite the reviewer to contact you directly. The frustrated client will feel like you are listening to them, and the rest of your online audience will notice the care you take for your customers.
Don’t get defensive
It’s easy to sound defensive, even when your response is polite. Before you post a reply, read it to yourself several times and remove anything that sounds as if you’re turning the blame back on the reviewer. Even if they are to blame, it won’t improve public perception of you as a business owner if you point it out or use it to deflect responsibility.
Add a personal touch
It’s far more difficult to stay mad when someone immediately apologizes and addresses you by name. Respond to reviews with empathy for the client, using their name, when possible. Express regret that they don’t feel happy about the service they received. Note that empathy and an admission of guilt are not always the same thing. You can sympathize that the client is experiencing negative emotions even if the emotions are not a result of anything you’ve done.
Managing negativity proactively
Just because you are the service provider, it doesn’t mean you have to accept every level of hatred or negativity that is cast your way. Publish a comment and review policy on your social media pages and website. Make it clear that you want honest reviews —both positive and negative — but that you won’t tolerate hate language, profanity, or anything else that goes against your personal rights and wishes as the business owner.
Don’t be afraid to ban or block offenders that violate your policy. You deserve respect and dialogue that is open but not threatening. You’ll still get the occasional bad review, but by stating your policies and intentions upfront, you’ll set yourself up for a faster, more amicable resolution to problems as they arise.