One-star online reviews are inevitable for active, successful businesses. Whether you operate a food truck or run a housecleaning business, someone, somewhere will find a reason to criticise your business or your staff and they'll post about it online.
Before you decide how to address the lousy review, it’s important to understand just how potential consumers process the information they read on review sites.
The first thing consumers look for is the ratio of good reviews to bad reviews. For our purposes, we’re going to assume that one-star ratings aren’t the norm for your business and that your ratio is heavily skewed in favour of good reviews. So potential customers look at the ratio of good to bad reviews to determine if bad service is the norm for your business. Once they’ve figured out that it’s not, then they read the lousy reviews — it’s a train wreck that savvy consumers have learned to examine carefully.
What they'll discover is one of two things: Either your one-star review is warranted — someone has a legitimate gripe — or it’s a flagrant, unwarranted attack. In either case, your response will guide the consumer’s decision to trust you with their business. Let’s look at how you should handle each of these cases.
Making lemonade out of lemons
If the one-star review is unwarranted — posted either by a jealous competitor or an unreasonable customer — your response can help potential clients see the truth of the situation. Let’s say you run a cleaning service and there’s a complaint from an anonymous user who claims you neglected to clean all of their rooms, damaged their office equipment and overcharged them for your services.
First of all, your response should never be argumentative, and you should never justify your behaviour. Most times — especially when you suspect the complaint isn’t from a legitimate customer — your first step should be to professionally and clearly ask them to help you sort out the problem. Explain that you have no record of the transaction (or of them as a client) but that you’re committed to making the situation right. Give them your contact information and ask them to contact you. If a reasonable period of time elapses without contact from this “customer,” then you can post a follow-up, explaining that you have done everything in your power to locate the customer and have been unable to.
Since the complaint about your service has been made publicly, you have the opportunity to demonstrate that you work hard to ensure that your legitimate customers are more than pleased with your product. Potential customers who read online reviews know that some reviewers are impossible to please, and your reasoned, professional response will help differentiate the reasonable complaints from the unreasonable ones.
From time to time, even the very best businesses make mistakes, and occasionally you’ll have a customer with a legitimate gripe. With the number of public review sites, it’s increasingly difficult to sweep customer complaints under the rug, and your very best move is to tackle the problem openly and honestly.
Say you own a bed and breakfast and you have a legitimate customer complaint about bedbugs in one of your rooms. How you handle this complaint will have a very real effect on prospective visitors, so you need to get it right. Don’t deny the problem, but instead accept responsibility and discuss the solution you’ve implemented. Explain that a traveller did indeed introduce bedbugs to one of your rooms and that you’ve paid to completely remedy the problem.
If it’s appropriate, you can also offer to compensate a customer who’s had a bad experience; the offer of a free night’s stay may well soothe even the most irate customer. The very best outcome of one of these justified negative reviews is to show that you’re honest, thorough and respectable.
In general, the proliferation of public consumer reviews is a very good thing because it gets customers to participate in the success of businesses they support. It’s also a useful source of information about parts of your business that you might not otherwise be aware of. Repeated complaints about a surly bartender in your restaurant might warrant a little investigation, and you may actually have the chance to improve your customers' satisfaction.
No business owner is thrilled to see a lousy review, but smart business owners use the lousy reviews as an opportunity to shine.
This post originally appeared on OPEN Forum, an online community providing small business owners with information and advice to help them do more business.
This article represents the views of the author only and not those of American Express.