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note-paperWe’ve all heard stories about a few grumpy (or in some cases, irate) customers making it their personal mission to tarnish a business’s reputation online. To defend their name, many businesses go into full “circle the wagons” mode, pursuing legal action or hiring some “specialist” in reputation management to go on the offensive. But the bottom line is that when something negative is said about your company online, you are more than likely stuck with it.

So what do you do?

The Two-Step Approach

First, it’s important to keep in mind that a negative review isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You’re never going to please everyone all the time. Research has shown that when a company has all 5 star reviews, people get suspicious. Having a few negative reviews just means that your business operates in reality and has a few chinks in its armor, like all businesses do.

In our experience, the best long-term strategy for earning a positive online reputation is to (1) make sure that customers who have a good experience with you share that experience where it counts on the web, and (2) actively engage with upset customers and try to make things right. We call these two parts “Getting More of the Good” and “Patching up the Bad.”

Getting More of the Good

1)      No matter what your business, there is always a moment when working with your customers and they are visibly or vocally happy with your service or product. That is your moment of opportunity to ask for a review.
Customer: “Thank you so much, I love what you have done for me!”
You: “I am so happy you are pleased with our service. You know what you could do for me? (hands customer a card with review link) Go out to this link and write a review of your experience in working with us. I’d be so appreciative of it if you did.”

2)      After a customer completes a transaction, send them an email and ask them to write a quick review for you. Send them the link to the review site and make it as easy as possible for them. If it takes work, they more than likely aren’t going to do it.

3)      Focus on Google. While there are many review sites out there, spend about 2/3rds of your time cultivating positive reviews on your Google Place page. Spend the remaining 1/3rd on sites like Yelp, Yahoo, and industry-related review sites. Why? Because Google is always going to put their reviews first. They aren’t even pulling review information from Yelp anymore, so focus where you will get the biggest bang for your buck.

Patching up the Bad

It’s only natural to have some less than fantastic reviews. Here are some ways you can handle them.

1)      First, take a deep breath. Try to get in touch with the customer privately. If you can, contact them via email or messaging through the review site see if you can rectify their concerns. If you are able to make them happy, ask them to modify their negative review.

2)      If the customer still isn’t happy or you can’t contact them privately, consider a public response on the review site. The way you are seen handling the negativity also speaks loudly to your potential customers. Apologize publicly for their unhappiness and offer to fix it. Own their unhappiness and publicly show your concern. Even if they don’t take you up on it, you are seen as a caring business owner.

3)      Consider legal action as the last resort. If what they are saying is provably false and damaging your business, you may have a claim. More than likely, pursuing legal action is going to be more money and trouble than it is worth. Consider this option very carefully. Remember that there is a “court of public opinion” that is much cheaper than actual court and attorneys. How you publicly handle an attack on your business can obviate or greatly reduce the need to pursue a legal claim.

Overall, we believe the freedom of expression (and yes, gripes) that the web allows is a good thing for customers and businesses. It forces you as a business to be on your toes, offer the best service you can, and work hard to make sure your customers are happy. Which is really what you should be doing anyway.