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Surviving a negative review

How to weather a negative review

The one-star review. Every business with a platform dreads getting hit with a bad rating. How could this have happened? What went wrong? How will it affect how people see my business?

  1. How could it have happened?
    Who knows.
  2. What went wrong?
    Maybe nothing.
  3. How will it affect your public image?
    That all depends… on YOU.

The Unseen Privilege of Getting a Negative Review

Average ratings on platforms like Facebook and Google tend to be carried by their own momentum. If you have enjoyed positive (4-5 stars) reviews, you may be caught off guard by an offbeat criticism. I have been asked many times if a one-star review can be deleted, and if so, how. These questions come from individuals who have been caught off guard, and who have not yet discovered the hidden opportunity that emerges from a public negative review.

The bad news is that you cannot change or remove the review. The good news is that, if handled properly, you can turn an honest critic into a raging fan. The first step is to simply show graceful humility in your public response.

The Customer Is Usually Right

Think objectively about possible scenarios. Did you or your crew have an off day? Was the reviewer’s experience atypical of what your customers have come to expect? If you don’t know, the best thing to do is to apologize for the experience. If the review did not mention it already, ask what could have made their experience better. Simply starting with the assumption that your business was in the wrong can go a long way towards a happy ending.

Read the negative review carefully

Make sure that you carefully read and understand what was written, and what you believe they were intending to say. What kinds of feelings are being communicated, and how can you address their concerns with kindness?

Respond with humility and grace

Not many people appreciate arguing with a business which exists to serve its customers. Respect your critic as though they have the power to harm your public image, because they do. On the other hand, this is an easy opportunity to give your image a boost instead.

Make it right

If the bad rating is accurate, regardless of tone, do whatever is in your power to publicly make it right. This is almost like making a public promise to take care of your customers, whether intentional or not. People respect those who keep their word and their promises, and those who admit to error in humility. Be a hero. Help restore their faith in humanity.

When the Customer is Wrong, Grace above all

If the bad rating is dishonest, or the result of a mistake made by the customer, do your best to protect their dignity as though they were your best friend. Kindly mention the correction, not the mistake. Then, just as if the shoe were on the other foot, make it right. Elevating the customer in this way is showing love, and is a great way to turn a critic into a raging fan.

They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.
– Carl W. Buehner

Be consistent

It can be tempting to go a little overboard when trying to convert the critic into a fan. For starters, people are not generally so naive. There is no replacement for authenticity. (This is a recurring theme that you will see us referring to often.) Be authentic in your approach, and be in control of your own emotions, as both will come through in your responses.

Also, be consistent in the way criticisms are handled. If one critic is given a freebie to smooth things over, and another is simply told “sorry,” you are showing a lack of trustworthiness. Of course, these responses may be entirely justified in each one’s own context, however, this may not be apparent if “you had to be there” to understand this. It helps to be conservative with valuable consolations, and to focus more on the relationship than the issue. After all, business is personal. (This is another recurring theme that you will get used to reading here.)

An Ounce of Prevention Is Better

When you have used this strategy in your own business, you begin to get a real sense of the power that lies just beneath the surface of the scar left by a bad rating. Even so, scars hurt. Remember the old adage:

An Ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
– Benjamin Franklin

If necessary, rework your operations until you can reliably count on 5 star reviews, with only the very rare occurrence of a 3-4 star rating. Your business relies on your customers, and making them happy should be your top priority.

The Short Version

If you take away only one idea, it should be this: your business is personal, and your customers are in a budding relationship with it. Love them like your business depends on it, and they will love you back.