Monday Mornings with Madison



This year, Yelp – one of the most active and loyal review sites on the Web – began allowing businesses to respond to the critiques and not-so-glowing reviews made against them on the site.  This may be either good news or bad news, depending on your company.  Some companies have neither the social skills nor the right heart to respond to negative reviews. Giving those companies a microphone to address people vocally speaking out against them could go horribly wrong.  Other companies, educated on the finer points of reputation management, may be able to use this voice to their favor.  If your company has a strong command of its brand reputation and has good social skills and heart, this is for you.

When to Respond.Not all bad reviews are created equal. Sometimes engaging a disgruntled customer can help them see your company in a new light.  Other times, you’re just opening yourself up to more negative attention. Here are five instances when you should respond.

1.  You genuinely need to make amends.
Sometimes a company just goofs. Your company delivered a bad product, missed a deadline, provided a less-than-perfect service, missed an appointment, etc. Mistakes happen, which is why there are erasers on pencils.  People understand.  If you goofed and someone is legitimately upset about it, it’s typically in your best interest to engage them and do your best to make it right. It often doesn’t take much to smooth over one bad experience.

2.  They are misstating facts.
Your company is being blasted for giving a reviewer an inferior financial service and not sticking to the promised 40 percent off discount.  However, your company doesn’t provide financial services, just legal services, and you definitely don’t offer a 40 percent off coupon because it diminishes the value of your services. If that’s the case, speak up and politely let them know that they may have simply misunderstood something or perhaps they’re even getting you confused with another company. If it’s a matter of bad facts, you should step in to correct them.

3.  When the review develops legs.
Sometimes things that shouldn’t be a big deal gain traction and “me too” responses anyway.  These situations absolutely need to be addressed and need to be addressed fast. Staying quiet and simply thinking it’s not serious enough to warrant a response is almost certain to invite the fire to spread onto other blogs and news sites. Don’t allow that to happen. The best way to contain the mess is to handle it at its source. If something is gaining legs, get in the conversation and help calm it down. Often just a few words from the company will be enough to soothe the hype and get the conversation back on track.

4.  The person is angry with you, not just life.
How to say this delicately? Not everyone awakens with a spring in their step. Some people start the day with a desire to ruin someone else’s day. If that’s all a negative comment is – someone’s lame attempt at attention – let it go. Yes, the negative comment will stay there in all its glory, but engaging said miserable person will only incite a war and likely be even more damaging. If the comment isn’t outrageous or slanderous on its own, don’t draw more attention to it. Hopefully there will be enough positive reviews to counteract it.  But if the person is legitimately angry with you or your company, then refer back to #1.

5.  When someone else reads it and is offended for you.
This may sound odd, but you’re not always the best judge of whether or not a review deserves a response. Companies often write negative reviews off as being written by “trolls” simply because they’re biased about their company. You can love your company and what you do, but not to the detriment to your customers. Every now and then, consider getting someone else’s opinion on all those “trolls” spreading “lies” about your firm on the Internet.  If a neutral third party thinks the problem may be you and not them, well…at least you’re hanging around honest people, right?  In that case, you need to reply.

How to Respond.
Once you decide a negative review is worth commenting on, handle it with finesse. Busting in to police a community you were just invited into isn’t going to win over any friends. Take some time to get familiar with user attitudes toward your company, wait for your hands to stop trembling and THEN keep these guidelines in mind.

  • Listen.  Listen without reacting. Complaints customers have about your company aren’t really about you.  They’re about them. They’re about how they feel. How they were let down. What they need. Find the root of the problem and address that. Sometimes that means looking beyond what they are saying. Yes, your product may have failed them, but perhaps it was your customer service rep’s total disregard for their frustration that really set them off. They’re commenting on the site because they want to be heard. Show them they have been heard.
  • Be Honest. If you’re going to engage a negative reviewer, be completely honest, sincere and genuine. Apologize for your mistake and let them help you find a way to move forward. Don’t make excuses. Don’t try to spin it to make you look like the victim. If you messed up, apologize and immediately diffuse the situation. If you didn’t mess up, then be honest about what happened, without pointing fingers.
  • Remain Calm. If you can’t remain calm in a fight, you should not participate in social media. The moment you lose your cool, you’ve not only lost the discussion but also added 20 gallons of kerosene into the blaze. Good luck making amends with anyone once you’ve shown you don’t take criticism well and you haven’t yet mastered how to play well with others. Also, it almost always makes you look foolish.
  • Speak Like a Person. If you have an MBA, that’s awesome for you. However, your customers don’t care and they don’t want to hear any of those $10 words or corporate jargon in social media. Talk like a real person… a real, apologetic person or stay far, far away from social media and critical reviewers.  People don’t like robots or spokespeople who think they’re smarter than everyone else. They like normal people because they are normal (sort of).
  • Promise To Be Better.  End your reply with a promise to be better. Whether it’s a promise that you’ll try harder, make amends, listen more, etc, give a sign that your company heard them, cares, and wants to be better for them. It’ll go a long way in establishing some goodwill.


“A reputation once broken may possibly be repaired, but the world will always keep their eyes on the spot where the crack was.” Joseph Hall

© 2009 – 2011, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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