Responding to negative reviews online: an case study

Fire Dancer

While we are fortunate we’ve never had negative reviews yet for DoctorDave Computer Repair in Lawrence, KS, the fact is statistically it’s bound to happen. While we try to screen out difficult clients, the fact is that even the best doctors sometimes aren’t a good fit for certain patients. Sometimes the messenger gets blamed for the news. As of this writing, we’ve got a decade of positive reviews that I almost lost, but I’m prepared for the day mostly by knowing what not to do.

We aren’t going to get into a shouting match saying who is right and who is wrong. This link talks about it on a national level and has some creative responses but locally the LJworldmarketplace is a glowing example of what to do and what not to do. Want to know what not to do, respond like this business owner. He complains about the customers, challenges their assertions and doesn’t know how to use spell check. Most of all he never uses the magic words my Mom taught me: “I’m sorry.”

Apologies go a long way and for MDs can even avoid a malpractice suit. In particular we aren’t going to threaten the customer or disclose private or personal details. Again, we try to avoid this before even scheduling a client by setting clear expectations and avoiding overpromising. If we don’t think we can satisfy the client’s needs or the expectations are unreasonable, we don’t schedule them plain and simple. When we make a mistake (everyone does) we own up to it and do what we can to take care of the customer. That’s probably one of the key reasons we have a lack of negative reviews.

More important than our response is simply knowing the review is out there. I feel bad for this local business that doesn’t realize how many negative reviews are out there of them. Without a response from the business owner, I’ll assume these are true and take my business elsewhere. It’s very possible the business owner doesn’t know these exist. That’s sad because a good response goes a long way. Want a shining local example? One of my favorite restaurants in Lawrence is 715 and you can tell by my review (or by my Foursquare check-ins) that I am a fan. Ocassionally there is a bad review but the manager does a few key things that every business should do when responding to negative reviews:

1) Be there to respond: the fact the business responds almost immediately communicates they care and are concerned. Guess where I won’t be getting my car washed?

2) Acknowledge the issue: even if you disagree, the fact is they had a negative experience and that’s a problem for the business. Even if the customer is unreasonable, you need to own up to their experience. Their opinion is a fact, how their opinion relates to actual events may be different in it’s entirety. In the national example, the fact is the customer had a problem, and instead of telling the customer they are wrong, the company should have acknowledged it was a problem for the customer.

3) Apologize: simple and straightforward. An apology and the previous acknowledgement is not an admission of fault or an agreement, but it communicates that you care about them as a customer and have heard their concerns.

4a) Make a repair gesture: offer to take care of their concerns. Let them know you’d like them back as a customer and you are willing to accommodate their concerns and how you’ll do so. Simple and straightforward

4b) Alternatively, part ways with them: if their concerns are unreasonable or you don’t think you can accommodate them, be direct and say so. Assuming you’ve done steps 1-3 (and below), saying “I’m sorry this isn’t a good fit” communicates succinctly to the reviewer and those reading the reviews that sometimes in life, things don’t work out. Not everyone is a good match. If there were one perfect doctor, dentist or Italian restaurant then we wouldn’t have any variety. Not everything is a match and it’s best not to force it when something doesn’t work out. Don’t be obnoxious like Samy Buzaglo of infamous Amy’s Baking Company, but a firm and direct “let’s part ways” is best when things aren’t working out.

5) Sign your review: Let readers know who you are and how to reach you. One thing that annoys the heck out of my as a customer is when customer service emails have a “please do not reply to this message” as the return address and/or don’t have a name at the bottom. They may not even work at the company. 715 clearly signs the responses with their name and how to reach them. Some owners balk : “Oh my gosh, I’ll be getting all sorts of calls from irate customers if I give my personal contact information”. If that’s true then it’s a good thing because they are contacting you rather than posting online. Moreover, if you are that worried about your name and number being out there for complaints, then your problem isn’t with your reviews as much as it’s with your product.

Do a good job and generally you’ll get good reviews and when you don’t get a good review a proper response will solve the problem and let readers know that the reviewer’s experience isn’t typical. Keep me to my word if you see a negative review of us online. Technically we had one that said we didn’t show up, but it was before Google allowed me to respond. Honestly I think they confused us with another company because no call no show is a pet peeve of mine. I’ll admit we’ve missed a client due to a clerical mistake and we go drop everything and go out to that client and don’t charge them. It’s the least we can do when we make a mistake, and it’s probably why those people have never left a negative review. In fact, I know one of the positive reviews we have is from a client we accidentally double booked and missed her appointment. Guess we made her happy despite my error in scheduling!

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