Address Critical Reviews in Polite, Productive Manner

July 18, 2018

I understand your horror; it’s not entirely irrational.

You work hard every day to take good care of your customers and their pets—to have what they need in stock, to help them find what they’re looking for, to answer questions, to keep the store clean, to treat them with respect. All of it. You feel confident you do a pretty good job.

Then you get the e-mail containing the dreaded link to the Yelp review of your nightmares:

“Have you seen this?” asks your helpful correspondent. “Could be a problem!”

And indeed it could. You’re not even sure who this guy is, or when he came into the store, or who dealt with him. You’re not sure if any of what he claims even happened. Was the employee really clueless and rude to him? Were you really out of chew toys?

By the way, here’s a real wild card: You don’t even know for sure if the person who wrote a negative review ever came into your store. Review sites have no way to make people verify they’re legitimate customers before they take to the web and rip you a new one.

Welcome to our brave new world.

How are you supposed to manage your online reputation in a Wild West environment where anyone can say anything and a skillful online communicator can get the message to thousands of people in a matter of seconds?

I could probably go on much longer than the space here allows, but there are a few important principles to keep in mind as you endeavor to address this question, so let’s start with them:

Don’t panic over every negative review. Most reviews are more reflective of the reviewer’s personality (or mood that day) than they are of the business being reviewed. And most people who read online reviews understand that. This doesn’t mean online reviews are never helpful or don’t tell you anything about the businesses in the spotlight. A trend of negative reviews—especially when they consistently cite the same problems—are usually a genuine indication of problems with a business.

But if your reviews are decent overall, then one or two cranks are probably not going to influence dedicated review readers.

Respond constructively, but don’t argue or attack reviewers. People appreciate it when companies offer substantive responses to reviews, especially when it involves addressing a problem a review cited. Let’s say someone criticizes you because they thought it was hard to find the fish food. You check it out, and you realize that if you put yourself in the customers’ shoes, it is kind of hard to find the fish food!

So relocate the fish food and post a comment letting the review writers and readers know you appreciate the feedback and took action in response to it. People love that. And it’s hard to accuse a business of not caring what customers think when they see you taking action like that.

That said, resist the temptation to get into a back-and-forth with your critics. It never ends well for you, and most of the other reviewers/readers will jump in on the side of your tormenter. You can’t win one of these fights.

However: Correct the record when necessary… gently. Sometimes a reviewer levels an accusation you simply can’t allow to stand. I meant what I said about not arguing, but if someone makes a statement that’s just plain false and damaging to your store, you can’t just leave that hanging out there. When something simply must be corrected, respond factually and dispassionately, and back up your facts as much as you can. Don’t use an accusatory tone (as much as you may think the slanderer deserves it) because that gives the other party something else to attack you about. Just correct the record and move on.

Keep a close eye on responses to your tweets on Twitter. A lot of businesses think they’re using Twitter well if they simply tweet the occasional special, or a platitude about humane treatment of animals, or an announcement about an upcoming event.

They tweet. They nod in satisfaction. They move on.

That is not how you use Twitter. And if we can be perfectly frank here, Twitter is a toxic waste dump of catty hate. An awful lot of the Twitterverse is just looking for an excuse to turn your tweets around on you and launch a nasty attack.

Why? Because there are nasty people, and Twitter provides a platform where they can preen for other nasty people at your expense.

So you have to understand that your tweet is only the beginning of your Twitter activity. The whole point of Twitter is to make it easy for people to interact, respond to each other and engage in snappy banter. If you tweet but you don’t engage with people by retweeting, commenting and liking, your tweets are either disappearing into the ether or serving as the basis for people to pummel you while you’re not even paying attention.

The bottom line: Don’t tweet at all if you’re not prepared to manage your activity and deal with what comes next.

Understand the changing Facebook algorithm. It used to be that if 5,000 people liked your Facebook page, then 5,000 people would see your Facebook posts. That is no longer true. Facebook recently changed its algorithm so that people looking at their newsfeeds are more likely to see posts from family and friends or from pages with whom they’ve had a lot of engagement. They are much less likely to see a post from a page they merely like but haven’t recently engaged with.

That means that your Facebook posts have less value than they used to. You can improve your engagement with more images and videos, which get better treatment from the new algorithm, and fewer posts containing external links (like, say, to your web site). The algorithm is not a fan of those.

Finally, it’s worthwhile to investigate online notification services that will do regular searches and let you know when someone mentions you online, especially in a review on a site like Yelp. I’d be careful about obsessing over every little hit, and you probably should adjust your setting so you’re not being barraged with 25 versions of basically the same thing. But you can’t manage what’s going on if you don’t know about it.

I told you it was the Wild West.

Happy shootin’, Tex.

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