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Methods for Local Businesses to Manage Online Review Sites

A company sues a Yelp reviewer and wins a revised review!

Have you heard about the contractor who sued the woman who gave him a negative Yelp review?

Yikes! It’s getting complicated out there, with defamation claims clashing with free speech rights. And the courts have begun to weigh in. More on that later.

But first, what does this all mean for small and local businesses impacted by online reviews?

How (and should) a small local business handle negative or unfair reviews?

Should you disregard all online reviews and let people speak for themselves? Is it ever appropriate to respond to a negative online review?

Did you know there are ethical and legal ways to increase your number of positive reviews and even turn negative situations into positive ones? Here, we go over all of your options.

Implications of Local Small Business Review Sites

Local review sites like Yelp can be a boon, a bane, or just a part of doing business in today’s online world.

Pages of glowing reviews can excite new customers, but as the contractor who sued discovered, too many negative reviews, or even one harsh accusatory one, can do severe damage.

Options for Dealing with Negative Online Reviews

Taking legal action against a reviewer is an extreme reaction. However, here are some additional options for dealing with negative online reviews:

Don’t Respond – Many businesses choose to leave all of their online reviews alone. This isn’t a flawed strategy because even responding to negative reviews can be difficult. Even before the internet, people talked, so what are you going to do? Even if you decide not to respond, at the very least, do the following.

At the very least, read your reviews. It’s easy to focus on what you’re doing well and dismiss negative feedback as a couple of “Negative Nelsons.” However, too many negative online reviews can harm your sales, so it’s better to be informed of the bad news. In addition, there may be issues you’re not aware of. Once addressed, the negative reviews will fade into obscurity, to be replaced by positive thoughts. And if the reviewers notice the positive changes (which we’ve seen a lot), previous and future customers can be confident that earlier issues have been resolved.

Answering Your Critics:¬†Avoid blaming or insulting the customer if you respond to a negative review on a review site. Don’t come across as defensive or sarcastic, and don’t get dragged into discussing the specifics of their experience online. Customers and potential customers read reviews, so if it appears that an argument is taking place, they are more likely to side with your disgruntled guest.

How to Deal with Negative Reviews Diplomatically – Never engage in a debate or use sarcasm. State that you are truly sorry the customer had a negative experience, that you take their concerns seriously, that you are committed to quality, and that you or your staff are available and trained to address problems as soon as they arise because your goal is to ensure that everyone leaves a satisfied customer. This will help readers empathise with a caring business owner and lessen the impact of the negative review.

Of course, this works only if there are a few negative reviews. See the next step to learn how to amass a bank of positive reviews to protect your average from the occasional complaint.

Proactively Request Reviews (More Below) – It’s preferable to amass a solid foundation of positive feedback than to be caught off guard by a flood of negative feedback later on. Furthermore, the fewer reviews you have in general, the more the negative ones will stand out. So stack the deck in your favour by encouraging the quiet, satisfied customers to speak up.

Make Mistakes Into A Customer’s Happy Story – Mistakes will occur, but when you’ve established an environment where your staff understands that an unsatisfied customer experience is unacceptable, correcting mistakes can be a significant opportunity.

A bad situation that is resolved perfectly creates a mini-drama. As long as the storey has a happy ending, their journey from high hopes to problem to happy resolution makes the perfect anecdote for your customers to share online and with their friends.

Someone’s initial displeasure can be turned into a cute storey to share as long as you provide a hero in the form of an attentive staff member who does whatever it takes to fix the situation. People enjoy these types of happy-ending vignettes.

How to Request Feedback

Follow-up via Email

The best way to get a review is to ask for one. How? Obtaining a customer’s email address is frequently the preferred method of communication because you can keep in touch with them once you have their email address. There are numerous legitimate reasons to request an email address (to confirm appointments, to send future sales and coupons, to access your literature on your website, etc.).

Once you have their email address, it is straightforward to set up a series of automated emails to send out. AWeber, for example, is only $19 per month for the first 500 subscribers and provides simple step-by-step instructions that teach novice email marketers how to set up an automated series. This is the most effective method for ensuring that emails are sent without requiring a staff member to manage each customer correspondence.

Once this system is in place, you can easily send out broadcast emails such as sales, events, announcements, newsletters, and blog posts to your list. These are excellent tools for cultivating relationships and even gaining a few extra sales.

Signage in Store

When collecting their email address is not possible, such as in a restaurant, consider using location signage to solicit feedback. With the prevalence of smartphones and tablet computers, posting reminders in places where people are likely to pull out their devices never hurts. For example, on a table tent, the check at a restaurant, and so on.

We’ve noticed signs asking for feedback in dentist and doctor’s offices regularly. And we’re talking about top-tier service providers. So if the practice sounds cheesy, rest assured that it is done tastefully in better establishments ranging from Back Bay Boston to Manhattan Beach, California.

Regardless of how you communicate with your customers, make it a point to encourage them to immediately notify you if any issues are not to their liking. An essential part of this is training your staff to understand how important it is that all guests/patients/etc. are satisfied. But, again, the only way to find out is to ask. Depending on your service model, asking for a review after a patron appears comfortable may be appropriate, or you may rely on signage or a follow-up email.

Display Yourself in More Than Just Review Sites

It is preferable if your business appears in multiple local listing sites rather than just review sites when people search for it by name. This ensures that anyone looking for your location, specials, or operating hours can easily find you without being enticed to read reviews.

It may be tempting to allow review sites to do the local listing work for you, but it’s not a safe strategy if searchers only find you there.

A better plan is to have your name, address, website, and phone number appear on as many local listing sites as possible, including YellowPages, WhitePages, CitySearch, Foursquare, Google Maps, and others. This gives you more control and allows people to find you in places other than review sites.