Business focus: Handling negative reviews online

Elliot Adams, Yelp’s communications manager, gives Professional Beauty readers his insight in dealing with poor reviews on the web

In an increasingly online, social, and mobile world, customer reviews play an important role in influencing consumer behaviour, with many using these to guide their purchasing decisions. Many small local business owners rely heavily on their web presence to communicate with customers and attract new business. If you think about the beauty sector in particular, the service is so personal to client that people will rarely just pop in off the street. They’re going to do some research into the kind of service you’re likely to get.

Once, the fallout from a dissatisfied customer was limited to their friends and family, however the popularity of social media has magnified the impact disgruntled customers can have on a business’ reputation. Unhappy customers can sound off instantly to a wide audience before they’ve considered taking their complaint up with the company directly. 

Regardless of how great the product or customer service, business owners should accept that negative reviews are part of running a business, and have a strategy in place to manage these effectively. Even if your day-to-day duties mean you’re on the salon floor and away from a computer, keeping on top of your online presence doesn’t need to be time consuming.

Here are a few top tips for managing your presence on online reviews sites – and dealing with the bad feedback when it strikes.

Take control

The biggest mistake people make is not getting involved. With Yelp, it’s important to claim your page. This is free and allows you to register yourself as the business owner, then you can control how your business looks on the site. You can publish the opening hours, contact details, photos of the salon and a history of the business to make it more personal. Once you’ve claimed it, you can then respond to reviews posted. A study we did in America found that claiming and regularly managing the page translated to an average $8,000 (£5,220) more in revenue for the business.

Acknowledge complaints and respond

It’s vital to respond to a customer complaint as quickly and thoughtfully as possible. That way you’ll minimise any potential damage and show customers that you care and take their loyalty very seriously. Your customers are always connected, so the longer it takes to respond to a negative or false representation of your business, the more time it has to spread. Time is of the essence and a day is a long time in the world of social media.

Be professional

Always respond to the bad review in a respectful and sincere way that communicates you empathise with the customer and understand why they are unhappy. If you’ve had a bad day, admit it, apologise for the customer’s negative experience and invite them to return so you can make it up to them in some way.  Even if you don't agree with what’s being claimed, be positive and avoid getting into an argument. If you feel the review is wrong then say why but in a professional and reasoned manner. The key here is to create a meaningful, personal dialogue and to do this publicly to show other prospective customers that you’re listening and addressing the matter accordingly.

Take the conversation off-line

Whilst it’s important to post a short, immediate public response to a bad review – showing other customers that you’re addressing and resolving the situation – further detailed communication with the dissatisfied customer should be taken off-line as soon as possible to avoid potential further public criticism. Communicating via email or phone helps to make things feel more personal, speeds up the resolution process and protects a customer’s privacy. This approach can also help take the heat out of the situation and calm things down more quickly. 

Headshot of Elliot Adams YelpTurn negative feedback into an opportunity

Reviews can provide key insights into the health of your business and are a great indicator of how customers feel they are being treated.  Business owners should be taking full advantage of this feedback – encouraging all customers to provide it. Bad reviews should be regarded by business owners as a useful early-warning mechanism for spotting problems and addressing these before they escalate. Responding to negative reviews provides a perfect opportunity to show customers that management is responsive to any concerns or dissatisfaction they may have. 

Because of the weight they carry, online reviews are one of the most effective reputation-building tools for small business. Negative customer reviews have the potential to cause short-term harm if not handled correctly. Word of mouth always used to be one to one. Now it’s one to everyone. If you go and share your experience, everyone has access to your review. A lot of people think that online reviews are all negative. However 80% of the reviews left on Yelp are three stars and above. People really want to support local businesses.

Elliot Adams is the communications manager at Yelp, a consumer review website. He has worked in the communications industry for over a decade representing global brands such as HP and Canon, as well as a raft of start-ups.