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10 Terrific Ways to Handle a Spike of Negative Reviews

Most business organizations understand they don’t live in a perfect world, and having a one-off negative review has become part of their daily bread.

For a business organization that otherwise maintains an excellent track record of online engagement, when a bad review happens it is the exception and not the norm. By taking the necessary steps to remedy the situation and resolve the problem of the customer, the business is able to move forward unscathed and continue business as usual.

A spike, or multiple negative reviews in a row, is a completely different scenario and one that demands careful attention, preemptive measures, and exceptional execution. Carelessness in managing a spike of negative reviews can be a deal breaker for many business organizations and leave sequels that are difficult to erase.

Let’s take a look at what it takes to properly plan for a worst-case scenario, handle the situation when it comes, and put measures in place to avoid future repeat instances.

(Check out: “Look on the Bright Side: 4 Ways Bad Online Reviews Can Be Good For Your Business”)

A spike of negative online reviews is at its very core a public relations crisis. As such, it is entirely possible to put processes in place to properly manage the spike and minimize the impact to your brand image. As we get ready to get a deeper understanding of what it takes to handle bad reviews or a review gone viral, let’s take note of these important principles of online reputation management:

  • The main objective of your actions and reactions is to protect and enhance the online reputation of your business.
  • Don’t hide, lie, or ignore the issues at hand. If there are legal implications, then talk to your legal counsel before engaging with reviewers or the press.
  • Reviews don’t disappear (unless they are in violation of the host website guidelines). Tackle them promptly and professionally.
  • Bad reviews are usually rooted in four broad categories: failure to deliver as promised, lack of competence/quality, incompatible human interaction, and cause-driven joiners.

Be Proactive with Real-Time Review Monitoring

The most effective way to tackle a spike is to catch it early and deal with the problems quickly. Businesses with a well-implemented reputation management strategy seldom face the inconvenience and challenges associated with a spike of negative reviews.

A business that catches a problem early and implements corrective measures at an operational level can most likely stop reading this article and move on to other topics such as refining strategy, using promos to capture more reviews, or polishing marketing strategy by mining review data.

If you are not yet monitoring your reviews, know that a PR crisis related to a string of negative reviews can cause long-term damage to your business and, in some cases, it will be virtually impossible to overcome. 

Request Review Removals If Applicable

If the nature of the reviews in question is malicious and in direct violation of the guidelines set forth by the host websites, then don’t waste your time engaging in review responses or remedy. Proceed to flag or escalate the reviews in question, quoting the rule or rules the customer is violating, and hope that the moderator will agree with your request.

If you are declined and you plan to appeal or escalate, do take a moment to answer the reviews, and ensure you do so in a professional manner that is both brand-sensitive and customer-focused.

Create Standard Operational Procedures to Manage Reviews Gone Viral

As we have seen in the past, reviews and review responses have the potential to go viral. Businesses should set time aside to put together a pre-crisis plan that provides basic guidance regarding escalation procedures, key stakeholders, or franchise positions on specific issues.

Putting together procedures will at least provide you and your team with a starting point without having to tackle the issues from scratch. Your plan should include details such as who is likely to be the brand spokesperson, what the stand of your brand is on general issues, and who is authorized to speak to the press and media.

(Check out: “9 Awesome Online Reputation Management Tips for Your Business”)

Identify Potential Sources of Negative Feedback and Establish Immediate Corrective Processes

Businesses need to be proactive in conducting product and process audits that attempt to see the experience through the eyes of their customers. The goal in auditing your business from the perspective of the consumer is to take necessary remedial measures before something turns into a review-worthy situation, causing irreparable damage to your brand and online reputation.

Avoid a Knee-Jerk Reaction

We want to put special emphasis on the importance of avoiding knee-jerk reactions. Do not take reviews personally or engage in review responses as an individual. Small business owners need to be particularly cognizant of this.

Addressing a spike of negative reviews by being on the defensive will not remedy a thing. Reactive, thoughtless, and angry responses will only bring more attention to the issues and will not garner the sympathy of those reading the engagements between your brand and the reviewers. Gather your wits, calm down, and respond in a way that takes into account big-picture issues as well as brand sustainability. A spike of negative reviews is not a forum to vent your emotions; it is an opportunity to demonstrate your brand’s capacity to put the customer first and deliver experiential recovery quickly and fairly. 

Have a Consistent Stand and Maintain Brand Voice

If every review during a spike of negative reviews is more or less tackling the same issue, then it is essential that your responses demonstrate consistency in their nature and tone. Every customer who has experienced the same shortcoming should be entitled to similar considerations. 

Consider Your Present and Future Audiences

In the midst of a crisis, it is easy to forget why it is that we are providing responses to a reviewer in a public forum. If you are tasked to manage the reputation of your business, then we want to encourage you to always remember that your responses not only speak to the reviewer in question but also to future readers who are potential patrons of your shop. Your choice of words and the solutions you provide are speaking to a wider audience that will decide by what you say and do if you have what it takes to point their wallets in your direction.

Treat All Reviewers Equitably and Address Them Personally

The length and tone of a review should not determine the quality of your response or the type of remedy you are willing to provide the reviewer. When there is a spike of negative reviews and all are associated with a similar issue, you should seek to be consistent in the type of remedy you provide to customers.

It is important to note, however, that equitable remedy does not mean template answers that fail to address each customer at a personal level. While the issue may have affected multiple customers, each person was impacted individually and, as such, the reviews and reputation manager should take time to see them eye-to-eye. Consider addressing people by their name or user handle, and tackle their responses issue by issue, in the same order that they list the challenges in their review. 

Consider Collective Remedy When Applicable

Did something go wrong and it was absolutely out of your control? Bad things do happen, but what counts is what we do to make things better.

For example, there was a business that was unable to sit half of their reservations for a Mother’s Day brunch due to a glitch in their reservations system. Instead of providing separate remedy to each of the affected customers, the restaurant decided to host a raincheck complimentary party with special amenities just for those affected by the glitch.

Needless to say, the open bar Mother’s Day makeover, complete with a massage station and live music, was a total success and generated tremendous goodwill and buzz among their patrons.

Capture Learnings and Move Forward with Initiatives Aimed at Review-Volume Increase

If there are two key learnings from a spike of negative reviews, the first and most important is proactive reputation management. The second, and no less important learning, is identifying the root causes of the problem. Conduct a post-mortem of the issues that triggered the reviews as well as the manner in which your organization managed responses and remedy, and take the necessary steps to learn from the experience to avoid repeat instances.

Once this has taken place, the best organizational move when it comes to correcting the damage caused by a spike of negative reviews is to implement marketing initiatives designed with positive review volume in mind. An avalanche of positive reviews will eventually push down the things of the past, and it will correct your overall scores back to a number that is conducive to lead generation.

Crystal Shuller

Crystal is the Director of Customer Happiness for ReviewTrackers. She's known around the office for E-mails that make everyone smile, and she has a bag of tricks and tips to help businesses solve their problems and delight their customers.

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