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How to Deal With Negative Customer Reviews

Michael has a degree in international business and currently works for a global e-commerce company.

The cumulative impact of negative feedback over time can be incalculable.

The cumulative impact of negative feedback over time can be incalculable.

The Power of Customer Reviews

PowerReviews, a company that provides Q&As, reviews, and other rating services to over 1,000 global brands, released a report entitled The Growing Power of Reviews which tracks the growing impact of customer reviews on businesses.

Their research has shown that 97% of consumers will first check the reviews of a product before making a purchasing decision. 85% of consumers will read through the negative reviews and use them to decide whether or not to buy. 50% of consumers post reviews about products they have bought and most consumers read an average of 5 reviews before making a purchase. Even when it comes to physical stores, over a third of shoppers make purchases after they have consulted reviews.

Another marketing study showed that consumers are 46% less likely to purchase a product that has a 3.5-rating compared to a 4-star rating. This means a business can lose half their product sales because their rating went down by 0.5. Since every online review left by consumers is indefinitely associated with the product or service a business offers, the cumulative impact of negative feedback over time can be incalculable. What it boils down to is that the feedback you receive bears significantly on your sales and profitability. So what is to be done about it?

If you have received a negative review from a customer, here are the steps you can take to tackle the situation.

1. Establish the validity

2. Be specific and concise

3. Take the lead in the process

4. Accentuate the positive

5. Use your contractual privileges

6. Leverage reputation management tools

97% of consumers will first check reviews of a product before making a purchasing decision. A 0.5 decrease in product rating can lead to a business losing half their sales.

1. Establish the Validity

If a negative review has been posted concerning your product or service, the first step to always take to confirm its validity. Was it actually meant for your business? Was it really for your offer or for a different one? Was it meant to be negative or positive feedback? For example, there are instances where a customer leaves a glowing comment accompanied by a low rating, or vice versa. If the information in the post does not match the rating indicated, it is likely a case of miscommunication.

To illustrate, I once provided technical service to a customer. She afterward responded by giving me a rating of 1 which was the lowest CSAT (Customer Satisfaction) score. Naturally, this reflected negatively and was puzzling at the same time, since no further details were provided by her.

Things are not always as they seem, however. It later turned out that she had actually been very pleased with the service. She lives in a country whose grading systems (especially academic) place the highest value on the lowest numeral. So she had selected the score which in her view represented the highest rating. If no follow-up had been made from our side, the true state of affairs would have never been known. The record would have continued to reflect the worst score when in actuality, the customer's opinion was quite the opposite.

If you have found an inconsistency of this nature in your feedback, begin by contacting the customer first. Ask politely if they actually meant to leave a negative review. If this was not the intention, they will have the opportunity to go back and do the necessary correction.

Someone may ask: what if I am unable to reach the customer or they fail to respond to my messages? Well, the next option would be to consult the customer service department managing the platform and explain the situation to them. Show them proof that you have tried to contact the customer but that they have been unresponsive. With the evidence you have, a representative should be able to withdraw the negative review from the site.

Also, confirm if the review was actually meant for your business. Are they really posting about the product or service you offer? For instance, if you come across a complaint that mentions a mainstream brand but all your products are white-labeled, that review is obviously misdirected. Here again, contact the customer service representative to guide you through the remedial steps. Examples of misdirected reviews abound in cyberspace. You don't even have to go far. Just Google-search Hubpages and you will see plenty of negative reviews that are actually meant for Hubspot, which is a different site.

It would obviously be misdirected if it mentions a mainstream brand and your products are white-labeled.

It would obviously be misdirected if it mentions a mainstream brand and your products are white-labeled.

2. Be Specific and Concise

If you are the recipient of a negative customer review, don't wait too long before you respond. The previously mentioned statistics highlight the devastating potential reviews can have on a business if corrective action is not taken on time.

However, even with these facts in mind, you do need to be prudent in your timing. Avoid responding immediately after you have read the post. If the negative comment is still fresh your mind, your emotional state may be subjective and hinder you from communicating in an objective manner.

So rather than typing something that you will regret later on and risk triggering a snowball effect of other negative comments, calm yourself down and wait for a day or so. The only time you should react to negative feedback is when you are in a fully self-controlled state. Sure, this is a problem that needs to be resolved but you don't need to do so by creating an even bigger one. Use the time to investigate the matter instead and see if there is actually a fault and where it may have occurred.

Lengthy responses are to be avoided. Your answer should be brief, concise and straight to the point. A long-winded response may give the impression of desperation to anyone who chances to land on the thread. A short but informative response, on the other hand, is more plausible and professional.

This is why it is essential to first take a step back and evaluate the situation before posting anything. You may feel there is much that needs to be said to clear the air. If so, take time to create an initial draft of all the points you want to put across. Then revise the draft, editing and summarizing it as much as possible to come up with the final piece.

Due to the proliferation of fake reviews, it is always essential to perform your own investigation and see if the case being cited actually occurred. Keeping a record of your customers and your dealings with them in a database is helpful for reference when such matters arise. If you cannot trace the person in your list, respond by first appreciating the feedback. Then politely inform them that the transaction is not in your records and you have not been able to identify them as a customer you have dealt with, but if they would like to reach out to you they could always do so. Include your email address or business number.

If the transaction can be traced and the incident did occur, reach out to the customer and come to a mutual agreement either through negotiating a refund, a fresh shipment, or some other alternative solution. It is always best to respond rather than leave comments in cyberspace that will be turning away people from your business indefinitely.

Posting the right answer to a negative review helps you fill in these information gaps.

Posting the right answer to a negative review helps you fill in these information gaps.

3. Take the Lead in the Process

You can actually turn a negative review into a positive outcome for your business. The review gives you an opportunity to provide more in-depth information concerning your product or service in much the same way sites provide an FAQ section for visitors. The main reason consumers are reading through your reviews is that they are searching for more details concerning your offer that may not be available elsewhere. Posting the right answer to a negative review helps you fill in these information gaps, while at the same time demonstrating that your business is responsive and has the consumer's interests in mind.

The first thing that a seller feels they need to do is to jump into solution mode. They need to eliminate the problem and its detrimental impact on their business as quickly as possible. However, the prudent thing to do is to avoid making immediate conclusions. Instead, start by putting yourself in the shoes of the individual who posted the review and see the matter from their perspective as a buyer, rather than from yours. Positioning yourself in this way will help you formulate a solution that is practical and relevant to the issue.

After submitting your answer, the person may post back more questions or make additional comments. Instead of having an exchange go on like this in a public forum, provide the person with a way they could contact you directly. This will prevent the dialogue from carrying on where it is open to anyone, especially if the subject matter is sensitive to your business.

This is important because customers will typically remove the negative review themselves once the original problem has been resolved. Remember though, that you should never directly ask the customer to remove the opinion they have expressed, but allow them to do it by their own volition.

Providing your contact details will also give other customers who may be similarly inclined to leave negative comments, the best alternative when they have a problem, which is to reach out to you directly. Granted, there are consumers out there who prefer to dwell on the problem and even become part of it instead of moving on toward a solution, but what is really needed here is corrective action.

Be respectful and considerate. Remember, you are not just posting a response to one customer. You are essentially encapsulating your skills at problem-solving and putting them in a public record which can be accessed by anyone with an internet connection anywhere on the planet. Consider not just the matter at hand, but the implications it will have on the evolution of your brand.

Guard yourself against getting entangled in a series of discourteous exchanges. This will only serve to aggravate the situation and may swing other buyers who were previously neutral into rallying with the customer against you. They will feel that if you are handling the customer this way, you will likely also give them the same treatment. So ensure that your focus is on resolving the issue and be courteous as you go through the steps involved.

If the identity the customer is using on the platform matches the shipping details you have, you could contact them directly or through the message center. As noted earlier, moving the conversation offline especially when the matter is buyer-specific and does not need to be in the public eye will help you concentrate your efforts on the cause rather than the effects.

4. Accentuate the Positive

According to Lee Resources Inc., a customer who has had a negative experience is 91% less likely to return to a business. Studies have also shown that it takes approximately 40 positive reviews to undo the damaging influence of one negative review.

The ideal way to push back is to accentuate the positive. Rather than setting you back, use the situation as a springboard for your business. Reach out for feedback from customers who are loyal to your brand. There are various ways this can be done, for example by organizing a promotion campaign through social media that reemphasizes the core benefits of your product or service. Forward the link to your product or service to as many supportive contacts on your list as possible. The cumulative weight of positive feedback will mitigate the influence of the negative review and push further out of sight.

At the same time, ensure that your business is providing exceptional customer service to win over the loyalty of new customers. This will also prevent such reviews from resurfacing in the future. When it comes to brand protection and the welfare of your business, prevention is better than cure.

Wherever possible, use the negative feedback to update the information you have in the product description and your terms and conditions. Many complaints originate from the fact that when the actual product or service was delivered, it did not match expectations that were based upon information supplied. So always revise the details concerning your offer from the perspective of a consumer.

Disappointments can come about when people feel misled. This can be through simple oversights. For example, a seller may present the image of an accessory and the main product as a bundle when they are actually only selling the accessory. If they fail to clarify this in the description or highlight it in the title, it can cause miscommunication and lead to a bad customer experience.

Some do this deliberately as a way of making their offer more competitive. They will enter a stream of keywords in the title and description sections that are unrelated to the actual product. Their presentation will even make it difficult for anyone to distinguish between the actual offer, accessories and background props. This must be avoided. Rather than run the risk of alienating customers as a seller, always make your presentation such that it is clear what the offer is exactly down to its features and quantity.

Review the product pages of other sellers in your niche to see their presentation style and the type of comments that buyers are posting. Come up with your answers to their comments and include those answers as part of your product description. In this way, you will be resolving future problems before they occur.

When responding to a legitimate negative review, remember to include some positive benefits of your product or service. Even when something needs to be remedied, it can always be done in a spirit of positivity. Besides, communicating amicably with each commenter leaves a lasting impression that your business takes people seriously and is willing to take responsible action.

The system alerts the restaurant staff concerning feedback from their customers.

The system alerts the restaurant staff concerning feedback from their customers.

5. Use Your Contractual Privileges

In Google Maps a negative review can be taken down if it has been repeatedly flagged as inappropriate by several email addresses. If an unfounded comment regarding your business has been posted there, you could have it removed by convincing as many of your trusted contacts as possible to flag it down using their email addresses.

If you are using an e-commerce platform to sell your products, you need to be sufficiently acquainted with its community guidelines to know your rights and privileges. This includes the right to request for the removal of any review that is against the platform's policy and terms of service. It is essential to know the rules beforehand, so you will be able to identify contravening comments when they arise. If the review fits the criteria for removal, contact customer service immediately.

Typically, if the review discusses other issues which are not specific to the product, or if the person uses profane, racist, derogatory, or defamatory language, this can be viewed and reported as a violation. Also, if the commenter is a competing seller, the review would be regarded as a contravention of policy and should be removed. There have been cases where commenters were right in their assessment of a product or service but had their reviews removed anyway because they were not compliant with the platform's guidelines.

However, proceed with caution in your quest to get rid of the negative comment, and ensure that you are not violating the rules yourself, for example by conducting what is known as representative shopping. This involves trying to find a site representative who can be manipulated into using their platform privileges to eliminate a review for you. Some sellers attempt to do this by contacting as many representatives as possible until they find one that will agree to do their bidding.

eBay for example, has a clear policy on feedback extortion. A seller cannot extort positive feedback from a buyer in exchange for something that is within the buyer's rights, like sending them a product they've already bought, or accepting a returned product. Likewise, buyers cannot use negative feedback in order to convince a seller to perform additional services which are not contained in the original offer. Further, if a seller is not bound to provide a refund or receive a returned item as per their listing terms or the Money-Back Guarantee, the buyer is not allowed to compel them by threatening to post negative feedback. If a buyer complains that they did not receive the item you sent and you have a tracking number as evidence of the dispatch, then eBay can remove the negative review.

Amazon presents several scenarios under which a comment can be flagged as being in violation of their policy. For example, they do not allow multiple negative reviews of the same product by the same customer. It is essential to study their community guidelines and use them to evaluate the reviews you receive. If you spot a violation, click on the 'report abuse' option and enter details as to why you believe it contravenes the guidelines. Alternatively, you could send an email to community-help@amazon.com with a link to the review, the ASIN of the product, and an explanation as to why it counts as a violation.

6. Leverage Reputation Management Tools

There are comprehensive management platforms like Reputation which allow you to process and turn your reviews into a competitive advantage for your business. You could also use Swell which among other things, can be programmed to automatically remind your customers to leave a review when they have consumed your product or service. A free demo or test-run can be done beforehand to see how the features work.

Reputation management tools will enable you to take command of the situation and harness the power of reviews to build your brand, rather than leave it all to chance. Remember the principle that holds true in everyday living as well as in the business context: life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond. Even after receiving a negative review, there are constructive actions you can take, like conducting a survey to gather information concerning the position of customers on a wider scale and then using the results to your advantage.

Opiniator assists business owners like restauranteurs to have essential customer interaction, receive feedback and resolve issues while service is in progress, that is before the customer leaves. It is built on the premise ‘Customers talk TO the business — at the moment it matters. Not AT the business, on social media — after it‘s too late.’ The process takes a diner a minute or less to complete and they can leave their contact information if they so wish. The system then immediately alerts the staff concerning the customer's rating and the basis of the score, for example, the food quality.

Businesses that offer services that require constant alerts like dropshipping can make use of Trackerbot. It can be challenging to keep up with all the orders, transactions and related communication especially when one is handling multiple products and dealing with customers across different geographical locations or time zones. If the system you have set up fails to work at some point, this can be a source of frustration, and the business starts coming across as being unprofessional. By automating the process, the tool makes your work much more efficient, enhancing the customer experience that leads to higher ratings. The price is also affordable, compared to the amount of time, energy, and resources you would otherwise have to burn doing all the work by yourself.

We live in a world where avenues of expression have become more commonplace than ever. Because of this, reviews, even negative ones, are part of the business experience. So don't allow them to upset or bemuse you. A temporal bump on the road does not define the whole journey. Nor does it determine the destination.

Comments

Liz Westwood from UK on February 21, 2021:

This is an interesting and well-presented article. Customer reviews can be deal clinchers. I am always interested to see a brand's response to negative reviews.