Updated: Jul 22, 2020
If you’re a business owner, you’re bound to receive a negative review at some point; it’s a risk that comes with the territory of business ownership. Unfortunately, businesses, and small businesses in particular, can sometimes fear negative reviews and choose not to put their business on social media to avoid them. This can limit reach to potential new customers. Fear is understandable as, once received, it’s hard not to take the negativity to heart, but here’s the thing: negative reviews aren’t something to lose sleep over. Read on to learn our four reasons why.
1 - They May Not Be Written By Real People
First and foremost, they may not be written by real people. Can you believe people are paid to leave negative reviews? It could be a fake account, bot, or spam - a person who’s never tried your service, or it could be a person hired by a competitor. Yes, people do stoop to this level. If you see a review that you don’t recognize as an actual occurrence you remember, or seems too general in their complaint, or maybe only gives you a poor star rating…it could be utterly and entirely fake.
Consider this finding by Eric Anderson and Duncan Simester—professors of marketing at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management and MIT's Sloan School of Management:
“The writers of the most negative reviews had not bought the product they were deploring. In other words, the indignant "This shirt is so flimsy it might as well be tissue paper! " customer hadn't bought the shirt, let alone tried it on.” – abcnews.go.com
This shocks many of my small business clients because they are working so hard to launch their company and focusing so hard on ensuring client satisfaction, that it literally never occurs to them that it could be fake. This is the number one reason I coach small businesses to get angry later, take a look at the facts first, and if it turns out to be legit, then move on in a calm and professional way. Taking a negative review to heart right away can leave you discouraged, frustrated, and angry; and all that can waste time you don’t have, even more so if the review isn’t real.
2 - They Can Actually Help Your Business
You read that right; they can actually help your business. Have you ever encountered a company with a straight 5 star rating? Isn’t it hard to believe they make absolutely everyone happy? It’s not impossible, but it’s rare. Your credibility can actually be improved with a negative review here or there because potential clients won’t assume that you just delete the ones you don’t like (even though that’s rarely an available option on most platforms). Responding promptly and professionally shows that you have nothing to hide.
While having a straight 5 star rating is nice, it could also make people wonder if you’ve paid people to write them and bring your business credibility into question. Consumers don't mind the occasional bad review, it gives them insights into what to expect. For example, delayed shipping around the holidays - that's understandable and can let potential customers know to order sooner rather than later to avoid the delay.
3 - You Can Respond to Negative Reviews
They had the right to write it, you have the right to respond. How you handle a negative review speaks volumes to your business and work ethic. Handling a negative review in a calm, professional, and customer-focused manner shows that you make every effort (within reason) to make the situation right in the event a customer is unsatisfied.
For example, a potential customer researches businesses online and narrows their choice down to two companies. From the online reviews it’s shown that Company A clearly doesn’t follow up when there’s a problem after payment is received, but Company B does - that customer is likely to choose Company B because they've demonstrated satisfactory issue reconciliation.
Of course, if the reviewer goes too far in their claims, is untruthful, attacking, and/or reports untrue claims resulting in devastation to your business, you can take legal action. In some cases, you may want to delete the review; however that option is usually only available to the person who wrote it. Depending on the site, you may have the ability to ‘report’ a review if it contains offensive or obscene content and/or block the person from your page. Most reviews can be responded to, so it's best to reserve the deletion option for when you have an extreme situation.
Consider this quote from Time concerning Dietz Development, LLC vs. Jane Perez in their Case Study - Online Reviewers Beware: You Can Get Sued:
“Under federal law — 47 U.S.C. § 230, to be specific — websites like Yelp and Angie’s List are shielded from being sued for defamation, but the writers — people like Perez — are legally responsible for what they write and lawsuits can be filed against them. That may not be what a lot of people are thinking when they go on Angie’s List or Amazon to air grievances. In fact, Perez told the Washington Post that when she posted her reviews it never occurred to her that she might end up in court or on the hook for thousands of dollars in legal fees — not to mention the monetary damages. Dietz is suing for $750,000, and awards can go far higher than that. In 2006, a jury awarded a Florida woman $11.3 million in damages against a woman who made defamatory comments on an Internet message board.” – idea.time.com
Both the company and the individual were later found to have defamed each other, resulting in wasted time, money, and damage to reputations on both sides, so legal action should always be considered carefully.
4 - The Writer Could Be Trying to Get An Employee Fired
Relationships are tricky and sometimes they take an ugly turn and spill into the workplace. The review may have nothing to do with you and everything to do with this person’s agenda. Getting angry about a bad review first, could make it hard to recognize that you have an employee in distress or a possible dangerous situation.
Times have changed, and while a few years back poor online reviews might have been detrimental to a business, the online world has become so embedded in our day-to-day that the buying habits of potential customers have evolved. Your average customer now spends more time on online research before they ever make contact with you because the data is available, and available from their phone.
Consider these quotes from a 2015 Google Report titled "Building for the Moment:"
"Automotive: Car buyers spend up to 15 hours online researching, comparing and learning.
Hotel Ads: There are millions of searches for hotels everyday — that’s millions of potential hotel bookings. When people search for hotels, they’re looking for information like rates, availability, locations, user reviews, editorial descriptions, Google Street View, and high resolution photos."
As Google's data demonstrates, that ease of access and readily available data has not only increased the customer time spent on research, but in reading through online reviews. That exposure makes the average person more adept at recognizing reviews that provide value versus ones that have a vendetta and, while we’ve focused on the more general features of negative online reviews, it’s also important to mention specific discrediting characteristics. The average customer will be more likely to dismiss reviews containing one or more of the following characteristics, and in a way, you should to…
They give a 1 star rating – no explanation
They are given by someone without a profile picture
It only states the negative, no positives mentioned whatsoever
The review includes too many exclamation points or ALL CAPS
They are poorly written with grammatical errors and spelling mistakes
They are given by someone without a ‘verified purchase’ indicator
They are too vague, indicating they may have never used your services
They are bordering on defamation when the majority of your reviews are positive
They are obscene, harassing, violent, have racial undertones, or are otherwise objectionable
They are out of date and you have since populated a variety of positive and mostly positive reviews
They are recent, but your clients have responded in your defense because they recognize the motives of the writer
They are recent, but you’ve responded with an offer to make the situation right and the reviewer did not respond back
While all reviews matter, don’t let yourself sweat the ones containing characteristics listed above. You’ll still need to respond to them, but at the end of the day, the entire customer experience is what matters most. As long as you’re making every effort to provide an exceptional product, service, and experience, the odd negative review here or there should not be allowed to distract you from continuing to provide that experience. Have confidence in the service you provide and in your business, remember why you do what you do and the passion that led you to business ownership. Don’t let the potential for negative reviews limit your online presence and business, and surely don’t lose any sleep over them.
Written by: Crystal Davies, Owner, Davies Designs Studio
Crystal Davies is a Brand Consultant and Owner of Davies Designs Studio. Her passion is using her 10+ years experience in corporate marketing and branding to help her clients design visions become reality.
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